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Aaron Myers

Alvin Ailey was born in Rogers, Texas. He grew up in a single-parent household headed by his mother, Lula Elizabeth Cooper. As a boy, he helped her pick cotton. In 1942 they moved to Los Angeles, California, where she found employment in the World War II aircraft industry. Ailey attended George Washington Carver Junior High School and Jefferson High School, primarily black schools. He went on to study literature at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). Ailey's dancing career started in 1949 when a high school friend, Carmen DeLavallade, introduced him to Lester Horton, his first dance instructor at the Lester Horton Dance Theater. When Horton died in 1953, Ailey became the director of the company. The following year, Ailey moved to New York City where he joined DeLavallade in the Broadway dance production House of Flowers While appearing in other stage ...

Article

Lili Cockerille Livingston

actor, dancer, and choreographer, was born in Rogers, Texas, the son of Alvin Ailey, a laborer, and Lula Elizabeth Cliff, a cotton picker and domestic. Before Ailey was a year old, his father abandoned the family, leaving them homeless for close to six years. During that time Ailey and his mother made their way, often by foot, across the unforgiving terrain of the impoverished and bitterly racist Brazos Valley in southeastern Texas to seek shelter with relatives and find work in nearby fields.A bright curious child Ailey joined his mother in the cotton fields as soon as he could carry a sack He reveled in the sights and sounds of the gospel choirs and worshipers that he witnessed in the black Baptist churches of his youth Ailey also became acquainted with the less pious side of life through those who spent Saturday nights dancing ...

Article

Kathleen Thompson

Ambitious, talented Debbie Allen has broken ground for black women in a variety of roles, primarily behind the scenes of the entertainment industry—directing, producing, writing, and choreographing television shows, films, and musical theater.

Debbie Allen was born into a remarkable family in Houston, Texas. Her father, Andrew Allen, was a dentist, and her mother, Vivian Ayers Allen, is a poet who has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Her sister, Phylicia Rashad, is a well-known actor, and one of her brothers is Andrew “Tex” Allen, a jazz musician.

Allen decided early that she wanted to be a dancer She began her training when she was three and by the time she was eight she had decided to go into musical theater When she tried to enroll in the school of the Houston Foundation for Ballet she was rejected for reasons her mother considered discriminatory As a ...

Article

Therese Duzinkiewicz Baker

prima ballerina, modern dancer, choreographer, teacher, and painter, was born Janet Fay Collins in New Orleans, the daughter of Ernest Lee Collins, a tailor, and Alma de Lavallade (the noted dancer Carmen de Lavallade was a first cousin on this side of the family), a seamstress. At the age of four Collins moved to Los Angeles with her family, which included three sisters and one brother. In Los Angeles, Collins had trouble being accepted into “whites-only” dance studios, so she worked with private tutors. Her first formal ballet lessons were at a Catholic community center at the age of ten.

When she was fifteen Collins auditioned for the prestigious Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo led by the legendary Leonide Massine Collins was accepted but only on the condition that she stay in the corps de ballet and that she paint her face white to blend in with the other ...

Article

Pamela Lee Gray

dancer, chorographer, and teacher, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, and raised by her aunt Adele, who owned the Hugh Gordon Book Shop, one of the most prominent African American book stores in the city. She was influenced by the success of her cousin, Janet Collins, who was the first black dancer to perform with the Metropolitan Opera Ballet company. At the age of sixteen de Lavallade received a scholarship to study at the Lester Horton Dance Theater in Los Angeles. After her initial studies in modern dance, ballet, and various other dance forms, she joined Lester Horton's Dance Theater in 1949 and danced the lead from 1950 to 1954, taking over the roles previously danced by the legendary dance pioneer Bella Lewitzky before Lewitzky's departure from the company. Horton then created chorography especially for de Lavallade, including the role of Salome in The Face ...

Article

Robert W. Logan

The illustrious career of Carmen DeLavallade began at the midpoint of the twentieth century and continued into the twenty-first century. In that time she graced the arenas of dance, theater, movies, and television as one of the great dancers of her time, as well as a distinguished choreographer, actor, and teacher.

Carmen Paula DeLavallade was born in Los Angeles, California, to Leo Paul DeLavallade, a bricklayer and postman, and Grace DeLavallade She was a student at Thomas Jefferson High School in Los Angeles when she won an apprenticeship in the Lester Horton Dance Theater Horton a pioneer of modern dance believed that a dancer s education should be well rounded and his apprentices were taught ballet modern and ethnic dance forms as well as painting sculpture and acting Being a Horton apprentice also meant learning from experience the rudiments of scenic design costuming and stage lighting With ...

