Courtney fulfills her dreamEarns a spot with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater after three auditions
Dreams do come true, but for dreams to become reality it takes a lot of work, and it’s all about work ethic and discipline. Courtney Celeste Spears dreamed, but she also put in the work and is now a dancer with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, earning a spot after three auditions.
Spears, who is of Bahamian descent, is the daughter of D’Andrea Sweeting-Cary and granddaughter of Andrea Sweeting, Sister Sister (Breast) Cancer Support Group president and the late Frank Sweeting. She was admitted into the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in May 2018.
Eight months later, she said it was a moment she will never forget, having cried tears of ecstasy at her accomplishment, all the while knowing she had put in the work.
“I auditioned for the company three times before getting in. I was fortunate enough to be asked to join. It was surreal,” said Spears. She remembered phoning her parents and her grandmother when it happened.
“It was just one of those moments that you’re not sure if it’s going to happen, so for it to finally come to reality was unreal. It was a moment I will never, ever forget,” said the professional dancer who was in New Providence for a three-day visit after the company’s New York season. During the season, which takes place before the company begins its North American tour, they did two-day weekly performances over five weeks.
The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, which is one of the best-known dance companies in the world, tours constantly.
Alvin Ailey and a small group of African-American dancers took to the stage on March 30, 1958, at New York’s 92nd Street Y, for one night only, but it turned out to be the start of a new era in the arts.
Ailey became one of the groundbreaking greats in modern dance history. The work of his company grew beyond the stage to encompass education at all levels, community outreach and cultural diplomacy. The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater recently celebrated six decades of performances that unite and inspire. Spears became a member of the company during its 60th year celebrations.
She may have attained her dream of admittance into the company, but she knows it’s just the beginning and she has even more hard work ahead of her.
“I still have so much to learn and I’m still growing. Every day I’m surrounded by greatness and beautiful artists. I’m the new one, the freshman of the group, and so I just try to take as much as I can to learn and absorb,” Spears said.
Prior to joining the company, she was a member of Ailey II, which she said was a great training ground and helped prepare her for Ailey.
“Ailey II definitely has this younger, newer spirit because we are all young, coming out of school, but the transition has just shown me the work ethic that’s needed [for Ailey]. I’d always seen the company from a performance standpoint onstage, but now I got to be in the room where the work happens, where the true grit and hunger and persistence and dedication really comes out.”
Spears said she works hard to ensure that she’s working to the best of her ability to continue to grow and be a part of the company.
She said the difference between Ailey and Ailey II wasn’t shocking, because it takes work at both levels, but Ailey is a level that she wouldn’t have known until she actually got there.
“The main company, the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater is so… they have this beautiful sense of maturity and presence and seasoning that I’ve always enjoyed watching. Ailey II definitely was a great training ground and helped prepare me for this next level.”
A normal rehearsal day in the studio when they’re in New York City, starts at 10:30 a.m. with an 80-minute warm-up class; rehearsals run from noon to 7 p.m.
“We are there seven hours a day, just like any other profession, rehearsing and training throughout the whole day.”
The work she’s putting in is evident in her body, which has leaned out even more and grown stronger since the last time I saw her. Spears chalks it up to taking good care of her body, the instrument for her job which she puts through strenuous work.
Spears has also gotten to view firsthand the maturity of the dancers and the value they place on taking care of their bodies. She continues to learn what to do, how to strengthen and how to approach self care in a way that not only makes it more effective, but more efficient to last through 39 performances over a season or tour.
“It’s something that I’m still learning, but something that you catch onto getting into the room,” she said. It also doesn’t hurt that she and her fellow dancers are able to avail themselves of top physical therapists and massage therapists.
Her Ailey experience to date, she said, has been amazing.
“I knew a lot about the company coming in because I love the company and had watched them and read a lot, but I’ve been learning so many things about Mr. Ailey, and being a part of the company 60 years later has been a huge honor and privilege. I’ve talked to so many former dancers who told stories about when the company first started and the company in the 70s and the company in the 80s and all of those things, and to now be a part of it at the 60th anniversary just feels like a dream, especially to be a part of this legacy and celebrating it,” said Spears.
During the celebration they are performing the “Timeless Ailey” special program comprised of highlights from ballets choreographed by Ailey, including some seldom-seen gems, followed by his best-loved work, “Revelations”, performed in its entirety.
“We had a great New York season, but I’m super excited to get on the road and feel the love and support from the places that we get to go,” said Spears.
It’s just the start of exciting times for Spears, whose first stop with the company was in Athens, Greece, in the middle of the summer; before they went to Zurich, Switzerland. She said that trip was amazing as she met 10 Bahamians who lived in the area and came out to the performances. In true Bahamian fashion, they brought her a flag, bread and conch fritters.
“It was amazing to see Bahamians all the way across the world and feel like I had known them for years. One of my friends was like ‘Have you met them before?’ and I was like, ‘No, but they’re family; so we’re going to go out with them’. And it was great.”
Spears left New Providence on Wednesday to head back out on tour.
Ailey’s 2019 tour kicks off with a performance in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, February 1-2 before they return to the United States. Alvin Ailey Dance Theater and Spears will be as close to The Bahamas as they can, when they perform in Miami, February 14-17 at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts. She is excited for those performances as many of her family members and friends are planning to travel to Florida to watch. She said people will get to see a lot of different things and a lot of variety.
Ailey will also perform February 21-24 in Orlando, Florida, at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts; and in Atlanta, Georgia, February 21-24, at the Fox Theatre. They will have performances around the U.S. through May 12 before returning to New York in June.
“I’ve been so many places and it’s been such a dream working, but it’s been so great to come home, see family, eat and rejuvenate and be welcomed back and see other dancers. There’s nothing like coming home to rejuvenate my spirit, as I ran into my little kids who I teach while I’m home [but] I can’t wait to get back to work and to continue to grow and learn [because] I have so much to learn,” Spears said.
The founder and director of ArtSea, Spears promises that her Caribbean-based workshop aimed at bridging the gap between young island dancers and the vast international dance world through workshops taught by professionals will be back, even though she hasn’t firmed up a date as yet.
The objective of ArtSea is to provide students with the tools to build their self-confidence and give them applicable knowledge in pursuing professional dance careers.
“ArtSea is a passion of mine, and something I will always continue the best I can to give back, and come home when I can and make sure to continue to pay it forward.”
While her dreams are being realized due to her hard work, Spears encourages young people to work hard so that their dreams can become actuality as well.
“See as much as you can, read as much as you can, watch as much as you can. Learn. Be open. Be curious. Just continue to work hard, and you will start to see your path paved out for you. But it’s all about the work,” she said. Spears also encouraged them to be humble in their confidence.