remembering arthur mitchell, dance revolutionary

September 20, 2018
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Arthur Adam Mitchell Jr. (March 27, 1934 — September 19, 2018)

It takes great creativity and courage to break down barriers built on social constructs and respectability politics. The dancer, choreographer and activist Arthur Mitchell was a maverick who was born in Harlem, and became the first Black ballet dancer to receive international acclaim, performing with the New York City Ballet from 1956 to 1968.

Mitchell simply and confidently infused his Blackness into the art of ballet, and the world took notice. A Black man performing classical dance created by the legendary George Balanchine during the Civil Rights era was most definitely a revolutionary act. He used his lean, muscular body to challenge the exclusionary world of classical dance by his mere brilliant presence and soul.

Photo by Martha Swope Courtesy of Dance Theatre of Harlem

Earlier this year, Mr. Mitchell told The New York Times of his infiltrating the classical dance realm: “I actually bucked society, and an art form that was three, four hundred years old, and brought Black people into it.”

But that was not enough. In 1969, Mitchell went on to create more history, by co-founding with Karel Shook, the first Black national ballet company, the Dance Theatre of Harlem, providing creative opportunities for children in the New York City’s historic Black village. The school currently has over 300 students.

Photo Courtesy of Dance Theatre of Harlem

Mr. Mitchell was a MacArthur Fellow and received both the Kennedy Center Honor and The National Medal of Arts.

Photo Courtesy of Dance Theatre of Harlem

We salute our comrade Arthur Mitchell for his contributions to art and culture and for fearlessly daring to change the world with his Black body while inspiring generations of creatives through his choreography and his commitment to our community. Rest in Peace and Power.