Alvin Ailey Showed Me How to Fly

I was minutes away from seeing my first Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater production. Seated on row G seat 67, I patiently awaited the show to begin. The crimson curtains were closed, and I was full of a zesty pasta dish I had eaten earlier at Baraonda for lunch. From the seventh row in the orchestra, I was perfectly positioned at the edge of the stage and thus directly in the middle of the action. I was minutes away from learning how to fly.

I'd taken myself on a Valentine's Day lunch hours earlier. At the popular Italian restaurant located on Peachtree St., I'd fed myself with all of my favorite things: fried calamari, Georgia coastline shrimp, dried tomatoes, lemon zest and bread! I was in heaven.

Though, while sitting at the rear of the restaurant, I noticed that I was the only person eating alone on Lover's Day. I spotted parties around the quaint eatery -- from old couples to parents sharing a bite with their children. Yet, I did not see anyone eating alone on Valentine's Day...besides me.

But, I can understand why. To some, eating out alone is absurd. To some, being a black man is deadly and being queer is an abomination. And still, to others, self-love is inconceivable. So how dare I be and do all that in public, especially on Valentine's Day?

Valentine's Day was reserved for heterosexual couples for years. Only recently have queer folk begun being courageous in their holiday expressions of love. For those reasons I contend that many individuals share sentiments that are either exclusive and hyper-sensationalized or bitter towards the Hallmark holiday. In short, couples love it and singles loathe it.

But alas, there I was -- Black, queer, brilliant, single -- at a table with a basket of bread and a full heart. I noticed the suspicious eyes of other guests of the restaurant as I placed my order. My mind couldn't help but to narrate their personal conversations and wandering eyes. Why is that Black boy eating alone? What is he doing here? My thoughts raced from notions of shame to a microcosmic critique of Spelman College President Beverly Daniel Tatum's book Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? Except, the fact, I was sitting alone at Baraonda.

I can recognize how that would be unnerving to some people. Most people don't know what self-love is and even fewer practice it. Sitting alone at lunch before the Alvin Ailey show was a stand for me, a form of personal activism. I was revolutionizing my small little sector of the universe with a radiant aura of self-love.

I began to read an article on pursuing love as a Black queer man as I moved on from my fried calamari appetizer to my main dish: the Linguini Pasta, which I would highly recommend. As the delicious meal before me settled into my stomach, and the words of the article on my mind, I reevaluated my perspective on finding love: What does loving Timothy look like? How much is my love worth? Why do I care so much about being in a relationship?

What I learned through my large plate of pasta and self-contemplation was that I'm worthy. My actions proved it for me. I initially debated whether to walk straight into the Fox theater for the matinee show or to enjoy a meal with myself, but I chose the latter...because I'm worthy. Before I placed my order for my meal, I debated the dish because of the price. I ultimately decided to get it, because I believe I'm worthy.

As I left Baraonda and walked into the Fox, pride overcame me as I had just overcome one major obstacle: fear. I made a conscious decision to push myself beyond my limited parameters and to pursue my desires.

Instead of wallowing in self-pity, I chose to revel in self-fulfillment. I decided to love myself one experience at a time.

Walking down the aisle of the Fox theater, I marveled with childlike wonder at the setting. The rich red, draping curtains, baroque finishing, crimson seats, gilded statues, defined wood carving all echoed the notions of tradition and regality. The decor welcomed me.

Minutes before the show began I noticed a band of coupled-Black queer men two rows in front of me and aside them, a middle-aged White man with his young daughter. My mind immediately raced to my not-yet-adopted daughter, Ruth. "I recalled all of the heartfelt emotion I penned for her in A Letter to Ruth. I then received this moment as a Divine affirmation that I was in the right place. I remembered love. I was with love, and thus love was with me.

The theater blackened as the curtains opened and the overture began. The rummaging of programs ceased, and the ethereal halos from patrons' heads diminished. We were preparing for our feast.

The company performed Polished Pieces, Awassa Astrige/Ostrich, Grace and Revelations. Each performance section left patrons hungry for more. Every dancer left pieces of himself or herself on the stage like a truffle on a scallop. As the late Alvin Ailey would say, "They gave dance back to the people," and the people ate it up.

The Awassa Astrige / Ostrich, particularly, spoke to me. As the chiseled brown dancer, strutted across the Fox theater's stage he ruffled his vivid ostrich feathers fastened around his waist and revealed the fluidity of the mammoth bird. It, like most of us, was attempting to fly. Despite its large size, it flapped its wings to the rhythmic percussion of the djembes and with each step, etched closer to a new height.

I enjoyed a brief Q&A session with dancers from the company following the show. The dancers entertained the inquiries of what seemed like a thousand little wide-eyed brown girls who dreamed of being Alvin Ailey dancers. The conversation was calming.

Much like the conversation, my Valentine's Day date calmed and released me. In me taking myself on a date to see a show I'd never seen before in a theater I'd never been to, I made a move on me, for me. I told myself: You're worth it.

It's my hope that all young people, not only just Black queer men, understand that loving yourself is imperative. We deserve to live happy, full and blessed lives. And we can, no matter what we are or what we do. If you desire it, you can obtain it. Get it for yourself because waiting for someone else is never a good idea. What are you waiting for? You already have all you need inside. So flap your wings, I think it's time you learned how to fly.