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New Orleans dancer returns home with Ailey II for NOBA performance

New Orleans native Courtney Ross and Lloyd A. Boyd III perform in as part of the Ailey II dance company. (Photo by Eduardo Patino)

When Courtney Ross steps onstage Saturday (Feb. 27) at Tulane University's Dixon Hall, she'll be surrounded by her fellow dancers of the Ailey II Company, and in the audience will be the people who helped get her there.

Ross, a New Orleans native, began taking dance lessons with the New Orleans Ballet Association in 2003 when she was just in the sixth grade. It wasn't her first time dancing — she'd been doing that since she could walk — but, to her, NOBA represented something rare in the world of dance: Free classes.

"As a dancer, it's a lot. The expenses add up when you factor in dance clothes, shoes, transportation, tuition. The fact that NOBA was tuition-free and, every now and then, could provide us with tap shoes, ballet shoes or tights for free, it was a great incentive for me to join," Ross said. "It's really an awesome program."

Ross will also return home thanks to NOBA, which is presenting Ailey II on Saturday as part of its season of dance programming and presentations. The company, which was founded in 1974 by Alvin Ailey for students from The Ailey School, will perform at 7:30 p.m. in Dixon Hall. Some tickets were still available via NOBA's website as of Tuesday.

The performance brings Ross' dance career so far full circle, she said.

"It's going to be really, really special ... because before I joined NOBA, I looked at dance as a hobby," said Ross, who graduated from NOCCA and Lusher Charter School. "Once I was immersed in the NOBA family, that's when I really realized dance wasn't just fun. It was something I was passionate about. ... That's when I realized that a little girl like me could really become a professional dancer, and that's when my dream of becoming a dancer solidified."

The program itself will be a presentation of four different works, including one by Ailey alumnus Jean Emile, one by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater principal dancer Jamar Roberts and Ailey masterpiece "Revelations."

"It's based off Alvin Ailey's background, growing up and him having to deal with all sorts of shortcomings as far as growing up in the early 1930s experiencing racism, poverty, growing up in the Depression," said Ailey II artistic director Troy Powell. "The only sort of relief, celebration he had was through the church, so he created 'Revelations' based on celebrating his African-American heritage through those struggles and those blood memories."

The fourth work Ailey II will take on in New Orleans is the company's first ever hip-hop choreography.

"It's a fun piece," Powell said of the Kyle Clark work entitled "I Am the Road." "It talks about his life, his struggle as a dancer and finding a place in the dance world and how he takes that road to success. ... The body language of hip-hop and how it has a definitive meaning and is not just steps."

The pieces are all part of what Powell hopes his dancers, like Ross, are learning from Ailey II.

"You have to tell your story, no matter what it is, because everyone has a story. Challenge yourself. Go beyond the set. Make something of the set and the movement and the piece as it's done," Powell said. "When they're performing, it's all a part of their experience. It's something that becomes a part of their lives."

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