Legendary dancer and choreographer Martha Graham once said, “Dance is the hidden language of the soul.” And this is the language with which Tracey Alvey will tell her life story. Tracey is the artistic director and CEO of Alabama Ballet, which is now celebrating its 40th season, and she’s been dancing since she was 9 years old.
Born in Kent, England, Tracey trained at the Royal Ballet School and has danced for Queen Elizabeth II and Princess Diana. During her career as a performer, she had lead roles in productions of Swan Lake, Romeo and Juliet, Cinderella, and Giselle. After retiring from the stage, she began teaching at Elmhurst School of Dance (located in Birmingham, England, ironically). Eager to work with professional dancers again, Tracey eventually made her way across the pond to the Alabama Ballet. We’re excited to introduce our newest FACE of Birmingham, Tracey Alvey.
Alabama Ballet is celebrating its 40th anniversary. What are you most excited for this season?
We always try to bring something new and exciting every season. And for the 40th anniversary, we’re bringing two brand new ballets into the rep that we’ve never done before and that Birmingham has never seen, one of which is George Balanchine’s Western Symphony and the other is Garrett Smith’s Imitations. Both pieces are brand new to our rep and brand new to our dancers. So, this was really to kickstart the 40th anniversary with a very special program. And then, of course, we go into The Nutcracker, which is an important program for us. We’re [also] revisiting Blue Suede Shoes. It’s back by popular demand in February.
Why do you think dance speaks to people across cultures?
I feel that there’s something for everybody — classical dance, modern dance, contemporary dance, hip hop … it’s like going to a gallery. You’re not going to like everything you see in that gallery, but something will click with you. I also feel that it’s something that should be experienced live. It doesn’t translate very well onto a video or TV screen. You have to go to see the stage when it’s full of dancers moving in unison.
Diversity and inclusion have become a focus for many companies and organizations over the past year or so, and historically, the ballet world has not been a very diverse field. What have you and others at the Alabama Ballet been doing to try to change this?
The Alabama Ballet recognizes our responsibility to be an open and welcoming organization to all of our students, dancers, staff, and audience members. As a professional company, we strive to continue to be open and accessible to all dancers of the highest-quality training, regardless of race or background.
What has kept you in the dance world all these years?
I danced professionally until I was 37 years old. I was always learning. I never stopped learning. From the day I started as a 9-year-old to the day I retired, I was always discovering something. There was always a new challenge. And it’s exactly the same with being a director. I go into the studio, and I am learning constantly. I’m learning how to deal with people, how to get the best from a dancer who may be difficult to manage, and how to gain their trust and work with them and pull out the best performances that I can pull out from them. No two days are the same. There are ups and downs, but you really never stop growing as a person, as an artist, as a boss. The studio has always been a very happy place for me, even on a bad day.
My mother had always said, “When you stop dancing, Tracey, you need to teach.” But I said, “No, when I stop dancing, I’m going to have another career completely.” So when I stopped dancing, I took a computer course, and I went to work in an office for two years. I was so miserable. So, I decided I’m going to do a teacher training course at the Royal Academy of Dance in London, and that led to a job at Elmhurst, and that led to something else and so on. I do believe your path is set out for you, and I also believe if you fall off the path, you just have to hoist yourself back on, and eventually, you’ll land where you need to be.
What would you say is the key to longevity, not just in the world of dance but in any field?
You have to reinvent yourself and keep current and open up avenues of communication with people outside your immediate circle. I think it’s really important to have influences from outside and listen … listen to people.
What encouragement would you offer to people who are afraid to pursue their passions?
Follow your dreams. It’s really important that you take every opportunity. Life is short, and you never know what is around the corner, and if something is reaching out to you, then you have to grab it with both hands and fight for it.
Some people have more opportunities than the rest. Some of the best dancers I’ve ever worked with have [had] the most difficult journey. And that struggle they had – whether it was physical or financial — to get where they needed to be and do what they wanted to, to do what they loved, to do what they were passionate about made them better, made them stronger, made them more engaged, and more committed, and more involved. They’re going to do it no matter what.
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
I really just like to chill with my husband and four dogs. We take our time off very seriously. We have a beautiful log cabin on Smith Lake. We listen to a lot of music. I love to read. We like the cinema. We eat very well. My husband is a great cook, and I like to bake. I’m sort of domesticated in a weird way.
What kind of music do you enjoy?
We listen to anything, but mostly things from my generation. We just bought ourselves a record player, which we haven’t had for years, and we rediscovered our collection … Stevie Wonder, The Moody Blues, Genesis, Elvis, the Rolling Stones, Peter Gabriel, Jackson Browne, J.J. Cale. It’s quite eclectic, but I listen to a lot of old British rock.
What’s the last book you read?
One of the last books I read – which I reread a lot – is one of my favorites: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
The best advice I’ve ever been given is a classic: Do what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life. I come to work every morning and I’m excited for the day. If you can find a position in life that you are passionate about, life is easy. I’ve been fortunate. Not many people can say that. I fell into this job as a dancer. I just happened to be there at the right time with the right teacher, and it just happened.
Name three things you can’t live without.
My iPad, a weekly pedicure, and “The Great British Bake Off.”
Thank you, Tracey! All photography courtesy of Alabama Ballet.
Subscribe to StyleBlueprint for a Life of Style + Substance.