Broadway Dance Center is celebrating Black History Month by honoring some of the Black dancers, choreographers, and educators who broke through barriers and transformed the industry.
Next up is Dance Theatre of Harlem.
What is Dance Theatre of Harlem?
Dance Theatre of Harlem is renowned for being the first major ballet company to prioritize Black dancers.
A little history…
DTH was founded in 1969 during the height of the Civil Rights Movement. It was established by Arthur Mitchell (a protégé of George Balanchine and the first Black dancer with New York City Ballet) and his former ballet master, Karel Shook, as a classical ballet school for young dancers in Harlem. A company was formed with the top dancers and DTH began performing as a way to match money donated to fund the school. George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins bestowed the rights to several of their ballets and before long, DTH was touring internationally, integrating stages, and presenting both classical ballets and contemporary works celebrating African American culture.
Breaking barriers in ballet
Since day one, DTH has been a multi-ethnic dance company. “[The vision],” says Virginia Johnson, founding member and later Artistic Director of DTH, “was to make people aware of the fact that this beautiful art form actually belongs to and can be done by anyone. 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.” Both the school and the company preached inclusivity and innovation. Dancers of all backgrounds and body types were welcomed at DTH.
Dancing into the future
Now in their sixth decade, DTH continues to educate, perform, and inspire. Despite financial constraints and the recent pandemic, DTH has found a way to keep going. Check out their 2020 virtual performance, “Dancing Through Harlem.” Additionally, DTH’s outreach program, “Dancing Through Barriers,” travels across the country to offer classes in ballet, choreography, and musicology to anyone who wants to study dance—from children to seniors. For more about DTH, visit their website.
Brown Ballerinas: Inside the Dance Theatre of Harlem