Celebrating Black History Month: Part 1

Posted on: October 18, 2020

For Black History Month 2020, Magpie Dance are doing a two-part news feature to celebrate. This week we will hear from our Operations Coordinator Ayanna Allen – a Black-British dance artist. She’ll be talking about her experiences as a Black woman in the UK arts scene.



Q: How did you get into dance?


A: I have been dancing for pretty much my whole life. I started Saturday classes at the age of 3 in Ballet and Tap and basically, never looked back!


Q: What professional training have you had?


A: I have been lucky enough to undergo years of professional dance training. Unlike most schools in the present day, my secondary school had dance as a subject and I chose to take it as an option for my GCSE’s. Following that, I went on to do A Level Dance and train with one of the UK’s only youth touring companies, Flexus Dance Collective. After 2 years with Flexus, I went on to train at Bath Spa University and received a first-class degree in BA Hons Dance.


Q: Which Black dance artists did you look up to throughout your training?


A: As a Black dancer training in contemporary, I rarely saw any dancers that looked like me in my specific style of training. However, thanks to the A Level syllabus back when I was 16, I found out about Alvin Ailey.

Ailey and his company, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (AAADT), were a huge inspiration for me. I found Ailey’s choreography to be incredibly powerful, and I loved the fact that it interlinked so beautifully with the ‘Black experience’. His company danced about things that I recognised and understood, and I became drawn to his work, feeling inspired to really pursue a career as a dance artist.

Through further researching Ailey’s work, I was introduced to other notable names such as Katherine Durham, Judith Jamison and others who paved the way for Black females in contemporary dance. These incredible women helped me to finally feel as though I could have a space in the contemporary dance world.


Q: How important was it for you to see diversity in dance? What are your thoughts on diversity in dance?


A: Diversity in dance is paramount and it’s my main goal as a dance artist to ensure that there is diversity in the arts world, hence why I was so keen to work with Magpie Dance. I truly believe that dance is in every single one of us. We all have our own unique ways of moving and doing, which is a dance in itself! Dance is creative, performative, improves health and wellbeing and fulfils our lives; it’s such an important artform that everybody should have the chance to experience.

In my opinion, the dance world in the UK could certainly be more diverse and inclusive, it’s both mine and Magpie Dance’s mission to ensure that this happens.


Q: Do you have any favourite black dancers/dance companies?


A: I think it’s obvious from my previous answer that I’m a huge fan of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, but there’s so many others that I love too! There is so much talent out there (so this list is not exhaustive!), but some of my favourite UK dance companies led by Black Artistic Directors are:


  • Movement Angol – A company that I work with and have had the pleasure to be able to perform for.
  • ACE Dance and Music – One of the first contemporary dance companies that I saw with Black Directors.
  • Phoenix Dance Theatre – A longstanding company who have helped to pave the way for contemporary dance in the UK


To find out more about Ayanna, visit her profile here. You can also find her on LinkedIn and Instagram: @ayannaallenarts.