TBT: Why Black Ballerina Janet Collins Turned Down the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo

February 15, 2024

Janet Collins graced the cover of the February 1949 issue of Dance Magazine ahead of her New York City performance debut that April. Reviews of that solo performance were rapturous (“…how [dancing] is in dreams [is] how it is with Janet Collins,” Doris Hering wrote in her review for Dance Magazine), after which Hanya Holm cast her as the lead dancer in Out of This World on Broadway and Metropolitan Opera Ballet choreographer Zachary Solov hired her as a première danseuse for Aida and other operas.

A yellowed page from an old magazine shows two columns of text beneath an image of Janet Collins in rehearsal clothes at the barre, balancing in retiré en pointe, while Zachary Solov crouches beside her to give a correction.
A story from the February 1954 issue of Dance Magazine, titled “An Interview with Janet Collins, the First Lady of the Metropolitan Opera Ballet.”

When Collins was interviewed for Dance Magazine’s February 1954 issue, she was in her third season with the opera while using her downtime to prepare the concert-dance programs she toured around the country during the off-seasons. She recalled auditioning for Léonide Massine as a teenager and being offered a place with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, which she turned down because “for the corps de ballet, he said he’d have to paint me white.” After, she said, she “cried for an hour. And went back to the barre.”

Asked how she resolved her dual training in ballet and modern dance, she said: “There is no conflict. You need both to extend the range of the body. The illusion you communicate while dancing depends on what you feel about your dance. For instance, I love Mozart. For that I need elevation and lightness, which I’ve learned from ballet. I love spirituals, too, and for that there is modern dance and a feeling of the earth.”