Meet 9 DTH Alumni Who Continue to Spread Arthur Mitchell's Legacy
Every member of the Dance Theatre of Harlem family can recite co-founder Arthur Mitchell's credo, "You represent something larger than yourself." Whether consciously or not, they all move through the world accordingly. Mitchell often remarked that "I don't have no dumb dancers," and he took pride in the fact that after being at DTH, dancers could be successful in any field they entered.
Dance Magazine checked in with nine alumni who are continuing the DTH legacy in their own ways.
Marcia Lynn Sells
DTH Tenure: 1976–79
Current position: Dean of students at Harvard Law School
Sells began studying at DTH in its first summer program in 1970. After retiring from the company, she became assistant district attorney in Brooklyn and later was a vice president for the NBA and WNBA before joining Harvard Law School. Sells was instrumental in Columbia University's 2015 acquisition of Mitchell's archive.
"DTH is the model of understanding why pink tights and pointe shoes were meant for a white dancer's line," says Sells. "When Mr. Mitchell said, 'We will dye them to match a dancer's skin tone,' he signaled that black ballerinas have a legitimate place in ballet. Reworking Giselle in Louisiana within the black community and reimagining Firebird on a Caribbean island made these stories 'ours.' "
DTH Tenure: 1977–88
Current position: Co-director of The Ailey School and director of the Ailey/Fordham BFA program in dance
One of the "baby ballerinas"—she was an apprentice at 14—Person says Mitchell's insistence on impeccable work ethic informs the standard she sets today at The Ailey School.
"DTH is still a role model for inviting others to see beyond their biases and to challenge restrictive mind-sets," says Person.
Courtesy Judy Tyrus
DTH Tenure: 1977–99
Current position: Archivist and exhibition curator
When Mitchell asked Tyrus to co-curate the 2009 exhibition "Dance Theatre of Harlem: 40 Years of Firsts," she told him she didn't have any curating experience. He smiled and said, "You were a principal dancer. You have done much harder things." Now a professional archivist, Tyrus assisted the National Museum of African American History and Culture with its "Taking the Stage" exhibition, which highlights the role of black artists in the performing arts.
"We were crafting something much more important than any one of us," says Tyrus. "Everything we did onstage and off was scrutinized, so nothing could be disorderly or half-baked. We strived to be the best in every way."
DTH Tenure: 1979–97
Current position: Artistic director of The Tallahassee Ballet
A former principal dancer, Brooks became associate director of DTH's Dancing Through Barriers Ensemble, then executive director of Virginia School of the Arts.
"Generations of dancers of all colors benefit from the dream of one man who had a vision of an inclusive ballet for all," says Brooks.
DTH Tenure: 1982–94
Current position: Owner of the Magen H Gallery
The French-born Magen had a legendary partnership with Virginia Johnson. And while still dancing, he began collecting mid-century French antiques. In 2017, his Magen H Gallery earned a spot in the prestigious European Fine Arts Fair. He was the only black gallerist represented.
"Mr. Mitchell's message of 'Once you get in it, you cannot give up' is certainly prevalent for me," says Magen. "I find myself in this world of art where I am the only black person at this level. I carry on the same message."
DTH Tenure: 1984–99
Current position: DTH resident choreographer and school director
Garland's choreography has been key in DTH's redefinition and modern identity. His vocabulary, a portmanteau of neoclassical ballet and African-American social dance, flatters the dancers and satisfies audience expectations. Return and New Bach, favorites before the hiatus, have served the new iteration well, and 2012's Gloria fits today's generation.
"Arthur Mitchell showed me the legitimacy of black intellectualism," says Garland. "While all the fanfare around his career and what he built was great, there was a great intellect behind it that sometimes gets glossed over."
DTH Tenure: 1986–88
Current position: Assistant to the director at Oper Frankfurt
Barnes left DTH after just two years to join William Forsythe's Ballett Frankfurt. Currently at Oper Frankfurt, he oversees productions and sets operas around the world.
"We were a family—when we had problems we could talk about it, and if we had a triumph we all got to be a part of it," says Barnes. "One of the best and worst moments was our Russian tour. We were ambassadors, dancing on those very important stages. I thought of us as black diamonds. Arthur was a showman, and he taught us how to really project, to get our message across from those huge prosceniums. I took that to Germany, and it was appreciated by my new boss."
DTH Tenure: 1995–2005
Current position: Co-founder and artistic director of Collage Dance Collective
Thomas co-founded Collage Dance Collective in New York City, and relocated it to Memphis a year later. The company shares philosophical DNA with DTH: Its mission is to make ballet more accessible and relevant. It was by hiring Collage dancers that DTH had a big enough cast to present Dougla in 2018.
"Seeing a stage full of brown dancers was a powerful image for me," says Thomas. "There was this great sense of pride that shaped everything that we did."
DTH Tenure: 1999–2004
Current position: Co-artistic director of dance at the Center of Creative Arts in St. Louis, Missouri
After DTH, Douthit-Boyd joined Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Today, he and his husband, Kirven Douthit-Boyd, co-direct dance at the fourth largest multidisciplinary community arts center in U.S.
"We had to grow up very fast under Mr. (that's what we called him)," says Douthit-Boyd. "We had to speak with confidence and carry ourselves like the young kings and queens he envisioned."
Summer is almost upon us, and whether you're a student about to go on break or a pro counting the days till layoff, don't forget that with warm weather comes a very serious responsibility: To maintain your cross-training routine on your own.
