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Thomas F. DeFrantz

Afro‐Caribbean dancer and choreographer, was born Percival Sebastian Borde in Port of Spain, Trinidad, the son of George Paul Borde, a veterinarian, and Augustine Francis Lambie. Borde grew up in Trinidad, where he finished secondary schooling at Queens Royal College and took an appointment with the Trinidad Railway Company. Around 1942 he began formal research on Afro‐Caribbean dance and performed with the Little Carib Dance Theatre. In 1949 he married Joyce Guppy, with whom he had one child. The year of their divorce is unknown.

Borde took easily to dancing and the study of dance as a function of Caribbean culture. In the early 1950s he acted as director of the Little Carib Theatre in Trinidad. In 1953 he met the noted American anthropologist and dancer Pearl Primus who was conducting field research in Caribbean folklore Primus convinced Borde to immigrate to the United States as ...

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Barbara L. Ciccarelli

dancer, choreographer, and dance teacher, was born in Seattle, Washington, the daughter of Mildred Dill. Her mother tried to enroll the four-year-old Syvilla in ballet classes, but teachers refused her entrance because they were afraid they would lose clientele by admitting an African American student. Her mother then recruited a group of black children interested in learning dance and hired the advanced white ballet students to teach them. At nine Syvilla had private teachers and was on her way to becoming an African American pioneer in ballet and modern dance.

Sensitive throughout her life to discrimination, Fort passed on what she learned to other black children. As a high school freshman, she taught ballet, tap, and modern dance to as many as sixteen children under the age of thirteen for fifty cents a lesson. In 1935 Fort received a scholarship and became the first black ...

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Barbara Toomer Davis

tap and theatre dancer, teacher, and choreographer, was born in Harlem, New York, the second son of five children of Clarence and Marie, both of whom were from the Virgin Islands. Clarence and Marie LeTang owned a radio and phonograph repair shop in Harlem, where Clarence built and designed phonographs. Music and dancing were a family pastime, and so the LeTang children were all encouraged to play an instrument. As a young boy LeTang attended a dance recital that began his love of tap. He started dancing when he was seven years old and it became his life. LeTang started touring and at the age of fifteen and danced in the Sophie Tucker stage show.

LeTang went to the Lafayette Theatre almost every weekend to watch the stars of the time, including such great headliners as Stepin Fechit, Buck and Bubbles, Earl Snake Hips Tucker ...

Article

Jada Shapiro

dancer, choreographer, and teacher, was born in Cleveland, Ohio, to parents whose names and occupations are unknown. As a child he was a popular soprano soloist in churches and studied voice at the Karamu House, a local arts center devoted to celebrating the African American experience through the arts in a racially integrated environment. As he grew older Moore studied modern dance with Eleanor Frampton at the cultural center. He had the opportunity to see Asadata Dafora, the famed West African choreographer and dancer, perform the Ostrich Dance at Severance Hall. This event so moved Moore toward his future work in re-creating African dance that, as he explained in the 1984 documentary by Chris Hegedus and D. A. Pennebaker, Dance Black America, he “never forgot that first glimpse of Africa.”

In 1948 Moore received a Charles Weidman dance scholarship and moved to New ...

Article

Princess Mhoon Cooper

dancer, instructor, and artistic director, was born in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City to Benjamin Franklin Waters, a social worker and landscaper, and Brittania Rachel Waters, a beautician and homemaker. Raised in Harlem, Waters was an only child who grew up with a large extended family of cousins who lived with her family during different periods of her childhood. Her parents eventually adopted two of her cousins and raised them as their own. From the age of four she spent summers with her grandparents in Virginia, her mother's home. Every summer from the ages of seven through thirteen she was enrolled in a two-week summer camp where her father worked; at the end of the two weeks she would be sent back to her grandparents in Virginia for the remainder of the summer.

During her childhood Waters studied piano in Virginia and ...

Article

Millery Polyné

dancer and choreographer, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Little is known of her early life, although she claimed that one of her first memories as a dancer was her playful gyrations on top of a box at her Portsmouth, Virginia, home. A self-proclaimed “born performer” Williams regularly entertained her family, particularly her grandmother, a janitor for a local dance school (Williams Collection). Faced with the realities of a segregated southern community during the 1920s Williams entered through the back door of a dance school to take private ballet lessons at the end of the day from a Russian instructor.

As a young African American ballet dancer in the white ballet world of the 1930s Williams quickly learned that she would be denied access to the premier dance companies in the U S Being brought up in America Williams recalled you were told you were not supposed to be a ...