Updated: Aug 4
Aubrey Lynch II tells his raw and inspiring journey as an accomplished dancer, teacher, and life coach. After overcoming many hardships such as growing up bullied, living in the projects in NYC, to many other obstacles, Aubrey uses his experiences to inspire others to follow his lead in reaching for the stars.
Straight out of Michigan, Aubrey stepped foot into NYC to start a dance career, where he became one of the last dancers chosen by Alvin Ailey. After several seasons with the Ailey Company, Aubrey ventured into the commercial world, becoming an original cast member of the iconic Broadway musical, "The Lion King", and rising through the ranks from dance captain, associate choreographer, to associate producer. He developed a curriculum “The Aubrey Lynch Experience” which aims to teach important life lessons to students of the arts. Currently, Aubrey is the Chief Education & Creative Programs Officer at the Harlem School of the Arts.
How old were you when you began dancing?
I started late. I was probably 16, I was in high school. I was entering my junior year when I started. I was very flexible and coordinated. I picked up dance very quickly.
What advice do you have for latecomers to have a successful dance career?
You have to work very hard. Whether you are younger or older. If you are older, your body has kind of already set. It's going to be hard to become flexible, but you can do it. A lot of professionals started dancing late. You just have to work much harder. However, latecomers have a tendency to do well because if you have been dancing your whole life, it's easy to take dance for granted, it's all you know and most people that have the facility, the natural gift of dance, and have been dancing since they were a child get bored and quit. People have to work hard when starting late or maybe your body isn't as flexible or there are other issues going on. People who work hard are often better because in dance you have to work hard and you have to be dedicated. It can happen. You have to be willing to work hard and train as much as possible, especially in ballet.
What inspired you to become a dancer?
A friend of mine convinced me to enter a dance contest and at that time I was a class nerd and people talked about me because I was one of the few black students in school. They said racial slurs and I was afraid to be in the building. I thought to myself “I'm not going to dance in front of these people. They're gonna beat me up. Are you crazy?” But she convinced me and we won. Then we went to the community competition and we won. She invited me to her dance studio and I began taking classes. I went from being this little black boy in the back of the room afraid to go to the bathroom by myself, to being one of the most popular kids. They still talked about me like a dog, you know. N****r, f***t, pansy, all these things, but no one did it to my face anymore.
Did that situation make an impact on anyone?
When I went to my 30th class reunion, two guys came to me individually and apologized. One of them said “ I am really sorry that I did not stand up for you. I have always thought of you because I felt so bad that no one ever stepped in to help you. Because of your resilience, I have followed your career ever since. My nephew plays the guitar and when his father gave him a hard time, I stood up for him. Now he's a guitar player in a band.” And the other guy said almost the same thing. “ I am sorry no one stood up for you, we are all very inspired and proud of you.” Unprovoked! At the time those situations did not register as bad things, but as a dancer, I felt powerful and beautiful. Dance gave me permission to be myself. That was life-changing and that's why I am so committed to HSA because I see on another basis how the arts transform kids and therefore their family.
What was it like being one of the last dancers chosen by Alvin Ailey?
To be told by Alvin Ailey that he wants to work with me was the happiest day of my life. We went to his office and we talked about how excited he was to work with me. I risked everything coming out of chemistry and going against my parents' wishes and moving to NYC. I was robbed, mugged, and I had to learn a lot of life lessons the hard way. I had four roommates living with me in an illegal sublet in the projects with roaches everywhere and a broken elevator. I had to walk fifty-something blocks to save the dollar cost of going on the train. There was all this drama that happened, but there I was standing in front of Alvin Ailey about to get on a plane to Paris. I remember when we did our first season at City Center, unfortunately, Alvin passed away. I took my very first vacation that year. There was nothing else I wanted in the world. I went to Guadalupe and I sat on the beach for a week reading science fiction.
What would you tell your younger self?
I wish my older self would just say “ Aubrey, chill out. Ignore the voices in your head. Ignore the people talking about you, because you're on your own path. Have confidence in yourself. You’re going to have a lot of tough decisions to make. Don't shame others and don't shame yourself.”
What are some important life lessons for dancers?
Don't be distracted by other dancers around you. There is a saying “ Don't compare yourself to others.” It’s true because everyone in the room is working on themselves. Even if someone might have higher legs, higher jumps, or more turnout than you might have, that doesn't have any impact on you. You have to make your body do what it can do. If you focus on that, you'll become much stronger than if you measure yourself to others. You have to be the best version of yourself. You have to learn other things too. As dancers, we're a walking business. You have to look at other things. Learn the theatrics behind the dancing. This makes your dancing more theatrical. It's not the best dancers that have a career, it's the people who dedicate themselves to sticking with it and willing to change.
What is a quote you would give to aspiring dancers?
I saw on a poster “ To touch, to move, to inspire. This is the true gift of dance.” ~ Aubrey Lynch II. On the bottom, I saw my name and I thought did I say that? I remembered once I was interviewed by someone in Jersey for a small paper and I said it. I guess she liked it and posted it. Now it’s all over the internet. Thank goodness she added my name to it!
What is the Aubrey Lynch Experience?
It’s life lessons. An example is when I do reflection circles with students. One of the lessons is the “Dream Leap.” It is made up of four things.
Pick a dream
Find the courage
Make the dream leap
In what ways does dance change your physical and emotional life?
Dancing is the quickest way to release endorphins and change your mood. If you get up and put on some music, even if it's for three minutes, your day will be different. If you do it for longer, your life will change. It's a physical thing if you break a sweat, but it becomes deeper and emotional when you fully put yourself in it. We all have a birthright to dance and music without being judged.
What are ways to stay motivated during the pandemic?
Music is great! You must get some sun. Take a walk, exercise, do something. Realize that you're training in your circumstance. Train the way you would in your small space. Talk to people, don't drain them. Try to have a conversation. Find someone to help. Helping others can also help you. If nothing works, talk to a professional.
What are some projects you are currently working on?
I am working on two projects. One is personal and one is work-related. My biggest project is that I am working on my book. It's the ticket for the rest of my life, I know it is.I am determined to have a proposal set by the end of August. My second project is designing the curriculum for The Harlem School of the Arts and Covid-19.
Any last words?
Another quote I have trademarked is “ The arts aren't extracurricular, they are extra essential.”~ Aubrey Lynch II. That means the arts aren't something we do in our spare time, if we have time. The arts are like air, bread, and water. You have to have the arts at some level of your life. Many problems we have in the world are just unfocused art.