Like most young, Black or mixed hopeful movers, watching a live performance of the infamous ‘Revelations’ was a pivotal turning point in my life. It was that performance that sealed the trajectory of a life in the arts and in healing.
Later on I would travel to New York numerous times and pop into Ailey for a class or two (hello Dunham technique!). And, later on when I transitioned from full time dancer to full time Pilates teacher, I would end up in various places around the world, most notably Turkey.
I was in and out of Istanbul over a period of 14 years and every now and then I’d hear about some mysterious Black woman from America that had visited and taught Pilates. It was always bits and pieces of a story. What I picked up was that she was impressive, a dancer and had great skin (she’d told a client the key was to firmly push and lift up the flesh of the face).
I didn’t think much of it.
Around the time that I finally learned about Kathy Grant, a colleague and friend (the Turkish Pilates diva) who escaped to Manhattan for two months every year, spoke about her friend. This friend knew EVERYTHING about NYC, every performance, performer, modality, instructor, studio and on and on.
All this time, all of these instances -- it was Sarita Allen at its core.
I was connected and yet disconnected from her.
I finally met this incredibly talented individual at the 2018 BGPI meet-up in NYC. Along with Wendy Amos, she shared stories and insights about Kathy Grant (while kicking our asses of course).
Most dancers are not comfortable with speech and prefer to express themselves solely through movement. Sarita however, commands the room. It’s apparent in every interview and podcast and certainly in her classes. There’s something theatrical yet natural and grounding in her captivation. Seriously, she should do Ted Talks.
Here is the thing that astounds me, Sarita’s essence, her teaching skills, her passion and her divine link to legacy is DIVA material. While she carries herself with elegance and poise, she is completely approachable and open and quite frankly humble -- dare I say, a little too humble. Society has praised people for a lot less.
Any dancer would be envious of her career. A career in which she was the muse of a visionary (Alvin Ailey) performing at the White House (twice!), The Kennedy Center, The Paris Opera and historical sites such as the Acropolis and the Great Pyramids of Giza.
At the same time she was mentoring under another exceptional human, Kathy Grant. Sarita credits her longevity and illustrious career to the unique and intuitive teachings of this Pilates elder.
These achievements would be more than enough for most people to rest their laurels on, but oh.. Not Sarita. She’s been connected to Dance Theatre of Harlem, Complexions (in which she’s Artistic Advisor), Judith Jamison and Jacob’s Pillow, two feature films, an Opera, developed the Ailey Barre technique and has implemented Pilates programmes for the likes of HBO, CNN, and Warner Brothers… to name a few.
As the covid-19 pandemic forced many to adapt to online teaching, Sarita was no exception. She seems to have embraced and thrived with this change. Lucky for us we can see and hear more from her. I could devour every interview and workshop -- her story range is endless.
I’ve had the pleasure of taking her classes online, both her Kathy Grant focused class and her Ailey fusion class. First off, nothing gets past that woman -- even on zoom!
And second, her classes are always different. Somehow, every class -- the flow, focus, tone was exactly what I needed physically, mentally and emotionally.
Sarita Allen is a treasure, a grand Diva in her own right, yet her humility seems reminiscent of Kathy Grant. Perhaps it's an ode to the great achievers that have walked the walk with no need to flaunt it. Perhaps that’s why Sarita is referred to as one of our ‘Hidden Figures’ in the Black Pilates realm.
Whatever it is, as we read about the Cicely Tysons’, Misty Copelands’ and Tina Turners’ let us not forget the Black Royalty that is right in our midst.