So, it was hardly a surprise that when her father Bruce Bradley, founder of Flint’s Tapology Festival and Dance Company, began teaching a woman tap steps in their home, his three-year-old daughter was not content to sit and watch.
“Pretty soon, I was picking it up faster than she was and learned tap dancing quickly,” Alexandria recalled. “My father likes telling people I was doing the time step when I was four years old and soon learned other tap moves and it became a real passion because I loved the music and rhythm associated with tap. I wanted to perform like Gregory Hines and Sammy Davis, Jr.”
That decision also meant a quieter household because her original aspiration was to become a drummer.
“Yeah, mom never did tell me to stop and always encouraged me, but I would bang on pots and pans for what seemed like hours when I was little,” she said.
“I want to see the seeds I’m planting in Flint prosper and grow.”
Percussion’s loss has certainly been tap’s gain as Alexandria, now 33 and performing under the name Brinae Ali, boasts an accomplished resume that includes performing around the world in various musical productions with some of the biggest names in dance and jazz, a playwright award and well-received first vocal album.
Last month, Alexandria was in New York City, site of many defining moments of her career, to be part of a tribute to influential 20th-century novelist, essayist, playwright, poet and social critic, James Baldwin.
The event was part of the Harlem Stage’s “E-Moves” series and she delivered a 20-minute presentation filled with song, dance and spoken word in a quaint venue with a seating capacity of about 200.
“The first performance was very well-received,” she said a few hours prior to her second performance of the routine on April 11. “I wanted to take things that James Baldwin spoke and wrote about and show how they apply to issues facing America today like racism, sexism and even the Flint water problems. In the beginning of the routine, we are glowing in the dark and like aliens coming down to Earth and witnessing some of the issues humans face through a ritual of songs and dances. We’ve had lots of positive feedback and hope to expand it to more than an hour in the future.”
Speaking of positive feedback, Alexandria has also been nominated for an Independent Music Award for her debut album – Destination Forever: Volume 1 – in the Urban EP category. The awards have nominees in more than 80 categories from nearly 30 countries. Winners will be announced in July.
“My producer, Jason Mills, had the idea to submit my album for a nomination,” she said. “It took forever to find out, but I was like ‘Oh my God, we did it’ when I was nominated. I can’t wait to see if I win, but no matter what, more people are going to hear my work.”
Her work has been turning heads and catching ears since her early teens. At age 14, Alexandria, her sister Frances and friend Kandee Hogan appeared on Showtime at the Apollo as winners of Amateur Night. At 18, she performed in jazz legend Al Jarreau’s “Take Five” at the Tap Extravaganza in New York, sharing a stage with some of tap’s biggest names.
That’s when she moved to New York and enrolled at Marymount Manhattan College. During her freshman year, she was invited to become part of tap giant Savion Glover’s dance company. It was perhaps her most significant career break.
“It was such an intense period in my life,” she said. “He made me stop and think about where I was coming from and where I wanted to take myself as an artist and go after that. I’m very thankful for my time learning from him. I was like his little sister.”
From there, Alexandria performed in a show in Hamburg, Germany and danced during opening ceremonies for the 2002 Winter Olympics, among other ventures.
Eventually, she settled in Philadelphia, began work in the city’s thriving music and dance scene and had a child. Suddenly, however, Alexandria’s world was turned upside down when her then six-month-old daughter, Mailaka, suffered a near-fatal brain injury after falling down a flight of stairs. After a touch-and-go period of time, Mailaka left the hospital and Alexandria moved them to Flint.
“Ironically, I probably wouldn’t have moved back to Flint if it wasn’t for my daughter coming close to death,” she said. “I just felt the need to get back to where I had strong family support and seeing the courage of such a little girl fighting back like that gave me a brighter outlook on life. She is almost six-years-old now and doing awesome – dancing, playing piano and she is so funny. Oh, my goodness.”
Also out of that episode in Alexandria’s life came “Steps”, a one-woman play she wrote about the incident. It won a Best Short Play Award at the 2011 Down Urban Theater Festival in New York which is organized by Reg E. Gaines, director of the award-winning musical “Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk.”
She remained in New York and won a role in the Off-Broadway touring show “Stomp,” and also performed in “Cotton Club Parade,” a jazz musical revue directed by nine-time Grammy winner, Wynton Marsalis. Among others, she performed with Glee star Amber Riley.
“When Alexandria ‘Brinae Ali’ Bradley cuts loose during the number ‘Raisin’ the Rent,’ theatergoers can actually sense the struggle of trying to make ends meet as she dances,” read a Theater Mania review.
“That was an amazing experience that grew out of quickly submitting the play for Gaines’ show in New York,” Alexandria said. “I had no idea that I would end up with a playwright award and two major roles.”
For her next major project, Alexandria will travel to Russia later this month with a group of tap dancers to celebrate National Tap Dance Day and perform in the cities of Moscow and Samara.
“I’ve never been to Russia, so I am really excited to see how they embrace tap over there,” she said. “For the future, I want to continue touring with people I want to work with and see the seeds I’m planting in Flint prosper and grow.” ♦
Bradley’s career certainly has. ♦