Arthur Mitchell and Her Contribution To Dance

Arthur Mitchell was the first African American who was a principal dancer with a major American classical ballet company. Mitchell was born on March 27, 1937 in New York’s Harlem section. He discovered his love for dance at an early age, and a guidance counselor who saw him dance recommended that he should attend the High School of Performing Arts. He went on to become the school’s first male student to win their annual dance award. As a result of his efforts while in the school, he won a scholarship to the School of American Ballet – the school was a well-renowned training ground for the New York City ballet. Mitchell went on to bring the world of ballet to thousands of poor black youth through his Dance Theater of Harlem which went on to be known throughout the world[1]. The training, career path, and Mitchell’s impact on dance will be explored in this paper.

Mitchell debuted in 1955 with the City Ballet performing the Western Symphony. He spent the next year working with the company in a very successful career period. He is probably well-known for his role as Puck – playing the role of a mischievous fairy – in a Midsummer Night’s Dream. In fact, this part was created specifically for him by George Balanchine – a legendary choreographer[2].

When Martin Luther King was assassinated, Mitchell was deeply moved and he was compelled to give back to the Harlem community. In this regard, he gave free dance lessons to the poor children living in the Harlem neighborhood. Starting from the Harlem church basement as a base, he was eventually able to convert a car garage into a permanent dance class using up most of his personal savings in the process. In 1969, Mitchell incorporated the Dance Theater of Harlem (DTH) in 1969. This was the first and most influential black classic ballet company in the US. Earlier it used to be believed that the bodies of black men were not suited for classical dance, but the DTH went on to prove this stereotype wrong. The company went on to become both a performing and teaching institute. Mitchell played a crucial role by teaching classes, directing the company, and choreographed new moves for his students[3].

Arthur Mitchell was a very influential dancer, especially the role of black dancers in the field of classical dance. Because of his influential role, he became one of the youngest recipients of the Kennedy Center Honors and a Medal of Arts from President Clinton in 1995. Mitchel himself holds the belief that he was able to debunk the myth that African Americans could not take part in classical dance.

[1] Tobias, Tobi. Arthur Mitchell. Crowell, 2005. Print.
[2],. ‘Legacy’. N.p., 2015. Web. 30 May 2015.
[3] The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts,. ‘Arthur Mitchell’. N.p., 2015. Web. 30 May 2015.