The Clark Center for the Performing Arts Remembered in a CUNY Celebration

The Clark Center for the Performing Arts Remembered in a CUNY Celebration

Published on September 22, 2015
Students at The Clark Center/photo courtesy Jill Williams

Panels, Classes, Performances and a Special "From The Horses Mouth" Reveal The Clark Center's Inner Life

The Clark Center, began with the inspiration of Alvin Ailey in 1959 and closed its doors in 1989. From 1959-89, The Clark Center for the Performing Arts became a haven for black dancers who, at that time, did not have ample opportunity to study or have access to quality teaching and rehearsal space. The Center provided dancers the opportunity to study technique, choreography and explore their talents. Clark Center NYC is dedicated to preserving the history and continuing the legacy of The Clark Center for the Performing Arts.

On September 28, Clark Center NYC will begin a weeklong residency at City College Center for the Arts. The residency, which will pay tribute to the legendary Clark Center for the Performing Arts, will include master classes, a panel discussion, and two nights of performances of From the Horse’s Mouth, Oct. 1 and 2. All events will take place at Aaron Davis Hall.

Courtesy of The Clark Center NYC

With participation by more than 20 Clark Center alumni including Carmen de Lavallade, Loretta Abbott, Meredith Monk, and Sheila Rohan, the From the Horse’s Mouth production will feature a unique blend of movement, storytelling and supportive visual imagery to bring memories of The Clark Center for the Performing Arts vividly to life.

Tina Croll, co-creator and director of From the Horse’s Mouth, and Jill Williams, Director of Clark Center NYC, sat down recently to answer some questions The Dance Enthusiast posed about the upcoming tribute performances. Here are excerpts from the conversation sent in as a POSTCARD TO THE DANCE ENTHUSIAST.

THE DANCE ENTHUSIAST:  Tina, tell us about the “Horses Mouth” concept, and a bit about how you and Jill Williams got together. How did From the Horse’s Mouth wind up working with Clark Center NYC?


TINA CROLL: Jamie Cunningham and I started From the Horse’s Mouth in 1998, wanting to allow our amazing dancer friends a format where they could express themselves verbally as well as physically. The stories they shared were a major part of their lives. The From the Horse’s Mouth concept became like a living history, revealing the inner life of dance.

JILL WILLIAMS: About three years ago, as Clark Center NYC was trying to establish our 'footprint', Clark Center choreographer Sandra Burton and I approached Tina and Jamie about doing this project. I had just seen a performance of FTHM and thought it was a great vehicle to begin to share the Clark Center story. Since that first meeting, Clark Center NYC has made itself known on various levels, with programs, panel discussions and archival projects. Check this link to see what we’ve been up to: See Clark Center NYC's website 

Thelma Hill leading a Clark Center Class. Hill collaborated with Alvin Ailey and other dancers, including Charles Moore and James Truitte, to found a dance-training program at a New York City YWCA. In 1962, the program became the Clark Center for the Performing Arts. Besides studio and performance space, the center provided classes in a variety of techniques and choreographic approaches. ( This text excerpt is from "Free to Dance" Channel 13 WNET, for more on click here.)

TDE:  How did you and Jamie Cunningham originate From the Horses Mouth? The concept? Describe your first performance? When did you know you hit onto something great?

TINA: Jamie and I were sharing a program of our work old and new, and then decided we really should do something together. We wanted to include our wonderful dancer friends, but needed to create a simple structure for performance, to be learned in just a few rehearsals, because everyone is always so busy. So we created a format where dancers could express themselves with personal stories (limit, two minutes!), memories and anecdotes. The stories they tell are a major part of FTHM.

Our first performance was at Joyce Soho in 1998, with twelve dancers in each performance. The cast changed each night. Participants included Pat Catterson, H.T. Chen, Yoshiko Chuma, Ze’eva Cohen, Jane Comfort, Terry Creach, Carmen de Lavallade, Stuart Hodes, Deborah Jowitt, Elizabeth Keen, Sharon Kinney, Stephan Koplowitz, Muriel Manings, Jim Martin, Wendy Perron, Kathryn Posin, Sara Rudner, Sally Silvers, Gus Solomons Jr., Linda Tarnay,  and Cathryn Williams.

We knew after the first performance that we’d hit on something great. There were huge cheers and a standing ovation at every performance. The audience loved hearing the stories, and being able to get to know the dancers personally--to see the “real” person behind those gorgeous dance moves!

Photo by Tom Caravaglia: A particularly colorful From the Horses Mouth photo gathering. ( see notes about photo contest below)

PHOTO CONTEST: The FIRST READER who can name every artist in the above picture (with most creative guesses for the masked characters) will win TWO FREE TICKETS  to The Dance Enthusiast's Enthusiastic Event on the evening of  October 13th! contact  CLICK HERE TO ENTER YOUR ANSWERS:(from left to right) Don't forget your contact info!

TDE: What do you love about this work? How many groups have you and Jamie put into this format and for how many years have you done so?

TINA: Jamie and I LOVE LOVE doing this piece. We love getting to know a new group of dancers and hearing their stories. Over 1,000 dancers have performed in From the Horse’s Mouth over the past 17 years.

TDE: We love the whimsy of the concept and find that it is very “dance enthusiastic'” in its spirit, i.e. sharing the important individual/personal stories in the dance world. What have been some of your favorite stories-- ones that surprised you, or touched you?

TINA:  Two of my favorites are Jason Samuels Smith and Pablo Ruvalcaba--here’s a video of that performance (see below). There really were so many wonderful stories over the years…

TDE: Why is it important for us today to focus on the history of the Clark Center for the Performing Arts? What does it mean to you to be part of Clark Center NYC, and what are your goals for the organization in the future? What is it that we can take away and learn from it?

JILL: Those of us who were affiliated with Clark Center (between 1959 -1989) knew that our affiliation with the Center--as students, teachers, choreographers, dancers--was special. Clark Center for the Performing Arts was a dance studio (with incredible faculty), producers of emerging companies (many who continue to impact the dance world) and a community.


Clark Center NYC is dedicated to preserving the history and continuing the legacy of Clark Center for the Performing Arts, created in 1959 with the great inspiration of Alvin Ailey. The Center created a uniquely diverse arts community in New York City, and became a rich resource for dancers, choreographers, students and others interested in dance.

Clark Center NYC hopes to continue to expand its website content, archives, education and mentoring, and to host symposia and presentations which honor the past, champion the present and build for the future.

To Learn More About The Clark Center NYC
Check out info on The Clark Center's History and Mission by Clicking here to The Clark Center NYC's site
Check out Artist Driven Archives Documenting Creative Spaces The Clark Center
 Alvin Ailey, Lucinda Ransom and Loretta Abbott in Revelations. Photo courtesy of the Clark Center via The Ailey Archives.

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