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Tai Jimenez and Lorna Feijóo and in George Balanchine's Serenade©The George Balanchine Trust
Photo by Marty Sohl
Black History Month is a time to reflect on and celebrate the impact that Black Americans have had in our country. In honor of Black History Month 2023, we are highlighting 24 dance moments by Black dancers and leaders for their contributions to American dance and ballet history.
Kyra Strasberg and Geoffrey Rhue in George Balanchine's Agon©The George Balanchine TrustKyra Strasberg and Geoffrey Rhue in George Balanchine's Agon©The George Balanchine Trust
Erika LambePhoto by Lisa Blalock
1931: KATHERINE DUNHAM and Mark Turbyfill form a group called Ballet Nègre, one of the first Black ballet companies in the United States.
1931: JOHN BUBBLES and Ford Lee “Buck” Washington became the first African American tap-dancing duo to play at Radio City Music Hall. They performed together for nearly 40 years.
1943: The movie musical “Stormy Weather,” with an African American cast, was released featuring Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Lena Horne, Janet Collins, and world-famous tap and “flash” dancers Fayard and Harold Nicholas also known as “THE NICHOLAS BROTHERS.”
1951: JANET COLLINS made her Metropolitan Opera debut in the opera Aida. The piece was choreographed by Zachary Solov and had 27 performances that season. Later, she would receive a full-time contract with the Met. She left in 1954 to tour the United States and Canada in solo dance concerts and teach dance.
1955: RAVEN WILKINSON became the first African American woman to receive a contract to dance full-time with Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo of New York City. She was promoted to soloist during her second season and performed with the company for six years.
1957: Arthur Mitchell, the first Black principal dancer in the history of New York City Ballet, and Diana Adams, who was white, danced the central pas de deux in Balanchine’s Agon. In the 1950s, casting the interracial pairing sparked controversy and backlash. However, Balanchine choreographed the pas de deux especially for Mitchell and Adams. “My skin color against hers, it became part of the choreography,” said Mitchell (POINTE MAGAZINE).
1958: ALVIN AILEY founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. His vision was dedicated to enriching the American modern dance heritage and preserving the uniqueness of the African American cultural experience. He established the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center (now The Ailey School) in 1969 and formed the Alvin Ailey Repertory Ensemble (now Ailey II) in 1974. Ailey was a pioneer of programs promoting arts in education, particularly those benefiting underserved communities.
1963: JOSEPHINE BAKER, a popular performer and dancer with an illustrative career spanning 50 years in Europe, spoke at the March on Washington alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. She was the only official female speaker. Racism in the United States often restricted her from gaining the same renown at home as she did abroad. Baker fought segregation through organizations like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) which honored her contributions by having Sunday, May 20 declared as “Josephine Baker Day.”
1964: Tony Williams joined Boston Ballet and became principal dancer within three years. After retiring from the stage, Williams has been advocating racial diversity through teaching dance to underserved youths for over 25 years. He also founded the TONY WILLIAMS DANCE CENTER and the annual holiday tradition of The Urban Nutcracker which incorporates Duke Ellington’s music, along with hip-hop, tap, and other musical forms not typically associated with the ballet classic.
1970 Nutcracker Edra Toth and Tony Williams, Sugar Plum and Cavalier, Nutcracker, BBC
Photo by unknown
Hispanic Heritage Month celebrates the achievements of Hispanic American and Latinx champions who have paved the way for future generations. In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month 2023, we’re highlighting a few of the many contributions our vibrant community and artists have made and continue to make on the legacy of Boston Ballet and American dance.
Join us in celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, a time dedicated to honoring members of the AAPI community and their countless contributions to the ballet world and beyond. Four members of the Boston Ballet family share their experiences as AAPI artists and business leaders, celebrate their heritages, and explain why diverse representation matters in the arts.