African-American dance has developed within Black American communities in everyday spaces, rather than in studios, schools or companies. These dances are usually centered on folk and social dance practice, though performance dance often supplies complementary aspects to this. Placing great value on improvisation, these dances are characterized by ongoing change and development. There are a number of notable African-American modern dance companies using African-American cultural dance as an inspiration.
Tell us your famous African American dancers?
Desmond Richardson was the first African-American principal dancer of American Ballet Theatre, and is hailed by The New York Times as one of the greatest dancers of his time. Nominated for a Tony Award for his role in the original Broadway cast of Fosse and deemed a standout in the Tony-Award winning production After Midnight, Richardson is highly esteemed by the concert dance and American theater community. He appeared in Twyla Tharp’s Broadway production Movin’ Out, and had his singing debut in Burt Bacharach’s and Hal David’s The Look Of Love, choreographed by Ann Reinking and Scott Ellis. Richardson has appeared on celebrated stages across the world, namely The Metropolitan Opera, The Kennedy Center, Paris Opera, The Bolshoi Theatre, The Mariinsky Theatre, The State Kremlin Palace, Teatro Massimo, and Teatro alla Scala. He has been a member and invited guest of prestigious companies including Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Frankfurt Ballet, Royal Swedish Opera Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, Washington Ballet, and San Francisco Ballet, to name a few. Richardson, a Young Arts Finalist and Presidential Scholar, has received numerous awards including the Dance Magazine Award, Capezio Award, Ailey Apex Award, L.A. Ovation Award, Bessie Award, YoungArts Alumni Award, and most recently the Roosevelt “Rosey” Thompson Award presented by the Presidential Scholars Foundation. In the spring of 2109, Richardson received an honorary doctorate degree from The University of North Carolina School of the Arts in recognition of his extensive contributions to the field of dance. Richardson has been a celebrity guest performer and choreographer for productions across media such as the American Music Awards, the Academy Awards, City Center’s Encores! series, Italy’s AMICI, and international franchises of So You Think You Can Dance. Richardson has been featured by famed artists such as Michael Jackson, Prince, Madonna, Elton John, and Aretha Franklin, and he appears in celebrated films such as the Oscar-Award
Alvin Ailey was first introduced to dance in Los Angeles by performances of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and the Katherine Dunham Dance Company. He began his formal dance training with an introduction to Lester Horton’s classes. Horton, the founder of one of the first racially-integrated dance companies in the country, became a mentor for Ailey as he embarked on his professional career.
After Horton’s death in 1953, Ailey became Director of the Lester Horton Dance Theater and began to choreograph his own works.
In 1958, he founded Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, now a world-class and internationally renowned dance company. He established the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center (now The Ailey School) in 1969 and formed the Alvin Ailey Repertory Ensemble (now Ailey II) in 1974.
In addition to his huge contribution to the furthering of modern dance, Ailey was a pioneer of programs promoting arts in education, particularly those benefiting underserved communities.
Michaela Mabinty DePrince is a Sierra Leonean-American ballet dancer. With her adoptive mother, Elaine DePrince, Michaela authored the book Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina. She rose to fame after starring in the documentary First Position in 2011, following her and other young ballet dancers as they prepared to compete at the Youth America Grand Prix. She formerly danced with the Dance Theatre of Harlem as the youngest dancer in the history of the company and currently dances as a soloist for the Dutch National Ballet. Since 2016 Michaela is a goodwill ambassador with the Dutch organisation War Child, based in Amsterdam
Donald McKayle was an American modern dancer, choreographer, teacher, director and writer best known for creating socially conscious concert works during the 1950s and '60s that focus on expressing the human condition and, more specifically, the black experience in America. He was "among the first black men to break the racial barrier by means of modern dance." His work for the concert stage, especially Games and Rainbow Round My Shoulder, has been the subject of widespread acclaim and critical attention. In addition, McKayle was the first black man to both direct and choreograph major Broadway musicals, including the Tony Award-winners Raisin and Sophisticated Ladies, and he worked extensively in television and film. As a young man he appeared with some of the twentieth century's most important choreographers, including Martha Graham, Anna Sokolow, and Merce Cunningham, and in some of Broadway's landmark productions, including House of Flowers and West Side Story, where he served for a time as the production's dance captain. A Tony Award and Emmy Award nominee, McKayle held an endowed chair for the last decades of his life in the Dance Department at UC Irvine, where he was the Claire Trevor Professor of Dance. He previously served on the faculties of Connecticut College, Sarah Lawrence College, and Bennington College.
Janet Collins was an African American ballet dancer, choreographer, and teacher. She performed on Broadway, in films, and appeared frequently on television. She was among the pioneers of black ballet dancing, one of the few classically trained Black dancers of her generation.
Arthur Mitchell was an American ballet dancer, choreographer, and founder and director of ballet companies. In 1955, he was the first African-American dancer with the New York City Ballet, where he was promoted to principal dancer the following year and danced in major roles until 1966
Misty Danielle Copeland is an American ballet dancer for American Ballet Theatre, one of the three leading classical ballet companies in the United States. On June 30, 2015, Copeland became the first African American woman to be promoted to principal dancer in ABT's 75-year history.