Article

Joyce Aschenbrenner

An artist of many talents, Katherine Dunham is best known as a popular and widely acclaimed dancer who, with her dance company, performed on stages throughout the world in the 1940s and 1950s, choreographing Caribbean, African, and African American movement for diverse audiences. Her concerts were visually and kinesthetically exciting and appealing; they were also based on a profound understanding of the peoples and cultures represented as well as on a keen knowledge of social values and human psychology. Her achievements as anthropologist, teacher, and social activist are less well known.

By her own account, in her autobiography, A Touch of Innocence (1959), Dunham was born in Chicago. The family lived in Glen Ellyn, a predominantly white suburb of the city. Katherine’s mother, Fanny June Guillaume was an accomplished woman of French Canadian and Indian ancestry She died when Dunham was young Dunham s father Albert ...

Article

Frank A. Salamone

dancer, anthropologist, and activist. Katherine Dunham, born in Joliet, Illinois, was an innovator in dance. She was the Queen Mother of Black Dance, basing her understanding of dance and her innovations in it on anthropological principles and fieldwork in Haiti. Her father, an African American dry cleaner, owned his own business. Her mother was French Canadian and American Indian. Dunham began her dance training in her late teens.

Dunham majored in social anthropology at the University of Chicago, where she earned her BA in 1936. The ideas of the anthropologists Melville Herskovits and Robert Redfield inspired her work in dance, and she applied these ideas to her work with young children in her dance company, Ballet Nègre, which she started in 1931. Her combination of dance and anthropology earned her a Rosenwald Travel Fellowship in 1936 Dunham traveled to the West Indies combining her ...

Article

Lisa E. Rivo

dancer, choreographer, school founder, and anthropologist, was born in Chicago, Illinois, to Albert Millard Dunham Sr., an African American tailor and amateur jazz musician, and Fanny June Guillaume Taylor, a school administrator of French Canadian, English, Native American, and possibly African ancestry. The Dunhams lived in the predominantly white suburb of Glen Ellyn, Illinois, until Fanny's death when Katherine was four. Forced to sell the family home, Albert Dunham became a traveling salesman and sent Katherine and her older brother, Albert Jr., to live with relatives on the South Side of Chicago, where she was exposed to black vaudeville and blues performances.

Although Albert Sr. reunited the family after he remarried and purchased a dry cleaning store in Joliet Illinois he became increasingly unpredictable and violent Katherine found an outlet in athletics and dance while attending public high school and junior ...

Article

Meredith Broussard

dancer, choreographer, and musical performer, was born in Newark, New Jersey, to the singer and actress Yvette Glover, who chose her son's name as a variation on “saviour.” Glover and his two elder brothers, Carlton and Abron, were raised by their mother and their grandmother, Anna Lundy Lewis, who was a minister of music at the New Point Baptist Church in Newark.

Glover began drumming on pots and pans at age two. At four, he enrolled in drum lessons; however, he was asked to leave the class for being “too advanced.” The teacher instead arranged an interview at the Newark Community School of the Arts, where at five he became their youngest student ever to receive a full scholarship. Glover attended the José Feliciano School for the Performing Arts in Manhattan, and graduated in 1992 from the Arts High School in Newark.

Drumming led Glover ...

Article

Stanley Bennett Clay

tap dancer, actor, recording artist, and choreographer, was born Gregory Oliver Hines in the Sugar Hill section of Harlem, New York, the youngest of two sons of Maurice “Chink” Hines, a drummer and nightclub bouncer, and Alma Lawless, daughter of West Indian immigrants. Before he was three Gregory and his brother Maurice Jr., who was two years older, began studying with the master tapographer Henry LeTang. In 1954 the siblings debuted at Harlem's Apollo Theater. Also that year the Hines Kids, as they became known professionally, appeared in the Broadway musical The Girl in Pink Tights. The following year they began performing at previously all-white Playboy Clubs in Chicago, Kansas City, and New Orleans, and they soon became regular opening act attractions on the liberal Borscht Belt circuit in the Catskill Mountains.Gregory Hines proved to be more than just a ...

Article

Melanye White Dixon

dancer, educator, choreographer, and artistic director, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the younger of two children of John Henry Jamison, a sheet-metal engineer, and Tessie Belle Brown. Jamison's parents had left the racially segregated South during the African American Great Migration of the 1920s in search of a better way of life. Jamison was born after the family had settled in the Germantown section of the city. The African American community in which she grew up built institutions that addressed the social, cultural, and political needs of its residents.

Jamison's parents held high aspirations for their daughter and their son, John Henry Jr. and attendance at Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal AME Church was an integral part of family life Jamison s mother and father who had met through their involvement in the church choir made sure that their children were active in ...

