Alvin Ailey Director Dies at 65


Published: August 25, 2010

Denise Jefferson, director of the Ailey School and co-founder of the Ailey/Fordham B.F.A. Program in Dance, died July 18 of ovarian cancer. She was 65.

Jefferson danced with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater starting in 1974 and had been director there since 1984.

In the 1990s, Fordham had begun a developing relationship with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. In 1998, Jefferson partnered with Edward J. Bristow, Ph.D., professor of history and former dean of Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC), to create a dual degree program at FCLC that blends a liberal arts education with conservatory training in dance. “We knew we were in the center of the dance world and wanted to do more,” Bristow said.

This program, known as the Ailey/Fordham B.F.A. program, is one of the most popular and competitive at FCLC, with an acceptance rate of approximately 10 percent. According to the New York Times, it is the first program to associate an acclaimed dance studio with an acclaimed liberal arts college.

Bristow said Jefferson was an “inspiring teacher” who had a great appreciation for education and dance. Jefferson had a masters in French in addition to being a renowned member of the dance world.

“She was an amazing person inside and out. As my advisor she was a great mentor and always saw the positive side of things. She saw the best in us and truly cared about us becoming the best artists we could be. Senior year will be tough without her, but I know she will be watching over all of us in the years to come,” Jessica Greene, FCLC ’11, said.

“She always used to say, ‘You all are so wonderful!’ It always made you feel good about yourself, even if you were having a bad day. You could always tell that she was fighting,” JoVonna Parks, FCLC ’12, said.

Jefferson touched the lives of students and all who encountered her. “She was at the top of her profession. She will not be easily replaced. She left us a remarkable legacy that we will carry on,” Bristow said.