By Terrance Afer-Anderson
Arts & Culture Columnist
New Journal and Guide
While still a very young man, Collin Heyward’s mother made a humble proclamation that would prove prophetic. She and her impressionable son were watching the legendary Alvin Ailey dance company on television. She must have noticed that the compelling symphony of movement had struck a deep, rhythmic chord in young Collin, that it had dance into his very spirit. She chimed, “That could be you one day!”
The observation would indeed prove prophetic. Collin Heyward, now a celebrated Ailey dancer, can be seen in their upcoming performances, February 26, 27 and 28, at Chrysler Hall. This will be his local debut with the company, since he left Hampton Roads, not so many years ago, as a busy, promising dancer.
“This is my first time coming back to my old stomping ground, where I learned to dance. I’m very excited.” How else but as an “old stomping ground” would a gifted, prolific dancer describe what he sees as his home? And you can best believe that he is going to do some major footwork when he hits the stage at the Chrysler!
I had the occasion to chat with Heyward recently, as he contemplated his professional return to “the 757.”
A child of the U.S. military, Heyward was born at Lakenheath Air Force Base, about an hour Southeast of London. At 8 years of age, his family would eventually move to Virginia. Later, he would find his way to the Academy of Dance and Gymnastics, Newport News.
It was there that he was introduced to tap, jazz and ballet.
“I grew up dancing,” Heyward said.
Eventually, Heyward would continue his training at the dynamic Denise Wall’s Dance Energy, Ltd., Virginia Beach. It was there that he appears to have discovered a mastery and a passion for movement.
“I just love to move.” Heyward said. “I am more of a movement type of person. I just like the organic movement, things that feel good to the body, not necessarily a lot of classic aesthetics.”
Heyward was also a student at Woodside High School while at DWDE, his zeal to move realized there in athletics. He shared his passion for dance with only a few. “I kept my dance life to my friends in school. I really didn’t tell a lot of people, because I still wanted to be a jock. I ran cross country track.”
Yet, he remained fully immersed in dance. He had begun competing in competitions on the weekends and continued as a fervent student with Wall, accompanied by some fellow dancers who had studied with him at the Academy of Dance and Gymnastics. “Some of the people of my old dance studio transferred to Denise Wall.” They would travel to Virginia Beach together, doing their homework on their way. It was a demanding schedule. “My senior year was very tough, because I didn’t have much of a social life.” Yet, he saw the sacrifice of little consequence. “Denise Wall,” Heyward said, “opened my eyes.”
In 2006, Heyward attended the Ailey Summer School Intensive program. It was a major step in his mother’s prophecy coming to fruition. He was given a full-throttled introduction to the Ailey curriculum, including the diverse Lester Horton and Martha Graham techniques. The rigors of the Ailey summer program surely must have reaffirmed Heyward’s expectation that he would enjoy a rich dance career.
But there remained one more year of high school. Heyward graduated from Woodside in 2007. His last year there would be another, memorable step in realizing his mother’s proclamation.
“It wasn’t until my senior year, I signed up for a talent show.” He did a solo tap routine. His biggest competition was an especially popular Hip-Hop dancer, but Heyward was unaware of his own popularity as a dancer. “Everyone told all of their friends to vote for me,” he said. “I got the ‘senior superlative’ as the ‘Best Dancer.’ It was one of the best moments I had in high school. I was not afraid to be who I am. A lot of people don’t have that opportunity.”
It proved still yet another affirmation. Heyward would continue his education. In 2011, while attending both the Alvin Ailey School and Fordham University, concurrently, he earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from that celebrated Ailey/Fordham program.
Webster’s defines scholarship as “the character, qualities, activity, or attainments of a scholar,” traditionally a person who has voraciously pursued many years of training. Don’t let his youth trip you up. This young man is no doubt a master at tripping the light fantastic. “It’s an indescribable feeling,” he said. “You realize, ‘I’m doing what I love to do!’”
Perhaps it is simply because his mother saw a light in his eyes as he watched dancers leap, pirouette and adagio across their television screen, wisely observing, “That could be you one day!”