Article

Jaime McLean

Judith Jamison has spent most of her life perfecting her craft. As a dancer, choreographer, teacher, and artistic director of the internationally renowned Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Jamison has attempted to foster an appreciation for modern American dance and African American cultural expression in both her audiences and her students. She stresses the universality of dance and its ability to promote cross-cultural understanding through the expression of human experiences. “When you come to the theater,” Jamison says, “you open your head and your heart and your mind because we are there to transform you. I’m a human being who has seen the world, so I’m giving you that perspective.”

Jamison, the younger of two children, was born in Philadelphia Her parents instilled in her a passion for the arts As a young child Jamison studied piano and violin before shifting her focus to dance At age six Jamison ...

Article

Roanne Edwards

In the mid-1980s Bill T. Jones emerged as one of America's preeminent dancers and avant-garde choreographers. Rooted in the postmodern experimentation of the 1960s, his work often combines speech, song, dance, and mime, as well as spontaneous movement. He infuses his art with candid autobiographical details in an effort to challenge audiences' ideas about tolerance, sexuality, death, and interracial romance—issues he has dealt with as a gay black man diagnosed in 1985 as HIV-positive. Jones “has a reputation for doing anything he wants, on and offstage,” wrote dance critic Gus Solomons Jr. “Movement spills out of [his] powerful, instinctual body, driven by a fecund imagination.”

The tenth of twelve children, Jones was born in Bunnell, Florida. He was reared and educated in Wayland, New York, a predominantly white agricultural community where his parents, then migrant farm workers, settled after moving from the Southeast. In 1970 he entered the ...

Article

Elshaday Gebreyes and Steven J. Niven

dancer and choreographer, was born William Tass Jones in Bunnell, Florida, the tenth of twelve children of Ella and Augustus Jones, migrant farmworkers who traveled throughout the Southeast. The family became “stagnants” in 1959, when they settled in the predominantly white community of Wayland in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. There they harvested fruits and vegetables and also operated a restaurant and juke joint.

In childhood Jones navigated between the rural southern black cultural values of his home life and the predominantly white middle class world of his peers at school Black English was spoken at home white English in the classroom That experience was not without its complications and sometimes pain but Jones believed that it served him well as a performer by teaching him that the world was a place of struggle that had to be negotiated Washington 190 He did well ...

Article

C. Dale Gadsden

dancer, educator, choreographer, and artistic director, was born Arthur Adams Mitchell Jr. in Harlem, New York, the second of six children of Arthur Adams Mitchell and Willie Mae Hearns, who were both from Savannah, Georgia. Mitchell's father, a riveter by trade, also worked as a building superintendent to secure a rent-free apartment for his family. The Mitchells moved several times before Arthur Sr. found a suitable situation where he could earn extra money by working at carpentry, plumbing, and automobile repair.

Aware of his family s financial difficulties the younger Mitchell worked delivering newspapers and shining shoes to supplement the family income By the age of twelve he was working in a butcher shop and was employed there until he became a dance instructor Mitchell s early creative outlets were varied He sang in the neighborhood Police Athletic League s Glee Club and the Convent ...

Article

C. S'thembile West

dance pioneer, anthropologist, and choreographer, was born in Trinidad, the daughter of Edward Primus and Emily Jackson, and migrated with her family to New York City when she was two years old. She majored in biology and premedicine at Hunter College of the City University of New York and graduated in1940. Seeking support for graduate studies, she solicited help from the National Youth Administration (NYA). Under the auspices of the NYA she was enrolled in a dance group, subsequently auditioned for the New Dance Group in New York, and earned a scholarship with that institution.

During Primus's tenure at the New Dance Group, she began to do research on African culture. She visited museums and consulted books, articles, and pictures for months to produce on 14 February 1943 her first significant dance work, African Ceremonial which she had asked continental Africans to judge ...

Article

Robert W. Logan

Pearl Primus set out to be a doctor and became a dancer. In her lifelong study of dance she also became a choreographer, an anthropologist, an educator, and a cultural ambassador. And in her hands dance became a language, a medium of social comment, a channel for anger and frustration, a teaching tool, and an instrument of healing.

Primus was born in Trinidad to Edward and Emily (Jackson) Primus. In 1921 the family moved to New York, where she attended Hunter College High School and graduated from Hunter College in 1940 with a major in biology and premedical sciences. At that time there were no jobs available to blacks in New York’s laboratories, so she turned to the National Youth Administration (NYA) for help finding work while she began her graduate studies at night.

The NYA unable to find the kind of job Primus was looking for sent her ...