I’ll have to admit Boogie Wonderland is one of my favorite Earth, Wind and Fire songs. Also one of the soul best collabs of all time. I mean, you can’t help but dance when you hear it. (See: video) Speaking of dance, it’s only fitting that we kick off the #BHMonCM series with dance. For new readers, I’m a former dancer, technically trained. Yes, like ballet and shit. Word to Drake. Let’s get into this list.
I’ll be remiss if I didn’t include one of my favorite dancers in this list. I became a fan of Misty Copeland while I was dancing because she was one of the only black dancers in the Discount Dance Supply catalog. Every month I would look in there to see what leotard she was wearing and ask my mom to purchase it. Fast forward years later, she made history last year by becoming American Ballet Theatre’s first black woman principal dancer. It seemed like an overnight success to some but not realizing that she has been pursuing this dream for a number of years. With endorsements from Under Armour and most recently Seiko, Misty has changed the face of ballet and inspiring the next generation of ballet dancers.
A pioneer in black classical dance, Arthur Mitchell is best known for forming the first black classical dance company, Dance Theatre of Harlem. Before founding DTH, he received a scholarship to attend School of American Ballet and then became the first black to become a principal dancer at a major ballet company. New York City Ballet Co-Founder created Agon just for Mitchell. After dancing with other dance greats like Geoffrey Holder and Alvin Ailey, he performed on Broadway for a short stint then moved to Brazil. He returned to Harlem on a mission: to create dance opportunities for children in Harlem. In 1969, Dance Theatre of Harlem was born and continues to be a training ground for dancers in New York City.
This up and coming dancer has an incredible story to tell. It all began in Sierra Leone in the midst of a civil war, where she became an orphan at a young age. She found a picture of a ballerina and dreamed of becoming a ballerina. At the age of 4, she was adopted by a couple and moved to the United States. Once she moved to the states, she was able to make her dream a reality. In 2011, she starred in the documentary film, First Position. This is how I first learned about her. Since then, she has taken flight, graduating from the School of American Ballet Theatre to becoming the youngest company member to join Dance Theatre of Harlem. Feminine and fierce, she’s one to watch!
Cited as Misty Copeland’s mentor, Raven Wilkinson is a trailblazer in her own right, becoming the first black woman to dance full-time with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. She faced racism first-hand while touring with the company, often being told to blend in by wearing “white makeup”. Even being denied access to the hotel where the rest of company was staying. Jaded by the racism, she quit dancing altogether and joined a convent. That lasted for about 6 months until realize dance is life and eventually she went overseas to Dutch National Ballet. After 7 years in Holland, she moved back to New York City. Upon arrival, she received a call from the New York City Opera asking her to dance and she performed with them up until 2011. Her story is a great example of courage and perseverance to your craft despite the obstacles!
Known for his incredible lines and incredible choreographer, Desmond Richardson started out performing at the New York High School of the Performing Arts. From there, he received a scholarship from the Alvin Ailey Dance Center and went on to join the company thereafter. He was a principal dancer with the company for seven years and was featured as a guest artist with many international companies. He joined the American Ballet Theatre and became the first black man to be cast the lead role of Othello. His scope of work is vast, performing on Broadway, with musical guests, on the small and big screens. In the midst of all this, he found time to birth Complexions Contemporary Ballet, along with Dwight Rhoden. It is hailed as the first multicultural ballet company in the United States. Complexions recently celebrated 20 years of amazing and moved to Atlanta, which is my hood. I’m excited to catch a show and see Desmond’s amazing work.
An award-winning dancer and choreographer, David Rousseve combines the art of storytelling and bold movement to create wonderful masterpieces. He was born in Houston and went on to the Ivy League for undergrad, graduating from Princeton in 1981. His work has been commissioned by various companies such Atlanta Ballet, Houston Ballet, Ballet Hispanico, Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble. One of his most notable works, Saudade, received two LA Horton Awards for Best Choreography and Best Company Performance. He formed REALITY, a dance and theater company of 7, that performs around the U.S. and the world. Still working with REALITY, he is the Professor of Choreography at UCLA and served as the Department Chair from 2003-2004.
I secretly dub Judith Jamison as the queen of Alvin Ailey. Her incredible dancing and strong leadership as Artistic Director kept Ailey as a premiere company. Ms. Jamison grew up in Philly and was exposed to many art disciplines as a child. She began dancing at 6 and never looked back. Renowned choreographer Agnes DeMille saw Jamison perform at a master class and invited her to perform with American Ballet Theatre. She left the Theatre and went to another audition where she was seen by Donald McKayle, a close friend of Alvin Ailey. Soon thereafter, Ailey offered Jamison a place in his company and the rest is history. She performed in many of Ailey’s most notable works like Blues Suite and Revelations. Ailey even choreographed a special 15 minute solo for Jamison as a birthday present to his mother. She left the company to perform on Broadway musical. Within 8 years, she was back with Alvin Ailey but this time as an artistic associate and after Ailey passed, she assumed the role as artistic director. Under her tutelage, the company saw much success. She stepped down as artistic director in 2011 and appointed Robert Battle as her replacement. Many times I wish I could’ve seen her perform because she is a LEGEND. I’ll be searching for a DVD copy of her solo, Cry.
Hope you enjoyed the first post of the Black History Month series!