Sono Osato, Boundary-Breaking Japanese-American Dancer, Dies at 99

Sono Osato, a trailblazing ballet and musical theater dancer, passed away last Wednesday at her home in New York City.

Best known for originating the role of Miss Turnstiles in Jerome Robbins' hit On the Town—one of Broadway's first non-segregated musicals—Osato got her start at 14 as the youngest member of the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo, and as the troupe's first Japanese-American performer. She went on to dance for Ballet Theatre (now American Ballet Theatre), where she found success in New York City but was banned from touring in Mexico and California because of her Japanese background. For a brief time, Osato went by her mother's maiden name, Fitzpatrick, in an effort to escape the World War II-era anti-Japanese sentiment. During the war, her father was confined under military guard in Chicago as an enemy alien.


Osato won a Donaldson Award for best female dancer for her first Broadway show, One Touch of Venus, choreographed by Agnes de Mille. She performed acting roles in two additional Broadway shows, Willie the Weaper and a 1951 revival of Ibsen's Peer Gynt, and appeared in the 1948 film The Kissing Bandit alongside Frank Sinatra.

Later in life, Osato was a significant benefactor of Career Transitions for Dancers and received the organization's award for Outstanding Contributions to the World of Dance in 2008. In 2015, she was the subject of a dance-theater piece for Thodos Dance Chicago, which was based on interviews with Osato.

Our thoughts are with Osato's family and friends.

Latest Posts


Courtesy Ava Noble

Go Behind the Scenes of USC Kaufman’s Virtual Dance Festival

Now more than ever, the students of USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance are embodying their program's vision: "The New Movement."

As the coronavirus pandemic stretches on, the dance world continues to be faced with unprecedented challenges, but USC Kaufman's faculty and BFA students haven't shied away from them. While many schools have had to cancel events or scale them back to live-from-my-living-room streams, USC Kaufman has embraced the situation and taken on impressive endeavors, like expanding its online recruitment efforts.

November 1 to 13, USC Kaufman will present A/Part To/Gather, a virtual festival featuring world premieres from esteemed faculty and guest choreographers, student dance films and much more. All semester long, they've rehearsed via Zoom from their respective student apartments or hometowns. And they haven't solely been dancing. "You have a rehearsal process, and then a filming process, and a production process of putting it together," says assistant professor of practice Jennifer McQuiston Lott of the prerecorded and professionally edited festival.

GO DEEPER SHOW LESS