At the White House, dancers get room to move in East Room events

The first lady welcomes members of the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater and young dancers from around the nation.
By Sarah Kaufman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Sure enough, someone hit the chandelier.

You want to avoid it when you're dancing in the East Room of the White House, but as the many dancers who have had the distinction of leaping and spinning there can attest, it can take tricky choreography to ensure that airborne bodies don't graze the low-hanging crystal.

But it was bound to happen at the Obama administration's first dance event, held Tuesday night in honor of Judith Jamison, the longtime artistic director of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, who is retiring next year. Bound to happen because of the crackling output of the performers, regardless of the intimate space.

The hour-long affair, introduced by Michelle Obama -- and also attended by her daughters Sasha and Malia and their grandmother, Marian Robinson -- included some of the nation's most electrifying dancers. In addition to those from the Ailey troupe, there were members of the New York City Ballet, Paul Taylor Dance Company, the Washington Ballet, the b-boy group Super Cr3w and one of the Billys (Dayton Tavares) from "Billy Elliot the Musical." With that kind of energy in the room, it was only a matter of time before the fixtures shook.

It finally happened during the "Wade in the Water" section from Ailey's churning gospel-fueled work "Revelations," when Renee Robinson, a dancer of penetrating, living power, clipped a glittering finial with the umbrella she was carrying. There was a little impromptu shower of reflected light, but no harm was done.

Anyway, the room had been rocked that afternoon, when 100 or so dance students from across the country participated in a workshop taught by some of the dancers who went on to perform Tuesday night.

"We could hear you a little bit upstairs," said Michelle Obama, addressing the young students at the evening performance, along with other assorted guests, many from the arts community. (The president was not in attendance.) The crowd laughed. "Did you all have fun this afternoon?"

"Yes!" came the shouted reply.

"Did you work up a good sweat?" Obama asked.


"Well, good." She nodded, and slipped in a mention of her "Let's Move" fitness campaign. "So that's good -- moving, dancing, all that stuff."

Oh, yes. Moving, dancing and all that stuff was indeed good on this night, as the art of dance was affectionately toasted and passionately executed in the first installment of what the first lady called "the new White House dance series," a chance to experience "the glory of movement."

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