Alvin Ailey Dance Instructors Bring Two Days of Workshops to Detroit

Alvin Ailey
Lisa Johnson-Willingham. Photo by Jonathan Hsu

The Ailey Extension is keeping the Black History Month celebration going past February with the Detroit leg of their fifth annual Ailey Experience Tour. March 7-8, the company will host a two-day workshop at the Detroit Opera House, an open invitation for the community to come learn and experience the magic of Alvin Ailey.

 “We want to engage communities where dance is having a resurgence or needs one. It’s the most beautiful thing to see everyone in a room coming together through the universal language of dance,” says Ailey Extension director Lisa Johnson-Willingham, also a former Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Company member. 

Johnson-Willingham assists the tour as an instructor alongside former company member Amos Machanic and fellow Extension member Terri Wright. Johnson-Willingham says there’s no need to feel intimidated by the name – the Extension’s motto is anyone can dance as Ailey danced. 

“We start at age 8 and go all the way up, so every level of experience is welcome even if they have none. Using the beauty and humanity of African American heritage to unite people of all races, ages and backgrounds is what Ailey did and what we strive for,” Johnson-Willingham says.

Alvin Ailey
Amos Machanic. Photo by Jonathan Hsu

Classes on offer are Contemporary and Horton techniques, Ailey Classics and a Revelations workshop serving as an in-depth introduction to the vision behind Ailey’s world-renowned ballets. Through works like Blues Suite and Night Creature, Ailey combined distinctive dance styles with Black language, life and culture. 


The tour’s most popular workshop is Revelations and Willingham says it’s no wonder why. Widely regarded as Ailey’s masterpiece, Revelation’s classic blues, gospel and jazz told with authentic Black stories touched audiences around the globe.

Alvin Ailey
Photo by Jonathan Hsu

She says, “People understand sorrow, feeling reborn and then triumphant joy. You don’t have to be religious to relate to all of those emotions. 1960’s choreography is still timeless. It’s a shared experience that ends up hopeful. Everyone can relate to that. 

“Last year was our first in Detroit. Every city is amazing and teaches you something, but I come away feeling like we’re more alike than anything. Seeing people heal and be uplifted is always my favorite part.” One session costs $50, both days are $80. Students who attend both days receive a souvenir T-shirt and a chance to win a scholarship to the Ailey Experience Summer Workshop in New York City. 

Want to register for a session? Visit

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