Those of us who've tried to craft our own cross-training routine know it's easier said than done. So we consulted the stars, and rounded up the best options for every zodiac sign. (TBH, you should probably consult an expert, too—we'd recommend a physical therapist, a personal trainer or your teacher.)
The way we create and consume dance is changing every day. Now more than ever, the field demands that dancers not only be able to perform at the highest level, but also collaborate with choreographers to bring their artistic visions to life. Dancers who miss out on choreographic training may very well find themselves at a disadvantage as they try to launch their careers.
It's become second nature in dance studios: The instant anyone gets hurt, our immediate reaction is to run to the freezer to grab some ice (or, more realistically, a package of frozen peas).
But as routine as icing our injuries might be, the benefits are not actually backed up by scientific studies. And some experts now believe icing could even disrupt the healing process.
I'm a contemporary dancer, and I'm nervous about trying to get pregnant since I can't predict if it might happen during the middle of the season. We have a union contract that is supposed to protect us. But I'm scared because several of my colleagues' contracts weren't renewed for no particular reason. Having a big belly could be a big reason to get rid of me!
—Andrea, New York, NY
It's not often that a promising choreographer gets to stage work in a world-class theater, on a skillfully-curated program with professional dancers, and with the possibility of winning a substantial cash prize. But at the McCallum Theatre's Palm Desert Choreography Festival, that's been the status quo for over twenty years.
Since Shea New, the festival's artistic director, founded the festival in 1998, she's worked tirelessly with McCallum's director of education and festival producer, Kajsa Thuresson-Frary, and stage manager and festival production manager Joanna Fookes to build a festival that nurtures choreographers, highlights high quality work, powerfully engages the local community and cultivates an audience base for dance in the Coachella Valley. The trio is backed by a strong team of professionals at McCallum and the brilliant volunteers from the local and national level who serve as adjudicators.
Get Dance Magazine in your inbox
When the going gets tough, the tough start dancing: That's the premise behind "Dance of Urgency," a recently opened exhibit at MuseumsQuartier Vienna that features photos, video and other documentary material relating to the use of dance as political protest or social uprising.
The groups featured in the show, largely based around clubs and electronic dance music scenes, span the globe and respond to a variety of issues—from inequality and social stratification to racial divides to crackdowns on club culture itself.
Last night, longtime theater legends (including Chita Rivera herself!) as well as rising stars gathered to celebrate one of Broadway's danciest events: the third annual Chita Rivera Awards.
The evening paid tribute to this season's dancer standouts, fabulous ensembles, and jaw-dropping choreography—on- and off-Broadway and on film.
As usual, several of our faves made it into the mix. (With such a fabulous talent pool of nominees to choose from, we're glad that ties were allowed.) Here are the highlights from the winner's list:
When you're a foreign dancer, gaining legal rights to work in the U.S. is a challenging process. It's especially difficult if you're petitioning to work as a freelance dancer without an agent or company sponsorship.
The process requires professional muscle along with plenty of resources and heart. "There's a real misnomer that it's super easy," says Neena Dutta, immigration attorney and president of Dutta Law Firm. "People need to educate themselves and talk to a professional."
Here are four things every foreign dancer who wants to work in the U.S. needs to know to build a freelance dance career here.
What does it take to "make it" in dance? It's no secret that turning this passion into a profession can be a struggle. In such a competitive field, talent alone isn't enough to get you where you want to be.
So what kinds of steps can you take to become successful? Dance Magazine spoke to 33 people from all corners of the industry to get their advice on the lessons that could help us all, no matter where we are in our careers.
On May 18, 1919, Margot "Peggy" Hookham was born. She would grow up to become Dame Margot Fonteyn, England's first homegrown prima ballerina. She joined the Sadler's Wells School in 1934 and was performing principal roles with the precursor to The Royal Ballet the next year. Fonteyn was a company-defining figure, dancing Aurora for the re-opening of the Royal Opera House after World War II, creating numerous roles with Sir Frederick Ashton and forging a legendary partnership with Rudolf Nureyev.
Memorial Day is notoriously one of Chicago's bloodiest weekends. Last year, 36 people were shot and seven died that weekend. In 2017 and 2016, the number of shootings was even higher.
When Garley "GiGi Tonyé" Briggs, a dance teacher and Chicago native, started noticing this pattern, she was preparing her second annual Memorial Day workshop for local youth.
The event's original aim was simple: "I wanted the youth of Chicago to have somewhere they could come and learn from different dancers and be off the streets on the South Side on this hot holiday," she says.
A recent trip I took to Nashville coincided with the NFL draft. As we drove into town, my Uber driver was a fount of information on the subject.
I learned that there are 32 NFL teams and that the draft takes place over seven rounds. That the team that did the poorest during the previous season gets first pick. That during an earlier event called the scouting combine, the teams assess college football players and figure out who they want.
There is also the veteran combine for "free agents"—players who have been released from their contracts or whose contracts have expired. They might be very good players, but their team needs younger members or ones with a certain skill set. All year round, experienced NFL scouts scan games across the country, checking out players and feeding that information back to the teams. Players' agents keep their eyes on opportunities for their clients which might be more rewarding.
While I sat in the traffic of 600,000 NFL fans I got thinking, is there something ballet could learn from football? Could a draft system improve young dancers' prospects and overall company caliber and contentment?
Despite what you might think, there's no reason for dancers to be afraid of bread.
"It's looked at as this evil food," says New York State–certified dietitian and former dancer Tiffany Mendell. But the truth is, unless you have celiac disease or a gluten intolerance, bread can be a healthy source of carbohydrates—our body's preferred fuel—plus fiber and vitamins.
The key is choosing your loaf wisely.