Arts and Entertainment

Black Dance

What is the importance of the Dance Theater of Harlem?

The Dance Theater of Harlem, the first world-renowned African-American ballet company, was founded by Arthur Mitchell (1934–), a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet, along with Karel Shook (1920–1985), a dance teacher and former director of the Netherlands Ballet. The impetus for the creation of the company came on April 4, 1968, while Mitchell was waiting to board a plane from New York City to Brazil (where he was establishing the country’s first national ballet company) and he heard that Martin Luther King Jr. (1929–1968) had been assassinated. Mitchell later questioned the work that he was doing abroad rather than at home. He had spent his youth in Harlem, and he felt he should return there to establish a school to pass on his knowledge to others and to give black dancers the opportunity to perform. The primary purpose of the school was “to promote interest in teaching and teach young black people the art of classical ballet, and modern and ethnic dance, thereby creating a much-needed self-awareness and better self-image of the students themselves.”

The Alvin Ailey Dance Theater is shown here performing Revelations, a work by their founder, in a 2011 production.


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