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On Stage, In Marriage, These 2 Alvin Ailey Dancers Learned The Steps Together

Feb 11, 2018

She says she was born doing it. He says a schoolboy crush got him interested. Years later, their mutual love for their shared art form has brought them critical acclaim, awards, magazine covers — and each other.

Linda Celeste Sims and Glenn Allen Sims are two of the longest tenured dancers in the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater company — one of the best known and most loved dance companies in the country. They're also married. The pair have danced together for years, forging their love story in the hard work, pain and drama of the dance world. And yet, it endures.

Ahead of Valentine's Day, the couple spoke with NPR's Michel Martin about how they met, what it's like to work together as spouses and what advice they have for sustaining a marriage.


Interview Highlights

On how they met

Glenn Allen Sims: Well, I guess I saw her first. It was one of those situations where we were on a five-minute break and we were in the dancers lounge, and I just started talking to her because she was also new and she was actually quite shy. I was new, so I was sitting back in the corner observing the room, and I noticed that she was kind of the same, as well ... By the end of the day, when we left, I kind of did the, you know, "Hey guy" jog up to her, like, "Do you mind if I walk with you?" She was like, "No, totally."

On if they kept their new relationship under wraps at work

Linda Celeste Sims: So Glenn and I love dance. We love it as a profession, and we knew that if we were going to start dating that we needed to respect the studio space and the work space and keep it separate from our relationship.

On what it's like when they dance together

Glenn Allen Sims: I've had many partners — countless partners that I've worked with — that were wonderful to work with, great experiences, but when I got a chance to work with my wife, it was just like this is the feeling that I wanted to be able to have. This is the feeling that I think the audience should experience, when both people are being vulnerable enough and free enough because they are secure with one another.

Linda Celeste Sims: And, you know, just to add to that, for me what it feels like to me is freedom. The ability to draw the space with my body with someone that I know that if I just take a breath he can come and catch me, and every day your breath is different, every day you feel different. And I know for a guarantee that this man has my back.

On what advice they have for how to sustain a relationship

Linda Celeste Sims: Just don't forget the reason why you loved him, or, you know, vice versa. The reason why you chose this person to live [with] forever.

Glenn Allen Sims: I would say for us definitely remembering that she is my friend first and foremost. An older person told me this: To keep the romance in your marriage. It's something that in this day and age we think, you know, "Valentine's Day, this is the one day that I should appreciate my spouse." No — you should try to find those spaces, finding time to pull away from the rest of the world and just being with one another.

NPR's Isabel Dobrin produced this story for the Web.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Finally today, Valentine's Day is this week, and it is fitting that we have a love story for you. It is the story of a love forged in the hard work, pain and drama of the dance world, and yet, it endures. Linda Celeste Sims and Glenn Allen Sims are individually two of the longest-tenured dancers in the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Company. It's one of the best-known and most-loved dance companies in the U.S. and possibly the world.

In their own right, they have each won critical acclaim, many awards and graced the covers of magazines. And they've also been married to each other for almost two decades. The Ailey company stopped in Washington, D.C., this week near the start of its 21-city North American tour. So we thought this would be a good time to ask them how they sustain their love for dance and each other. And Linda Celeste Sims and Glenn Allen Sims are both with us here in our studios in Washington, D.C. Thank you both so much for joining us.

GLENN ALLEN SIMS: Thank you for having us.

LINDA CELESTE SIMS: Oh, absolutely, thank you.

MARTIN: So I want to ask each of you separately how you came to dance. Linda, I noticed that you are from The Bronx, N.Y.

L. SIMS: Yes.

MARTIN: And you studied at the famous LaGuardia High School of the Performing Arts of "Fame" fame. How did you fall in love with dance?

L. SIMS: Well, I was literally born doing it. I first started at a very Dolly Dinkle kind of dance school in New York City. And then eventually, I discovered Ballet Hispanico of New York, which is where I was trained for 12 years. And then in 1996, I said, I'm just going to audition and just see what happens. And Lord and behold, I was hired in 1996. And I've been here for 21 seasons, which is about 20 years. And I met the love of my life. We became really good friends.

MARTIN: OK. We're going to get to that in a minute. But, Glenn, I want to ask you - you went to - you studied at Juilliard - which is Julliad.

G. SIMS: Yes, I did.

MARTIN: And how did you fall in love with dance?

