1969: At the height of the civil rights movement, Arthur Mitchell and Karel Shook founded DANCE THEATRE OF HARLEM. Mitchell has said the idea was formed by the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Current Artistic Director Virginia Johnson reflected, “Arthur Mitchell created this space for a lot of people who had been told, ‘You can’t do this,’ to give them a chance to do what they dreamed of doing.” According to The New York Times, Dance Theatre of Harlem is considered “one of ballet’s most exciting undertakings.”
1975: LYDIA ABARCA became the first Black female ballerina on the cover of Dance Magazine. She was Dance Theatre of Harlem’s first prima ballerina and performed works including George Balanchine’s Bugaku and Jerome Robbins’ Afternoon of a Faun. She went on to perform in Bubbling Brown Sugar and The Wiz on Broadway.
1984: Dance Theatre of Harlem’s CREOLE GISELLE premiered in 1984 at the London Coliseum. Based on the original by Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot, it was reconceived by Arthur Mitchell, staged by Frederic Franklin, and set in an Afro-Creole community in Louisiana during the 1840s.
1988: The first International Conference on Black Dance Companies was held in Philadelphia and organized by Joan Myers Brown along with the Philadanco! staff which later would inform the formalization of the INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF BLACKS IN DANCE.
1991: After performing with Dance Theatre of Harlem, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and New York City Ballet, MEL TOMLINSON joined Boston Ballet as a principal dancer and master teacher in the CITYDANCE program which brings free classical dance to public school children in the Boston area.
1992: STEPHEN GALLOWAY is named head costume designer and style coordinator at Ballet Frankfurt under the artistic direction of William Forsythe. Galloway joined the company when he was just 17. In 2022, Galloway staged his world premiere DEVIL’S/eye set to the iconic Rolling Stones at Boston Ballet.
2001: ERIKA LAMBE became the first African American Sugarplum Fairy in Boston Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker. A native of Brookline, MA, Lambe is the granddaughter of tenor, Roland Hayes, who opened the doors to black classical singers by being the first black classical singer to sing at Symphony Hall. Lambe joined Boston Ballet as a member of the corps de ballet in 1993. She is currently teaching at the Tony Williams Dance Center, Brookline Academy of Dance, and Intergarte.
2006: TAI JIMENEZ joined Boston Ballet as the first Black female principal dancer where she originated a role in Mark Morris’ Up and Down, and was also seen in Val Caniparoli’s Lambarena, Jorma Elo’s Carmen, Balanchine’s Serenade and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Nijinska’s Les Noces and Asaf Messerer’s Spring Waters.
2015: After fourteen years with American Ballet Theatre, MISTY COPELAND was promoted to principal dancer becoming the first African American woman ever to hold that position in the Company.
2015: Theresa Ruth Howard founded MEMOIRS OF BLACKS IN BALLET (MoBBallet) which preserves, presents, and promotes the contributions and stories of Black artists in the field of Ballet, illustrating that they are an integral part of dance history at large.
2018: FREED OF LONDON, one of the largest manufacturers of pointe shoes, finally started selling brown and bronze pointe shoes (in addition to pink). “This isn’t about shoes, this is about who belongs in ballet and who doesn’t,” said Virginia Johnson, artistic director of the Dance Theater of Harlem. “It’s a signal that the world is open to you.”
2019: CHARLOTTE NEBRES became the first Black Marie (known as Clara in the Boston Ballet production) in New York City Ballet’s George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker.
2022: CHYRSTYN FENTROY was promoted to principal dancer at Boston Ballet. The news of her promotion was featured in THE NEW YORK TIMES and THE BOSTON GLOBE. In 2023, Fentroy was featured on the cover of Dance Magazine.
2022: Boston Ballet Second Soloist MICHAELA DEPRINCE worked in collaboration with Nike Women on their global campaign and was featured in Coppelia, a combined animated and live action dance film.
2023: Boston Ballet’s Citydance alumna, Ebony Williams, is a world-renowned dancer and choreographer. Her choreography can be seen in everything from movies “In The Heights” to global publications like “Vogue.” Williams choreographed a new work for Boston Ballet’s Siren Ball in 2023.
There are many Black dancers and companies to celebrate who have impacted American dance and this article is in no way representative of the breadth of contributions to this art form by Black artists and pioneers.
Get to know current Black dancers of Boston Ballet: TYSON CLARK, MICHAELA DEPRINCE, DANIEL DURRETT, CHYRSTYN FENTROY, LAWRENCE RINES MUNRO, MY’KAL STROMILE, and SYDNEY WILLIAMS.
THE INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF BLACKS IN DANCE (IABD) preserves and promotes dance by people of African ancestry or origin, and assists and increases opportunities for artists in advocacy, audience development, education, funding, networking, performance, philosophical dialogue, and touring.
MOBBALLET’S mission is to illuminate the lesser-known history and legacies of international professional Black ballet artists that have been muted, or oftentimes eradicated from the larger canon of dance history by being the digital platform that compiles it in one online location.
LA’TOYA PRINCESS JACKSON has compiled a historical perspective of Blacks in ballet called “BLACK SWANS: SHATTERING THE GLASS CEILING.” In addition to being a singer-songwriter, dancer, professional performing artist, and historian on African American performance, she is also a former Teaching Artist for Citydance and ECI on Location and teacher in the Boston Ballet School. Her research aims to reshape the narrative by removing the Eurocentric lens in which the history of ballet is told and giving voice to the stories and contributions of Blacks to the overall ballet canon.
Learn more about Boston Ballet’s commitment to DIVERSITY, EQUITY, AND INCLUSION.