Once on This Island, choreographed by Camille A. Brown. PC Joan Marcus

The List of Black Women Who've Choreographed for Broadway is Far Too Short

Camille A. Brown is part of an elite coterie: black women who have choreographed for the Broadway stage. Once on This Island won't be the first time she's listed as choreographer—she provided the moves for the 2012 revival of A Streetcar Named Desire, following in the footsteps of Dianne McIntyre and Hope Clarke, who've also added dancing to Broadway straight plays.

But she's still making history of a kind: Full-scale commercial Broadway musicals choreographed by female African Americans are rarities. Clarke did Caroline, or Change in 2004 and Jelly's Last Jam in 1992, and in 1988, Debbie Allen took on Carrie.


The other black women who've been Broadway choreographers arrived there with hits that moved, as Caroline did, from smaller, nonprofit institutions: Marlies Yearby with Rent and Mabel Robinson with It's So Nice to Be Civilized and the 1976 revival of Porgy and Bess.

As is often the case where the contributions of women, particularly women of color, are concerned, that's not quite the whole story. The choreography for the 1940 musical Cabin in the Sky is officially attributed to George Balanchine. But his uncredited co-choreographer was the legendary Katherine Dunham, who also played the story's sexpot and whose pioneering black dance company was prominently featured in the cast. After that, Dunham amassed nine Broadway credits as a choreographer, most of them for concert appearances by her company and other black entertainers. Her Carib Song sounds like a 1945 precursor to Once on This Island, telling the story of a forbidden West Indies affair.

If Brown fulfills her ambition to become a director/choreographer, she could be the first African-American woman to do it on her own.

Latest Posts


Courtesy Schelfhaudt

These Retired Ballroom Dancers Started a Dance-Themed Coffee Company

Like many dancers, when Lauren Schelfhaudt and Jean Paul retired from professional ballroom dancing in 2016, they felt lost. "There was this huge void," says Schelfhaudt.

But after over 20 years of dancing, plus United States and World Championship titles, reality shows, and high-profile choreography gigs (and Paul's special claim to fame, as "the guy who makes Bradley Cooper look bad" in Silver Linings Playbook), teaching just didn't fill the void. "I got to the point where it wasn't giving me that creative outlet," says Paul.

When the pair (who are life and business partners but were never dance partners—they competed against one another) took a post-retirement trip to Costa Rica, they were ready to restart their lives. They found inspiration in an expected place: A visit to a coffee farm.

Though they had no experience in coffee roasting or business, they began building their own coffee company. In 2018, the duo officially launched Dancing Ox Coffee Roasters, where they create dance-inspired blends out of their headquarters in Belmont, North Carolina.

We talked to Schelfhaudt and Paul about how their dance background makes them better coffee roasters, and why coffee is an art form all its own:

GO DEEPER