The Alvin Ailey School strikes a ‘Pose’

Zita Allen | 7/19/2018, 10:28 a.m.
“Pose,” the new FX television show, is primarily about the often overlooked transgender members of the LGBTQ community and the ...
Ailey School co-director Tracy Inman with students from the Professional Division Craig Blankenhorn/FX photo

“Pose,” the new FX television show, is primarily about the often overlooked transgender members of the LGBTQ community and the 1980s ballroom scene associated with the dance craze known as voguing. But with the help of a thinly veiled location that turns out to be The Ailey School, another kind of dance also plays a pivotal role in this musical/dramatic comedy, as one of its characters, a gay Black youth named Damon, struggles to make his dreams a reality.

In recent interviews with Ailey School co-director Tracy Inman and actor Ryan Jamaal Swain, the Amsterdam News learned how The Ailey School strikes a pose in the TV show, whose success was just reaffirmed with the announcement that FX is picking it up for a second season.

That “Pose” is special is obvious the instant a sparkling marque flashes onto the small screen and the raspy voice of Tony winner Billy Porter, who plays a surly ballroom MC, booms emphatically, “And, the category is Live! Work! Pose!”

The Ailey School appears in the very first installment, when Damon (played by Swain) is kicked out of the house by his parents when they learn that he not only skipped school to take a ballet class but also is gay. After fleeing to New York City, Damon sleeps on park benches and dances on the street for small change before being rescued by the “mother” of one of the “houses” at the heart of the ballroom culture that gives shelter to runaways who, as Porter’s character says, “keep coming every day, as sure as the sun rises.”

But thanks to a dance audition the “mother” wrangles for him, Damon winds up at—you guessed it—The Ailey School. Sure, the name has been digitally transformed into the fictional New School for Dance, but the building is unmistakable. So, too, is something else—the influence of The Ailey School’s spirit in the journey of Damon.

What is also obvious is the help "Pose" received from Inman, The Ailey School's co-director with Melanie Person, who is choreographer and consultant. Working closely with the “Pose” producers, including Emmy Award winning “Glee” creator Ryan Murphy and transgender activist and writer Janet Mock, Inman shares both the nuts and bolts of Ailey’s signature Horton technique and that intangible Ailey spirit that infuses the very air one breathes when entering a lobby dominated by a gigantic poster of Alvin Ailey himself.

Inman is, after all, well-equipped for this invaluable behind-the-scenes role. He was once an Ailey School scholarship student himself, at the beginning of a dance career that includes working with Judith Jamison before she took the reins of the Ailey Company, dancing with Ailey II, performing in a European production of the Broadway hit “Cats,” and joining the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater before going on to teach at AileyCamp and eventually assuming the position at The Ailey School he has held for the past 18 years. Inman knows whereof he speaks when he shares both the technique and the heart and soul of Ailey with the producers and actors of “Pose.”