HARLEM, New York (WABC) -- He was a pioneer gone too soon. Before his death almost three decades ago, Alvin Ailey changed the face of modern dance, and the company that bears his name remains a vital force in the culture of our city.
Now, one of Ailey's protégés is honoring his legacy by giving back.
At the Harlem School of The Arts, a pose is a passing of the torch. Aubrey Lynch, one of the last students to be taught by the legendary Ailey, is mentoring the next generation of dancers.
"It is astounding the joy I feel working with these kids," he said.
Growing up in Detroit, Lynch was bullied for being different but found salvation in the company of Ailey, who he called "bigger than life."
"He said in rehearsal to us once when I was working with him, 'Tell me your life story in that phrase of movement,'" he said.
Lynch would become one of the last dancers personally chosen by Ailey to join his famous company, but he wouldn't live to see his protégé dance at President Bill Clinton's inauguration or soar as part of the original cast of "The Lion King" on Broadway.
Ailey died of complications due to AIDS in 1989. The younger man is now the keeper of his flame, passing on the lessons learned from Ailey in the months before he passed away.
"It is our responsibility as adults to make sure the children have the opportunity to be self-expressive, to self-express in a place that is safe," Lynch said.
Talk to the kids he trains, and you will get a sense of his effectiveness.
"I get really motivated when I see him because I know I always have to put my best foot forward," said one middle-schooler.
"He made me a better dancer by challenging me in many ways," said another.
Lynch has found his true calling in helping young dancers find theirs.
"Nothing feels like a child looks up at you and says through their eyes, 'I see that you see me,' and I say, 'I see you and you are awesome.'" Lynch said.
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Dancing protege honors legacy of Alvin Ailey