BDBB: The Black Dance and Broadway Blog

Covering black professionals and professional productions in the dance and theater worlds, plus general arts news

Dance: (From Sept. 19, 2018) DTH Founder Arthur Mitchell Dies at 84

(This post was originally posted on my Facebook page to mark the death of DTH Founder Arthur Mitchell on Sept. 19, ,2018)

Arthur Mitchell

Somewhere back in Chicago at my mom’s house, there is a photo of me in all my little 10-year-old impishness, standing in front of the Dance Theatre of Harlem next to Arthur Mitchell.

I’m grinning from ear-to-ear. Mr. Mitchell, energetic neighborhood celeb that he was, is busy talking to someone who had called to him as soon as he stepped outside the doors at the DTH headquarters on W. 152nd Street.

But that summer was a journey and it and how I got there shaped me as a dancer, teacher and dance writer.

That journey started for me in the spring when I walked into my studio in Chicago – the Ellis-Duboulay School of Ballet – and saw something I had never seen before: black dancers, professional ballet dancers who were black like me, in my studio. It was literally the first time I had ever actually seen a black ballet dancer in person instead of in a book or magazine.

They were rehearsing something and just outside the studio, in the lobby, was a black man who looked, somehow to me in my 10-year-old mind, important.

When I came out of the dressing room for class, he was still there. He asked me about myself, and I, being my precocious 10-year-old self, asked him who HE was and why was HE in MY studio.

Yes, I was that child.

Arthur Mitchell as Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream

He said his name was Arthur and he was from New York and he was a dancer and had his own company. Then he asked me to point my feet for him and do a few other things – releve, passe, arabesque, grand battement. I caught sight of my teacher, Mrs. Ellis, watching all of this from the doorway of her office.

I was one of only a few black kids in the school at that time. And that afternoon, I was the one who someone – this man named Arthur – took a special interest in.

I had no idea I was actually being auditioned right then and there. I went into class and didn’t think anything more about it. But that was the beginning.

Arthur Mitchell with George Balanchine

Arthur was, of course, Arthur Mitchell. And by the time I had jumped into my mom’s car for the ride home, I had been offered an opportunity to come to New York City to study at the famous Dance Theatre of Harlem.

There was a little crew of us Chicagoans that summer (the summer of ’74), led by Donald Williams, our homeboy and hometown hero, who was already studying at DTH. Also in that group was Annette Jackson. I was the baby, always scrambling to keep up with the older kids.

It was hard – we danced all day. And Mr. Mitchell and Mr. Shook and Mr. Raines were tough. I mean TOUGH. Everything had to be done again and again. But the thing I remember the most is being able to sit in the doorway of the big studio upstairs and watch the company.

Dance Theatre of Harlem early company

So much talent, so beautiful, so strong. And they looked like me, which was the coolest thing of all. There were people who looked like me doing classical ballet.

And in that summer and the next years when I would return “home” to DTH, I would also meet other young kids like me from across the country, people like Marcia Sells, Joselli Audain, Anjali Austin and Theara Ward.

It was an inspirational experience that has followed me through my entire life.

Thank you Mr. Mitchell, for noticing this little black girl and taking the time to push her to always be the best she could be.

Rest now in peace and power.

Arthur Mitchell now

One comment on “Dance: (From Sept. 19, 2018) DTH Founder Arthur Mitchell Dies at 84

  1. Pingback: Sharing this: Dance: (From Sept. 19, 2018) DTH Founder Arthur Mitchell Dies at 84 — BDBB: The Black Dance and Broadway Blog – Carol Marie Webster, PhD

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