Courtesy DM Archives

TBT: When Mel Tomlinson Added NYCB to His Stacked Resumé

When Mel Tomlinson made his New York City Ballet debut in November 1981, the then-27-year-old was already a well-known figure to New York audiences. He appeared with Dance Theatre of Harlem beginning in 1974 and, other than a two-year break to join Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, remained an electric presence there until his surprise move to NYCB.

His first performance was opposite Heather Watts in Balanchine's Agon in the groundbreaking role originated by DTH artistic director Arthur Mitchell. Tomlinson, the only Black dancer at NYCB at the time of his joining and the first Black man to inherit Mitchell's role at NYCB, had previously danced the part at DTH; he was the only dancer to learn it directly from both Balanchine and Mitchell.

In a black and white archival image, Mel Tomlinson, a young, lean Black man, poses in crois\u00e9 attitude back on relev\u00e9. He wears white tights and ballet shoes with a long-sleeved, fitted costume shirt. His arms are in third position; he gazes regally towards his downstage arm.

Courtesy DM Archives

Tomlinson left NYCB in 1987 and went on to join the faculty of his alma mater, North Carolina School of the Arts, and perform with Boston Ballet. At the latter, he was a master teacher for the company's Citydance program, which offered free ballet lessons to Boston-area public school students. In the August 1992 issue of Dance Magazine, he said, "Kids learn by example. I always tell them that they have to walk down the street with the posture and pride of an artist, of a good person.... Some of them will become beautiful dancers or beautiful models. Others will be beautiful moms or dads. We're building dancers, but we're also building audiences. Once they learn something here, nobody can ever take it away from them. It's theirs forever."

Prior to his death in 2019, in addition to teaching dance he worked as a phlebotomist, gave Baptist church services in American Sign Language (he held a doctorate in theology) and occa­sionally performed as a guest artist.

Latest Posts

AMDA students learn how to present their best selves on camera. Photo by Trae Patton, Courtesy AMDA

AMDA's 4 Tips for Acing Your Next Audition

Ah, audition day. The flurry of new choreography, the long lines of dancers, the wait for callbacks. It's an environment dancers know well, but it can also come with great stress. Learning how to be best prepared for the big day is often the key to staying calm and performing to your fullest potential (and then some).

This concept is the throughline of the curriculum at American Musical and Dramatic Academy, where dance students spend all four years honing their audition skills.

"You're always auditioning," says Santana Trujillo, AMDA's dance outreach manager and a graduate of its BFA program. On campus in Los Angeles and New York City, students have access to dozens of audition opportunities every semester.

For advice on how dancers can put their best foot forward at professional auditions, Dance Magazine recently spoke with Trujillo, as well as AMDA faculty members Michelle Elkin and Genevieve Carson. Catch the whole conversation below, and read on for highlights.

July 2021