G. SIMS: I fell in love with dance because I was first a vocalist. So when I was about the age of 8, they instituted the talented theme program into the public school systems in Long Branch, N.J. It wasn't until later on in the year where they got a new dance teacher. She was really cute, and so me and my friends were like, oh, next year we should audition for dance at the end of the term. And so we all auditioned for dance. And that's how I actually started dancing because I had a crush on the new dance teacher for the program. Funny thing, right?

MARTIN: Makes sense. And so actually, leads to my next question I was going to ask. Who saw who first?

G. SIMS: Well, I guess I saw her first. It was one of those situations where we were on a five-minute break. And we were in the dancers' lounge. And I just started talking to her because she was also new, and she was actually quite shy. I was new, so I was sitting back in the corner observing the room. And I noticed that she was kind of the same as well. And so I just started talking to her.

MARTIN: And cute. And really cute.

G. SIMS: And really great legs. She had great calves because she was just coming off of point work a year before, so her calves were like nice and juicy.

(LAUGHTER)

G. SIMS: And, you know, by the end of the day, when we left, I kind of did the like, you know, the hey-guy jog up to her like, do you mind if I walk with you? And she was like, no, totally. So that's how - that was like the first initial...

MARTIN: What a gentleman. How nice.

L. SIMS: Yeah. He was just really sweet, you know.

MARTIN: Well, let me ask you about this, Linda. Did you keep the relationship undercover at first because it would seem to be a little bit of a hothouse? I mean, you're together all the time. I would imagine, you know, a little gossip. So how did you manage that while still working so many hours?

L. SIMS: So Glenn and I love dance, and we love it as a profession. And we knew that we - if we were going to start dating that we needed to respect the studio space and the work space and keep it separate from our relationship.

MARTIN: One of the signature pieces that people associate with you is "Fix Me Jesus" from "Revelations," which is, of course, one of the most-loved pieces in the Ailey repertoire. And so I do wonder, how - do you remember when you were first cast to dance together in that piece? And it's a beautiful duet and emotional and...

G. SIMS: Yeah. It was a while ago. And, you know, I've told many people this, you know, over time. Like, I've been dying to get a chance to dance with Linda, like literally dying because not only is she artistic but she's also aware of where her body is in space and in time. And she'll give me you the line. I've had many partners - countless partners that I've worked with that were wonderful to work with, but when I got a chance to work with my wife, it was just like this is the feeling that I wanted to be able to have. This is the feeling that I think the audience should experience when both people are being vulnerable enough and free enough because they are secure with one another.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FIX ME, JESUS")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) Fix me, Jesus. Fix me.

L. SIMS: For me, what it feels like to me is freedom, the ability to draw the space with my body with someone that I know that if I just take a breath, he can come and catch me. And every day, your breath is different. Every day, you feel different. And I know for a guarantee that this man has my back.

MARTIN: Well, you obviously have a very unique experience, I mean, performing at such a high level for so long, traveling together and so forth and also to be married. And a lot of marriages don't sustain this long. So it's unique, but I wonder if - do you think you might have some advice for other people who are looking to sustain a relationship despite the - in other circumstances?

L. SIMS: Just don't forget the reason why you loved him or, you know, vice versa, the reason why you chose this person to live forever.

MARTIN: Glenn, what about you?

G. SIMS: Definitely remembering that she is my friend, first and foremost. One - an older person told me this. To keep the romance in your marriage, we think, you know, Valentine's Day, this is the one day that I should appreciate my spouse. No, you should try to find those spaces, finding time to pull away from the rest of the world and just being with one another whether you're making a puzzle or a crossword puzzle or doing - sometimes we read the same book and we talk about a book - but finding that time to be - the quality time together.

MARTIN: How are you going to celebrate Valentine's Day?

L. SIMS: We'll be onstage dancing, so if anyone wants to come see us at Atlanta, The Fox Theatre.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Oh, so is it going to be a special Valentine's Day performance?

L. SIMS: We'll be doing the "Shining Star," which is the first duet that was ever choreographed, you know, for us in the company and the very first time that we actually performed together. And also, we'll be doing "Fix Me, Jesus" that night as well.

G. SIMS: And then after the performance, we'll be hanging with friends and family. So we don't have time that much quality time that day.

MARTIN: Well, Happy Valentine's Day to you both.

G. SIMS: Thank you.

L. SIMS: Thank you.

MARTIN: Linda Celeste Sims, Glenn Allen Sims, The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Thank you both so much for speaking with us.

G. SIMS: Thank you, Michel.

L. SIMS: Thank you, it was a pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHINING STAR")

EARTH, WIND AND FIRE: (Singing) You're a shining star, no matter who you are. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.