The late pioneering dancer Arthur Mitchell was an icon in the dance world—as well as a touchstone in popular culture. Not only did he break boundaries at New York City Ballet, where he performed under Balanchine as a black male principal, but he also went on to co-found Dance Theatre of Harlem. But his international acclaim wasn't limited to the stage: Mitchell and DTH were featured in a special 1987 episode of "Mister Rogers Neighborhood," bringing ballet into living rooms across America.
Luckily, we were able to dig up the footage. Fast-forward to about 3:15 for the start of Mitchell's segment, which includes company rehearsal and classroom visits to two levels of students in DTH's school.The whole 12 minutes is worth the watch, but don't miss these moments:
- Mitchell's pearl of wisdom as he explains the importance of technique class to Mister Rogers: "It's like a pianist must do the scales, everyday. You must practice these exercises everyday."
- Mister Rogers giving ballet a go. Is there anything he won't try? (P.S. His fifth position doesn't disappoint!)
- In DTH's library, Mister Rogers asks if Mitchell was always interested in dance and music. "More or less," he says, before casually explaining that he was admitted to kindergarten at age 3 because he was so passionate about learning.
- The seriously impressive young children rehearsing for their end-of-year recital.
If PBS has the stats, we're dying to know how much ballet enrollment increased after this episode aired. Regardless, Mitchell's mark on the dance world is indelible, and we love how this moment in time was preserved.