Niles Ford, choreographer, dancer, husband and father, died in his sleep at his home in Brooklyn on Saturday, Jan. 14. He was 52. The cause was a massive heart attack.
Anyone who was a part of the dance scene in New York from the ’70s onward is sure to remember Ford as a vibrant member of the dance community. His smile was electric. He had a way of talking directly to you, even within a crowd of people; that’s just how he was.
Ford loved dance and all that it offered and always took the stage with raw abandon. He had a way of melding technique with popular social dance moves. As a performer, he danced for Philadanco, Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, Rod Rodgers Dance Company, Dance Theatre of Harlem, Ronald K. Brown/Evidence, Marlies Yearby and on film for dancer/filmmaker Gabri Christa. Ford received a Bessie Award in 1993 for his work in Marian Soto’s “Historias.”
As a choreographer, Ford presented works that addressed cultural themes. Among the many works he presented, of his “Black and White Rendering of Love, Hate and the Blues” (1993), Jennifer Dunning of the New York Times wrote, “[It] suggested two friends examining racism and homophobia through shared memories, conversation and arguments.” And of “In Search of Invisible People” (2008), created with Nathan Trice, Dunning wrote they “explored the thriving club dance scene of the ’70s and ’80s. Evoking its subject in choreography, film clips and interviews with DJs…[it] wove in political commentary that addressed the scourge of AIDS and saw damage done to a vibrant grassroots art by the administration of Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani.”
Ford was born in Philadelphia and received a BFA from University of the Arts and a MFA from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. He taught dance to many high school and university students throughout New York and New Jersey.
In 2001, he began his company, Urban Dance Collective (UDC), to “communicate, through the bodies, spirits and energies of younger dancers, his spirituality and vision of love, undiluted.” UDC was scheduled to premiere a new work, “15 Steps,” on Friday, Jan. 27 as part of FLIC Fest. The performance will still take place but will now be followed by a video tribute. There will also be a gathering on Saturday, Jan. 28 to celebrate Ford. For more information, visit www.nilesfordudc.org.
Our friend will be missed by many. Joan Myers Brown, artistic director and founder of Philadanco, remembered, “To watch Niles grow from a boy to a man was one of the nicest experiences…it was very important to follow his career.”
Bill T. Jones, artistic director and choreographer of Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, added, “Niles was a man with a warrior’s body and a lion’s heart dedicated to justice and fierce beauty.”
Christa, a dancer/choreographer/filmmaker, shared, “He was the perfect collaborator; insightful, intelligent and always supportive. Above all, he was the best partner ever, my soul mate on the dance floor. I loved his humor, his combination of strength and softness.”
Ford is survived by his wife, Jenny Taylor-Ford; two sons, Isaac, 13, and Malik, 9; his mother, Clarice Ford; and sister Stacey E. Ford.
Taylor-Ford warmly offered her thanks to everyone who has come forward to share memories of Ford. She said, “I feel like this man was such a lover of not just family, but everyone. He was most happy in our home setting, but was even happier when he had finished cooking jerk chicken and would say, ‘I like it if you eat my chicken.’ We have a lot of good memories of those times.”