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Susan Leigh Foster

Senegalese dancer and choreographer was born in Benin the daughter of a Senegalese colonial civil servant and the granddaughter of a Yoruba priestess When she was ten years old her family moved to Dakar Senegal From an early age Acogny showed exceptional talent for and love of dancing After pursuing a degree in physical education she went to France in the early 1960s where she studied ballet and modern dance Upon returning to Senegal she began teaching dance classes in the courtyard of her home and in the lycée where she was hired to be in charge of physical education In these classes she began to develop a codification of what she calls African dance Establishing an inventory of positions and steps as well as a spatial stability to each position s appearance she developed a dance technique based on an aesthetic of groundedness a sense of dynamism moving up ...

Article

Lester Tomé

also known as Carlos Junior Acosta Quesada, was born on 2 June 1973 in Havana, Cuba. Acclaimed as one of the most brilliant ballet performers of his generation, Carlos Acosta has been a principal dancer of London’s Royal Ballet, the English National Ballet, and the Houston Ballet, as well as a guest star of the American Ballet Theatre, the Paris Opera Ballet, and the Bolshoi Ballet, among other ensembles. He has also performed with his own country’s premier troupe, the Ballet Nacional de Cuba.

No other black ballet dancer has enjoyed a career marked by so many first-rate engagements and prestigious awards. His status as a glittering ballet celebrity, vastly popular with audiences, critics, and the media, is rare for an Afro-descendant, as blacks are underrepresented in this dance form. Through his success and public declarations, Acosta has contributed to eliminating prejudices about blacks’ abilities and suitability for ballet.

Acosta ...

Article

USdancer, choreographer, and director. He studied in Los Angeles with Horton and later with Graham, Holm, and Weidman in New York, making his debut in Horton's company in 1950. In 1953, after Horton's death, he took over as director, then in 1954 went to New York to dance in the Broadway musical House of Flowers. In the same year he also appeared in the film Carmen Jones. A big, graceful dancer he gave his first New York concert in 1957 and in 1958 formed the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. In the company's first year he created Blues Suite a work exploring the pain and anger of his own African American heritage It became one of his most popular works defining his stylistic mix of modern jazz classical and black dance as well as his unique ability to fuse ...

Article

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

Candace Cardwell

choreographer and dancer. Born in Rogers, Texas, Alvin Ailey was raised in a single-parent home headed by his mother, Lula Elizabeth Cooper. Ailey and his mother earned money by picking cotton and doing domestic work for local families. In 1942 Ailey moved to Los Angeles; he attended George Washington Carver Junior High School and Jefferson High School, where he developed an interest in music and literature. After graduation he went on to study literature at the University of California at Los Angeles.

Ailey's dance training began in 1949 when a friend, Carmen DeLavallade, introduced him to Lester Horton, founder of the Lester Horton Dance Theater. Horton was one of the few dance instructors who accepted black students, and he became Ailey's first dance coach. When Horton died in 1953 Ailey became the director of the company The following year Ailey moved to New York City where ...

Article

Donna Waller Harper

dancer, choreographer and actress, was born Deborrah Kaye Allen in Houston, Texas, to Andrew Allen, a dentist, and Vivian Ayers-Allen, a poet and librarian; her parents had two other children, the actress Phylicia Rashad, and Hugh Allen, better known as Tex. Although she exhibited an early interest in dance and desired to join the Houston Foundation for Ballet, she was denied admission when she applied in the 1950s in what her mother saw as a clear example of discrimination. Her parents were able to pay for private ballet lessons with the Ballet Russes. She later traveled and trained in Mexico City with the Ballet Nacional de Mexico. In 1964 she returned to Houston where she once again auditioned for the Houston Foundation for Ballet This time she was not only accepted to the prestigious organization but was awarded a scholarship Her talent won her ...

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

Anita Gonzalez

was born in Chilpancingo in the Bravo in the Mexican state of Guerrero. His father was a tailor and his mother a cook. The speech and behavior of blacks and mulattoes of the Guerrero coast (Costa Chica and Costa Grande) influenced him from an early age. Men and women who came to sell their fish and seafood in Chilpancingo heightened his awareness of his African heritage.

In 1974 he started his studies of folk dance with the maestro Efrain Velez, and particularly the sones de tarima di de Tixtla. Percussive foot rhythms characterize this dance of African origin where couples dance by striking a wooden deck with their feet. On the Costa Chica this dance is called Sones de Artesa. In addition to learning Mexican folklore and dancing, Aponte joined the dance ensemble Xochiquetzal under the direction of Pedro Barrios Jaimes.

