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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 ...

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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

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

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

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 ...

Article

Thomas F. DeFrantz

was born on 30 December 1922 in Port of Spain, Trinidad, the son of George Paul Borde, a veterinarian, and Augustine Francis Lambie. Borde grew up in Trinidad, the second of three boys in a family of six children. He finished secondary schooling at the Queens Royal College of the West Indies in Port of Spain, and took an appointment as a civil servant with the state railway corporation. Around 1943 he began formally studying dance and performing with local companies; six years later he married Joyce Guppy, with whom he had a child. Borde and Guppy later divorced.

Tall handsome and likeable Borde took easily to dancing and the study of dance as a function of Caribbean culture He began by studying with the internationally noted Trinidadian artist and dancer Boscoe Holder and later studied with Beryl McBurnie a galvanizing force in Trinidadian folk dance transformed for the stage ...

Article

Brenda Dixon Gottschild

Most of Bradley's professional career was spent in England and Europe, and little is recorded of his American work. This problem is shared by other African-American choreographers of his generation, such as Leonard Harper, Clarence Robinson, and Addison Carey. In addition, the date and place of his birth are uncertain, as is the date of his stage debut.

Bradley grew up in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and later, after his mother's death, moved to Harlem in New York City, where he lived in a boardinghouse for performers. His early influences included Dancing Dotson and Jack Wiggins, dancers on the black vaudeville circuit; precision dancers Rufus Greenlee and Thaddeus Drayton, who were fellow rooming-house boarders; and the inventive Eddie Rector In the mid 1920s after working as an elevator operator Bradley took a chorus job in a musical revue at Connie s Inn in upper Manhattan Subsequently ...

Article

Constance Valis Hill

choreographer and jazz tap dancer, was born Clarence Bradley in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. His parents' names and occupations are unknown. His father died when he was quite young, and his religious mother brought him up strictly. After seeing the tap dancers Jack Wiggins and Clarence “Dancing” Dotson at a local theater, Bradley learned to do the time step on one foot by age eight. He taught himself the Charleston, the strut, the drag, the shuffle, and a vast assortment of African American vernacular dances.

After his mother died when he was fourteen, Bradley went to live with a brother-in-law in Utica, New York, and worked as a hotel busboy. A few months later he ran away to New York City and lived at a Harlem boardinghouse inhabited by many show people, especially dancers. With a group of other youngsters that included Derby Wilson who became a well known tap dancer ...

Article

Heidi Carolyn Feldman

was born on 20 January 1927 in rural San Luis de Cañete, a small town on the Peruvian coast south of Lima. He died on 25 August 2001. His father, José Luis Campos, was a truck driver for a local plantation, and his mother, Lucila de la Colina, a cook. As a child, Ronaldo Campos worked in the fields, planting rice and picking cotton. At 15, he moved to Lima, where he worked as a textile laborer, bus driver, and bricklayer’s assistant and married Bertha Ponce.

Campos played a pivotal role in the movement that began in Lima in the 1950s to revive Afro-Peruvian musical rhythms, genres, and dances. At that time, dominant cultural discourse held that specifically “black” Peruvian cultural expressions either had disappeared or had been assimilated into Creole coastal culture, and many Peruvians of African descent self-identified as Creole rather than “black.” In 1956 white ...

Article

Julia L. Foulkes

singer, dancer, and choreographer, was born John Warner Dafora Horton in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Little is known of his parents, but both were part of the prominent black elite in colonial society. Dafora's great-great-grandfather was the first black man to be knighted by Queen Victoria and the first black mayor of Sierra Leone. Dafora's parents, moreover, met in England, while his father was studying at Oxford and his mother studying the piano. Dafora received a British education at the local Wesleyan School in Freetown and went on to study music and dance in Italy and Germany.

Dafora's career took off after he moved to New York City in 1929 traveling with a troupe of African dancers His first years in New York were rather unremarkable however and there is little evidence of Dafora s influence on the theatrical scene during this period But that soon changed ...

Article

Julia L. Foulkes

Dafora, Asadata (04 August 1890–04 March 1965), singer, dancer, and choreographer, was born John Warner Dafora Horton in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Little is known about his parents, but both were a part of the prominent black elite in colonial society. Dafora’s great-great-grandfather was the first black man to be knighted by Queen Victoria and the first black mayor of Sierra Leone. Dafora’s parents, moreover, met in England, while his father was studying at Oxford and while his mother was studying the piano. Following this tradition of European schooling, Dafora received a British education at the local Wesleyan School in Freetown and went on to study music and dance in Italy and Germany.

Dafora s career took off after he moved to New York City in 1929 traveling with a troupe of African dancers from various tribes His first years in New York were rather unremarkable however and ...