Q&A With Hope Boykin of The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Hope Boykin hails from Durham, NC and is a three-time recipient of the American Dance Festival’s Young Tuition Scholarship. She attended Howard University and, while in Washington, D.C. she performed with Lloyd Whitmore’s New World Dance Company. Ms. Boykin was a student and intern at The Ailey School. She was assistant to the late Talley Beatty and an original member of Complexions. Ms. Boykin was a member of Philadanco and received a New York Dance and Performance (Bessie) Award.

A member of the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater since 2000, Boykin has choreographed three works for the esteemed dance company : Acceptance In Surrender (2005), in collaboration with fellow Ailey company members Abdur-Rahim Jackson and Matthew Rushing; Goin Grace (2008, for the Company’s 50th anniversary season) with music by award-winning singing group, Sweet Honey In The Rock; and r-Evolution, Dream (2016), inspired by the speeches and sermons of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., with original music by Ali Jackson.

Growing up, did you always know that you wanted to dance?

I grew up dancing, and I always loved it, but I had no idea I could live and support myself with this form of work, or career choice. I have seen so much, traveled the world, and gained experiences I would never have imagined.

Was there an a-ha moment or performance that sticks with you that made you know you could really do this?

I remember my first time performing at the front of the wedge for Mr. Ailey’s “I’ve Been ‘Buked” in his Revelations. It was my first year in the company, and we were in Copenhagen. I was scared to death, but something told me I was in the right place. I was crying before the curtain even opened, and I don’t think I stopped the entire section. I was standing in a position so many women had stood before and I was so overwhelmed. I still get that same feeling to this day, what an honor.

Hope Boykin of The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Who were three of your influences in the world of dance?

Every day I feel I could make a different list filled with people who have influenced me during my career. Today, I think I would begin with the late Sherrill Barryman-Johnson, professor of dance at Howard University. She taught and encouraged me in ways I am still realizing today. The next would be Joan Myers Brown, Artistic Director of Philadanco. She let me know I was worth it. She pushed and pressed me to be my very best. Then there is Judith Jamison. She was more than a boss – she has been a mentor and friend, and I treasure her. All of these women gave and shared a piece of themselves with me. They all worked to create a path for me to dance on, and I owe it to them to continue to make space for others who will come after me.

Describe your experience being a member of the legendary Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater?

Being a member of this company and organization is hard to put in words as such, but for seventeen seasons, I can definitely use the word grateful to describe my feelings as a long-time member. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to dance with some of the most important dancers and artists of my generation. I am grateful to be able to travel the world and add friends and family that I’m sure I would have never met. I am so grateful to be able to create work for this company and share my knowledge with young artists all over the world. I am simply, grateful.

What was the inspiration in creating your new piece, r-Evolution, Dream., that will be featured in the upcoming performances?

Dr. King, as we all know, was a scholar and an incredible orator. But I found when studying and revisiting his sermons and speeches, I began to hear his words differently. His swells, inflections, and cadence allowed the words to ring like music in a way I had never taken in before. I was forced to listen with a different ear, and called to move to his rhythms. This was the beginning, my initial motivation, but honestly, I can still hear his voice every time I watch the dancers perform the work.

Do you have a pre-show routine and/or ritual?

Alvin Ailey Hope BoykinA pre-performance ritual? Well, I suppose I do have a routine of sorts. I like to take at least a half hour of company class. Next, I give myself about twenty minutes to get into make-up, stretch, and baby my aches and pains. At the half hour call, I often return to the stage to work on what I have to perform that evening, making sure to have some quiet time before I have to step foot on stage. Finally, I remind myself I am enough, perfectly designed to do what I am called to do, then I go on stage and give it my best.

What’s something people would be surprised to know about you?

I think there are some people who may be surprised to know that I am a writer, and that I have self-published a book. It may be one of the scariest things I’ve ever done, but I am proud of my efforts.

Can you name one book that changed or really impacted your life?

The book that constantly changes my life is the Bible. I am constantly learning life lessons from it. Each morning, my mother sends me a scripture to study for the day, and I am constantly rejuvenated.

Who or what motivates you?

Young people motivate me. I am really moved when I meet young aspiring artists who truly hang on every word their teachers and choreographers utter. I love to watch them find their way to grace and understanding of their bodies, and the work they long to achieve.

Best words of advice for aspiring dancers?

Alvin Ailey Dance Theater
Click image to see YouTube video of Alvin Ailey Dance Theater

The advice I often give to my students is never allow others to determine your true limits. You are the only person who can clamp down the lid on your personal box and lock it. Leave it open and be as accepting as you can, of as much information as you can take in. This is the key to continued learning and growth.

Favorite quote or affirmation?

I’ve got two favorites I suppose. The first is from a list of life’s instructions: 9. When there becomes a here, it’s time to get a new there. The second and most important is from Philippians 4:13; I can do all things through
Christ who strengthens me.

What’s next for Hope Boykin?

I’m already living in my “what’s next.” I have been able to create work, teach, explore my writing, and find new ways to express myself all while living this dream. My goals continue to grow and expand as I have and find more opportunities to find myself through my art.

Catch the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater at the Auditorium Theatre March 22-26. For more information, please visit www.auditoriumtheatre.org

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