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Dance at Home: Ailey Extension offers virtual classes

Dance at Home: Ailey Extension offers virtual classes

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater has been bringing its exuberant dance productions to audiences around the world since 1958.

The troupe is always a welcome visitor to the Chicago area when it annually brings its world class performances to The Auditorium Theatre.

A variety of artist Kadie O'Connor's works are on display at The Legacy Center in Michigan City.

In 2005, the dance company established Ailey Extension, which offers in-person dance classes to the general public. Various styles of dance and movement classes, from ballet, Broadway Jazz and Hip Hop to Zumba, West African and more have been offered in the program.

With the pandemic descending on the world last year, Ailey Extension has been offering virtual classes to a worldwide audience.

"Ailey Extension was created to expand on Alvin Ailey's mission that dance came from the people and it should be delivered back to the people," said Lisa Johnson-Willingham, director of Ailey Extension.

Johnson-Willingham, who previously lived in Chicago, said through the extension's virtual classes people of all ages and skill levels can participate in the programs.

In person, more than 100 classes are offered through Ailey Extension per week. Virtually, there are more than 30 classes available.

"These are real classes for real people. Everybody can dance at Ailey," said Johnson-Willingham.

Ailey Extension also regularly offers not only classes for adults but also has Kids and Teen Workshops and more. Virtually, a Kids and Teen Summer Workshop will be held through the end of June. Visit to find out more and for prices.

Also, dance fans can take a free Juneteenth class on West African Dance on June 19. Visit the website to find out more about that class.

"Through our digital classes we've reached over 43,000 students in over 70 countries," Johnson-Willingham said.

Instructor Robin Dunn, who teaches a Hip Hop class currently through the extension, has been with Ailey Extension since its beginning.

Dunn said it's a wonderful thing to be able to bring virtual classes to people around the globe, especially after what everyone has endured in the past year.

"I'm a person who really believes whatever way we can turn a negative into a positive is good," Dunn said.

Through the classes, Dunn said people have still had the "opportunity to be together so it's been positive."

Go on patrol with Aaron Crawford, a Cpl. with the Lowell Police Department, as he speaks about joining the force, DUI enforcement grants, and police Jiu-jitsu training.

Dunn, who is also a self discovery coach, brings that positive and spiritual angle into her classes, whether virtual or live. During a recent online Hip Hop class, she regularly offered encouragement to people and created an atmosphere that wasn't intimidating in any way.

Through her beginning Hip Hop classes, Dunn said she hopes people take away a "basic understanding of movement and of Hip Hop as an art form."

"And I hope they feel good about themselves."

To learn more about the Ailey Extension's virtual classes, visit


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Entertainment Editor/Features Reporter

Eloise is A&E Editor and a food, entertainment and features writer for The Times, subjects she has covered for over two decades in and around the Region. She was the youngest of eight in a Chicago household filled with fantastic cooks and artists.

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