At the end of 1981 Aponte ...

Article

Winter Rae Schneider

was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on 24 September 1975 to Ernst Appolon, a police officer, and Lucienne Duverlis. He spent his childhood in the neighborhood of Nazon with his parents and two younger brothers. Growing up in the center of Port-au-Prince, Appolon attended a public primary school and later completed secondary school at the College Canado-Haïtien. On 7 February 1986, when Appolon was 10 years old, then-president Jean-Claude Duvalier and First Lady Michelle Bennet fled Haiti and went into exile in France. After Duvalier’s flight, Appolon’s family faced increasing insecurity. Ernst was targeted several times by different political factions because of his position with the Haitian police force, and Appolon and his brothers often accompanied their father into hiding throughout Port-au-Prince, the Haitian countryside, and the Dominican Republic. In 1987 Lucienne left Haiti for the United States In spite of the political instability Appolon s father stayed behind ...

Article

Christopher Wells

tap dancer and choreographer, was born Charles Atkinson in Pratt City, Alabama, the son of Sylvan Atkinson, a construction and steel worker, and Christine Woods. At age seven Atkins moved with his mother to Buffalo, New York. Woods, herself an avid social dancer, encouraged her children to dance, and Atkins won his first local contest at age ten doing the Charleston. As a teenager Atkins made his first money as a dancer by busking at rest stops while working as a bus line porter between Buffalo and Albany. His dancing caught the attention of a talent scout for the Alhambra on the Lake, a Lake Erie nightclub, who booked Atkins as a regular act. There he learned to tap from William “Red” Porter, a dancing waiter who became Atkins's first dance partner.

In 1929 Atkins joined a traveling revue produced by Sammy Lewis and toured through ...

Article

André Willis

As performer, choreographer, and dance coach, Cholly Atkins mastered the art of the Tap Dance. He was best known for his team tap dancing with the great Charles “Honi” Coles.

Born in Birmingham, Alabama, and raised in Buffalo, New York, Atkins displayed a talent for the stage at an early age. He began performing at the age of ten, when he won a Charleston contest, and while attending high school he learned basic Jazz and soft-shoe dance steps. He began his formal career as a singing waiter in 1929. Soon he and dancing waiter William Porter formed the Rhythm Pals, a vaudeville song-and-dance team. After ten years, Atkins left the Rhythm Pals to begin dancing and choreographing for the Cotton Club Boys, a tap troupe that toured with Cab Calloway and performed with Bill “Bojangles” Robinson in a swing musical called The Hot Mikado at ...

Article

Sabine Sörgel

was born on 3 March 1923 in Spanish Town, Jamaica, the sixth daughter of Aubrey William Allen Baxter, a civil servant for the railway and later the Public Works Department, and Fanny Beatrice Wright. As a girl, Baxter was raised in the Anglican Church and attended Wolmer’s Girls School in the 1940s. There, she trained in English country dance. Around the same time, she also converted to Catholicism. Her first professional dance training was in classical ballet, tap, and character dancing, which she was taught by the local ballet teachers Herma Dias and Hazel Johnston at Hazel Johnston Dance Studio in Kingston during the 1930s and 1940s. Later, she was awarded the Jamaica Scholarship to pursue further studies in physical education abroad, taking her to the University of Toronto, Canada.

Upon her return to Jamaica, Baxter started working as a physical education teacher at Excelsior High School, and in 1956 ...

Article

Melanye P. White-Dixon

Over a career that spanned nearly six decades, Beatty came to be acknowledged by dance critics as one of America's most brilliant dancers and choreographers. He began his dance studies at age eleven in the late 1930s under the tutelage of Katherine Dunham and was a principal dancer with her company for several years as well as a teacher of the Dunham technique. After becoming an independent dancer in 1945, he performed in filmmaker Maya Deren's A Study in Choreography for Camera (1945), in a revival of Show Boat (1946), in Syvilla Fort's Procession and Rite (1947), and in Helen Tamiris's Inside U.S.A. (1948).

In 1947 Beatty formed his own company, called Tropicana. For the company premiere he created Southern Landscape a dance about the plight of African Americans in the South after the Civil War The ...

