By Cami Gore
A former collegiate football player and mathematics major, Alvin Mayes, is now Head of Dance Performance and Scholarship at the University of Maryland. In this role, Mayes works to represent the entire student population.
Mayes, 72, contributes to the global impact of the university by “making dance for diverse communities,” according to globalmaryland.umd.edu.
“I felt the people in the dance didn’t represent the whole community of the University of Maryland, so I went out looking for more dancers to bring into the piece that did,” said Mayes on his choreography for the “Faculty Dance Concert” in 2017.
Two years later, Mayes is directing “Flyin’ West” at the University of Maryland. The play has an entirely African American cast.
“It’s really significant that we have come this far at the University of Maryland, and we can have the main stage all African American production,” said Mayes.
Master of Fine Arts in dance graduate and now a professor at the University of Maryland, Ama Law, had a cast of entirely African American females for her thesis piece, “Tides” performed last February. Law said that she had to start recruiting dancers over two years in advance in order to make this vision come to life.
“When I got closer to the show, my eyes became more aware to the lack of the diversity that we had,” said Law. She said that she has noticed a growth in diversity since last February, possibly because of Mayes’ efforts.
“One of the things that we want to do in our program is really give voice, give face and give action to some of the underrepresented people,” said Mayes.
One way that Mayes gives people a chance to be represented is by awarding scholarships, including the Alvin Mayes Scholarship for dance performance.
Gabriela Grant was the first recipient of the Alvin Mayes Scholarship. Grant was able to use the scholarship to fund her experience at the American Dance Festival.
“[Alvin] saw how much I really wanted to go to the American Dance Festival…I was really active in the department. I was exemplifying a lot of leadership and excellence,” said Grant.
Mayes has impacted the lives of students beyond scholarships, as well. Kristin Castaneda, who received her Bachelor of Arts in dance from the University of Maryland in 2017, recalled her graduation day being significant because of Mayes.
Castaneda’s sister, Taylor was undergoing treatment for thyroid cancer. She had a major surgery four days before Castaneda’s graduation. Taylor made it to the graduation, but towards the end was not feeling well and had to leave. Mayes, who met Taylor when Castaneda brought her in as a guest in his partnering class, followed Taylor to the car.
“He stopped the car door from closing to check on her, give her a hug, talk to her about how she was feeling and give her his well wishes,” said Castaneda. “I choked up when I saw this happen as my sister is naturally one of the most special people in my life, but Alvin is too.”
In terms of dancing and teaching, Castaneda said that Mayes taught her how to incorporate personal freedom and expression but maintain clarity in her movement.
“I think about how Alvin almost never demonstrated anything in class, yet I was dancing more clearly with my body when he was teaching me than nearly any other instructor I have ever had,” said Castaneda.
“He for some reason has the ability to teach from a chair,” said Law. “That was one of the specific reasons I shadowed him.” Law shadowed Mayes’ choreography class two years ago when she was pregnant. She said that Mayes taught her how to use specific verbal cues rather than demonstrate the movement.
“He helped me grow as a dancer, teacher and person. Alvin is a great role model and taught me how to mentor other people. I continue to find benefit from his mentorship,” said former student Elizabeth Chisolm who received her Bachelor of Arts in dance education from the University of Maryland in 2016.
Mayes did not always have his career set on dance, however. Despite being a childhood dancer focused on tap, Mayes had other interests including music, mathematics and football.
Mayes got his Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Michigan in 1969. He got his teaching certification in 1970 according to globalmaryland.umd.edu.
Alvin said he minored in music as well. Additionally, his freshman year he played on the University of Michigan football team. He stopped playing for the team after his first year.
“Playing sports for me just felt like a continuation of things that I had found success in high school. I really wanted to venture out and find new interests,” said Mayes.
He started dancing again in his junior year of college when he played a knight in the university’s production of “Camelot.” One of the dance professors saw the show and encouraged Mayes to take dance classes. His focus on modern dance began after that suggestion.
Since then, Mayes has studied dance techniques under experts including Elizabeth Bergmann, Gloria Newman, Jan Van Dyke, Karen Shanley, Eric Hampton, Anthony Tutor and Phyllis Lamhut, according to tdps.umd.edu.
Mayes has received numerous honors and awards for his success including the Pola Nirenska Lifetime Achievement in Dance Education Award in 2011, according to marylandyouthballet.org.
Other recognitions include receiving the Greenbaum Charitable Foundation Grant to bring dance to children where it is not accessible and receiving “Best of 2014” and “Best of 2012” honors from DC Metro Theater, according to tdps.umd.edu.
Mayes said that his accomplishments are best seen through his students, however.
“We all have an ego. Part of that ego is not so much of what I do or what I have done, but the perception of my students…what are they carrying away if I’m thinking of them as the next extension of my legacy,” said Mayes.
Featured Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland School of Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies’ Facebook Page.
Cami Gore is a sophomore journalism and dance major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.