Gloria Estefan, L.L. Cool J, and Lionel Richie were among the more well-known recipients of the Kennedy Center Honors, which aired Tuesday night—but please don’t sleep on Carmen de Lavallade, a groundbreaking and extremely talented dancer who finally got her well-deserved due.
La Vallade followed in the footsteps of her cousin, Janet Collins, one of the few first black classically trained ballerinas. Collins eventually went on to become a prima ballerina at the New York Metropolitan Opera and la Vallade studied with Lester Horton, a pioneer of modern dance in Los Angeles who established the country’s first racially integrated dance company. Eventually la Vallade made her way to New York, taking her good friend Alvin Ailey with her. He ended up creating his own company and la Vallade enjoyed a career that included Broadway, television, and movies.
When initially invited to the reception at the White House for the Kennedy Center Honorees in August, la Vallade declined politely, saying, “In light of the socially divisive and morally caustic narrative that our current leadership is choosing to engage in, and in keeping with the principles that I and so many others have fought for, I will be declining the invitation to attend the reception at the White House.” She did attend the actual ceremony—a Trump-free space—and was therefore able to enjoy the many wonderful tributes to her life and career as a dancer, choreogpapher, actress, and entertainer.
Here’s Misty Copeland’s beautiful tribute.
Here’s a tribute to la Vallade’s iconic performance of “Soul Bossa Nova,” as well as the “Wade in the Water” section of Alvin Ailey’s epic “Revelations”—something I believe every single human being should see live and in person at least once before they die!! I get chills every single time!
If you can believe it, la Vallade is still teaching. She’s 86. I’m inspired.