Denise Jefferson, director of The Ailey School for 26 years, died July 17 in New York of ovarian cancer. She was 65.
“Words cannot express the magnitude of Denise’s loss to both the Ailey organization and to the world of dance,” Judith Jamison, artistic director of the Ailey company, said in a statement. “It is a testament to her leadership that 87 percent of current Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater dancers honed their skills through training from The Ailey School.”
Jefferson was born in Chicago, where she began her ballet studies with Edna L. McRae. She was awarded a scholarship to the Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance and later danced with the Pearl Lang Dance Company.
After teaching at The Ailey School for 10 years, she was appointed its director in 1984.
Her tenure saw the development in 1998 of the Ailey/Fordham BFA program, which offers Ailey students the chance to pursue liberal arts studies at Fordham University.
Tracy Inman and Melanie Person have been named acting co-directors of The Ailey School. Ana Marie Forsythe has been appointed acting director of the Ailey/Fordham BFA program.
Jefferson is survived by her daughter Francesca Harper, her sister Margo Jefferson, and her mother, Irma Jefferson. A memorial concert is being planned at The Ailey Studios; donations may be made in Jefferson’s memory to the Denise Jefferson Scholarship Fund at The Ailey School.