When I first spoke to now-Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater dancer Courtney Celeste Spears in 2016, she was balancing being a college student in the Ailey/Fordham BFA Dance program at Fordham University and a dancer in Ailey II, AAADT’s junior company. At the time of the interview, the Baltimore native described her relationship with dance. “For me, dance is my most pure form of communication. When I dance, it’s when I am most open and honest with myself and with others; it always says more than words can ever say for me. Being an artist is the truest and most authentic form of one’s self, and specifically with Ailey II, we get the opportunity to travel the world, and do so many different styles of dance. My co-workers are beyond talented, and sometimes I have to stand back and pinch myself because it all still feels like a dream,” she said.
Today, not only has she made it into the esteemed AAADT, she is also a business owner. After years of putting on small dance productions during holiday visits to her parents’ native Bahamas, she launched an outreach program & dance management company there called ArtSea Dance. Now she gets to share her passion for dance with the next generation.
“The local newspapers and television stations featured us, and I realized how big the Bahamian dance community is. But it is very underserved. So many kids came out to see us perform…it was as if everyone was waiting for an opportunity to showcase dance on the island in that way,” she told The Network Journal earlier this year.
Spears says her program began as a two-day immersive workshop that offered techniques in body wellness, ballet, jazz and hip-hop – designed to “help keep dance alive in Nassau.” “My amazing friends and colleagues flew in to share information, teach and just see what would happen,” she explains. “80 kids showed up.” It yielded such an overwhelmingly positive response that Spears plans to bump it up to four days in 2020, and possibly run it more than once a year. “Through these well-rounded workshops, we are bringing the world of dance to the Caribbean and bridging the gap,” she adds. “The goal is to give students an outlet for dance, and let them know that dance is something that can take them anywhere.”
Long term goals for ArtSea, says Spears, includes creating a bachelor of fine arts program that is modeled very similarly to the one she attended.
“I came up through structured dance institutions led by mentors and teachers who gave us the discipline we needed to develop a strong work ethic for dance. Being exposed to that early on informed the way I think of dance programs. I have the privilege of watching Mr. Ailey’s vision of ‘giving back’ and seeing Nasha Thomas operate AileyCamps and the other outreach programs. It takes a structured institution like Ailey to embed these principles,” she reveals.
To this end, she hopes to partner with one of the colleges or high schools in the Bahamas to create what she describes as ”a structured, codified program” for Bahamian kids who love to dance, but can’t afford to come to the U.S. to attend one.