HomeLearning CenterFirst Black Director of Julliard Dance Remakes Her Division

First Black Director of Julliard Dance Remakes Her Division

Originally published by Brian Seibert for The New York Times

When Alicia Graf Mack taught the final ballet class for students graduating in spring from the dance division of Juilliard, it was a gentle, valedictory session: a lot of laughter, inside jokes and memories, a few tears. She’s a warm, gracious teacher who sometimes calls herself Mama Mack, and she got a little teary herself.

“I’ve had this feeling in my chest all week,” she said.

These were the first students that Mack admitted after taking over as dean and director of the division five years ago. She and the students had been through a lot together, including the pandemic and the many changes she has brought to one of the most prestigious and influential dance programs in the country.

Mack, 44, represents change. She is the first Black person to hold the position, and the youngest. Speaking in her office a few weeks before graduation, she said all her decisions flow from the goal of increasing equity, diversity, inclusion and belonging. But a look at those decisions makes clear that she is also about continuity. During the class, she kept slipping in allusions to her teachers and to teachers that she and the students had in common. She called the class a meditation on what bound them together, saying, “It’s about connections, y’all.”

Many of the changes Mack has instituted seem long overdue. She has added hip-hop and West African dance. She’s made sure that Spring Dances, a series in which students learn and perform classic works, includes choreographers of color — it didn’t before — and more women. Specialized ballet classes that used to be divided by gender no longer are. Now, anyone can take pointe class.

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