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Raven Wilkinson in Les Sylphides. Photo Courtesy Wilkinson.

Ballerina Raven Wilkinson passed away on Monday at her home in New York City at age 83. Wilkinson is best known as the first African American woman to dance full-time with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and as a cherished mentor to Misty Copeland.

Raven Wilkinson presenting Misty Copeland with the Dance Magazine Award in 2014. Photo by Cherylynn Tsushima for Dance Magazine.

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Raven Wilkinson in Les Sylphides. Photo Courtesy Wilkinson.

Ballerina Raven Wilkinson passed away on Monday at her home in New York City at age 83. Wilkinson is best known as the first African American woman to dance full-time with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and as a cherished mentor to Misty Copeland.

Raven Wilkinson presenting Misty Copeland with the Dance Magazine Award in 2014. Photo by Cherylynn Tsushima for Dance Magazine.

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Playlists
Photo by Jayme Thornton for Dance Spirit

It's no secret that Houston Ballet soloist Harper Watters loves Queen Bey. So we dared to ask him to rank his favorite albums. This is what he sent us:

Dangerously In Love: EVERYTHING
B'Day: LIT
I Am...Sasha Fierce: YASSS
4: SHOOK
Beyoncé: WIG SNATCHED
Lemonade: SLAY

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Dancers Trending
Ashley Murphy in Giselle at The Washington Ballet. Photo by Theo Kossenas

Ashley Murphy was the leading lady of Dance Theatre of Harlem for many of her 13 years there. But in 2016, she took a leap of faith, leaving her coveted place as reigning ballerina for a spot in The Washington Ballet.

"I wasn't really growing anymore—they didn't need to pay attention to me because they knew I would work on things on my own. I felt like I'd become everybody's mom," she told writer Gia Kourlas. "I need to be in a setting where I'm more equal with other people."

Two years later, she's found a home in D.C.—and has no regrets about her decision. We caught up with her for our "Spotlight" series:

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Breaking Stereotypes
Kyle Abraham choreographing on Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Photo by Jim Lafferty

Last month, Kyle Abraham was announced as one of the six choreographers contributing new work to New York City Ballet's 2018-19 season.

In its 70-year history, NYCB has only commissioned four black choreographers—all men: John Alleyne and Ulysses Dove in 1994, Dance Theatre of Harlem's Robert Garland in collaboration with Robert LaFosse in 2000, and Albert Evans in 2002 and 2005. It's been 11 years since Evans, an NYCB alum, made work for the company and 18 years since a black choreographer outside of NYCB has been invited to choreograph.

Take a moment to take that in.

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Jayme Thornton

Misty Copeland's Instagram feed is usually filled with gorgeous performance shots and inspirational images featuring the many young girls she's inspired.

So we were surprised this morning to see Copeland post two screenshots of a mean tweet about herself:

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Breaking Stereotypes
Raven Wilkinson in "Les Sylphides" as illustrated by Leda Schubert. Photos Courtesy Wilkinson.

When children's book writer and illustrator Leda Schubert first reached out to Raven Wilkinson about writing a book on her life, Wilkinson had qualms. She was worried that the racism she experienced as an African American dancer touring the South with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in the 1960s might scare the intended audience of 6-9 year olds. With time, Wilkinson came to an understanding. "If we keep hiding everything from our children we'll never get these things solved," she told me in an interview. The result is a picture book, released earlier this month, titled Trailblazer: The Story of Ballerina Raven Wilkinson.

Trailblazer opens with a foreword by Misty Copeland, who has has often cited Wilkinson as a mentor. Copeland's words are accompanied by a photo of Wilkinson presenting her with a bouquet onstage after her Swan Lake debut with American Ballet Theatre. "Since learning about Raven, sharing her journey and those of the many black ballerinas who have paved the way has become part of my mission," writes Copeland. And indeed, Copeland's fame and success has pushed Wilkinson's story into the public eye.

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