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Unit Four. Week Seven, 7/11. 400 Souls: Reflecting on a Community History of African America.

Updated: Jul 12, 2021

Teach Out Gathering Time

Sunday, July 11. 5:00-7:00pm PST

Meeting ID: 984 4028 7294

400 souls: reflecting on a community history of african america

week seven


we convene in honor of Alvin Ailey

Alvin Ailey is a legendary modern dance pioneer, choreographer and civil rights artist-as-activist. Although Ailey died nearly 30 years ago, many of his best-known pieces have become as emblematic of vibrant, relevant American art as tap dance, jazz, the literature of Toni Morrison and hip-hop. Ailey explored issues of social justice, racism and spirituality in the African-American experience. this was during the height of the civil rights movement, when the notion of Black classically trained dancers moving to the music of Duke Ellington, gospel, blues, Latin and African pop was truly revolutionary, if not unfathomable.

born into poverty in Texas in 1931, Ailey drew from his emotional well of close-knit black churches, rural juke joints, fiery protest songs and a lonely childhood as a closeted gay man to fuel his passion for dance. he befriended many of his fellow mid-century American masters (Maya Angelou, Carmen De Lavallade, Merce Cunningham and Katherine Dunham, to name a few) while living in New York. after Ailey’s death from an AIDS-related illness in 1989, the company and school grew into the premier repository for emerging black choreographers, and is still the most popular dance touring company on the international circuit.

Ailey created “a human dance company and school that didn’t fit any model,” said author and arts and dance patron, Susan Fales-Hill. “His dancers were and are multicultural, and his company was an amalgam of the African and European diaspora. He always addressed the pain of the African-American journey, but he also celebrated the triumph and redemption of the human spirit” in pieces such as Revelations (1960), Ailey’s most celebrated work. the up-from-slavery dance suite finds beauty in the midst of tragedy and pain, celebrates Black folks’ resilience and humanity, and allows hope to overcome tribulation. “Ailey understood that the arts are a litmus test for who’s civilized and who isn’t civilized,” Fales-Hill said. “The fact that he raised people of color to the level of great, universally recognized artists was an enormous triumph.”

we dedicate this week's gathering and study in The Teach Out to Alvin Ailey's life and work. may he rest in power.

*much of the above biography credited to Jill Hudson of The Undefeated.


our week seven reading

four hundred souls: part six

pg. 187-224


our weekly provocations

1. Discussion questions for Four Hundred Souls, Part Six (below)

2. Interview with Ibram X. Kendi about anti-racism and Four Hundred Souls, The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, February 2021



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