Article

USdancer, choreographer, and company director. He trained with Katherine Dunham and made his professional debut in her company in 1940, undertaking additional later studies with Martha Graham. In 1946 he left Dunham to perform in musicals, including a revival of Show Boat (1946), as well as in Maya Deren's film, A Study in Choreography for Camera (1945). In 1949 he formed his own company, Tropicana, for which he created Southern Landscape, a work portraying the plight of African Americans in the South after the Civil War. In 1955 he disbanded his company, and focused on giving solo concerts and choreographing for others. His dances frequently highlighted social injustice, particularly for black Americans. A list of his works includes The Road of the Phoebe Snow (1959), the full-length Come and Get the Beauty of It Hot ...

Article

C. S'thembile West

choreographer, dancer, and teacher, was born in Cedar Grove, Louisiana, the son of a housepainter. His parents' names are unknown. In the small town of Cedar Grove, right outside Shreveport, Beatty's earliest dance influence was the legendary Katherine Dunham. According to the historian Joe Nash, a close friend and colleague of Beatty, Dunham invited him to “watch dances in progress” when he was eleven years old. Dunham was in rehearsal for Ruth Page'sLa Guillablesse, scheduled to open at the Chicago Civic Opera in 1933, and was trying to keep the young boy's playing from disrupting her work. Beatty danced onstage for the first time in the opera's 1934 season and emerged as a dancer of note after studying from 1937 to 1940 at Dunham's Studio de la Danse in Shreveport. He danced the role of a priest in Dunham'sYanvalou a ...

Article

Karen Backstein

dancer, choreographer, and educator, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, to a theatrical and musical family. One of New York's most superb and demanding jazz teachers, as well as an excellent choreographer, Benjamin began his career at the age of four, studying with Elma Lewis at her well-respected School of Fine Arts. Two years later, he started studying ballet, a requirement for all of Lewis's students, no matter which style they chose to focus on. When peer pressure led Benjamin to stop dancing briefly—a not uncommon situation for young male dancers—he shifted to acting, taking classes at Boston Children's Theatre. Two years later he returned to Lewis's school and found something new: George Howard, a teacher of Haitian dance. Still a child, Benjamin knew instantly that “that's the thing I wanted to do, with the drums and everything. It was so exciting to me” (Hall, 3).

Lewis ...

Article

Rebecca Dirksen

also commonly remembered as Lina Mathon-Fussman or, equally, as Lina Fussman-Mathon, was born in Port-au-Prince on 3 January 1903, one of five children of Charles Mathon, a medical doctor, and Cléante N. Marie Anne Carré Mathon. By all accounts captivated by the piano as a toddler, she was formally introduced to the instrument at the age of 4 by Haitian composer Justin Elie. She subsequently studied the classical music repertoire with the best teachers of the era, including completing advanced studies at the Ecole Notre-Dame de Sion in Paris between 1917 and 1921. Blanchet would eventually cofound the Lycée Musical de Port-au-Prince (a music school) and was later named the first director of the Conservatoire National by Haitian president Paul Eugène Magloire.

A tireless promoter of Haitian folkloric music throughout her life, Blanchet is cited as the first artist to mount stylized Vodou-influenced spektak performances on a ...

Article

Dawn Lille

dancer and choreographer, was born Jeraldyne Kilborn in Dayton, Ohio, the daughter of Elijah Kilborn, an insurance agent, and Winifred Keith, who worked at Wright Patterson Air Force Base. Her mother played the piano, and her father had an artistic nature, which included writing poetry and soft‐shoe dancing. Although Dayton was geographically divided along racial lines at the time, Jeraldyne attended Irving Public School, which was not segregated, and Roosevelt High, which was all white when she entered and fully integrated by the time she graduated. Segregation had never been the official policy of Dayton, and African Americans freely shopped in department stores, although there were no black employees except for cleaning help. Jeraldyne's grandmother was one of the first blacks to build her own home.

Beginning at the age of eight, Blunden trained in classical ballet with Josephine Schwartz, who, with her sister Hermene was ...

Article

Dawn Lille

Blunden, Jeraldyne (10 December 1940–22 November 1999), dancer and choreographer, was born Jeraldyne Kilborn, in Dayton, Ohio, the daughter of Elijah Kilborn, an insurance agent, and Winifred Keith Kilborn, who worked at Wright Patterson Air Force Base. Her mother played the piano and her father had an artistic nature, which included writing poetry and soft-shoe dancing. Although Dayton was geographically divided along racial lines at the time, she attended Irving Public School, which was not segregated, and Roosevelt High, which was all white when she entered and fully integrated by the time she graduated. Segregation had never been the official policy of Dayton, and African Americans freely shopped in department stores, although there were no black employees except for cleaning help. Blunden's grandmother was one of the first blacks to build her own home.

Beginning at the age of eight Blunden trained in classical ballet with Josephine ...