Arthur Mitchell: Harlem's Ballet Trailblazer

Dance Theatre of Harlem, Company on a Mission

In 1968, galvanized by the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Arthur Mitchell began teaching at Harlem School of the Arts and, with Karel Shook, formed what became the Dance Theatre of Harlem.  Like The Studio Museum and Negro Ensemble Company, DTH was forged in the crucible of the Civil Rights and Black Arts Movements.  “Whenever I danced,” Mitchell once said, “I danced for my mom and my people.”  DTH was a company of dancers on a mission, intent on proving that African Americans could dance classical ballet.  Harlem was their home, but they also belonged to New York City and to the world.  Above all, they were a community that believed that making art was also an act of justice.  Performing Giselle set in antebellum Louisiana, Firebird in a mythical African rainforest, or Dougla among the mixed African and Indian population of Trinidad, DTH danced its own vision of the African diaspora.

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