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Alvin Ailey Dancers

Black History Month: Honoring African American Dancers and Choreographers

Gettyimages | Afro Newspaper/Gado
By Sharon Oliver

For African Americans, soul is not only expressed through music but also through dance. From the spectacular tap-dancing Nicholas Brothers to the influence of the 70’s ‘Soul Train’ dancers, dance is just a part of the normal rhythm of life, no matter the style.

Pioneers such as Josephine Baker and Katherine Dunham paved the way for choreographers like Paula Kelly, who recently passed away and Debbie Allen. Perhaps one of the most notable is Alvin Ailey who established the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 1958, combining Afro-Caribbean dance with modern and jazz dance techniques.

Misty Copeland

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Not many people associate African Americans with ballet when it comes to this form of dance. However, Misty Copeland dismantled the myth and made history in 2015 by becoming the first African American female principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre.

The Kansas City native began performing at the theatre in 1999 and worked on several productions. The role of ballerina princess in the 2018 Disney film ‘The Nutcracker and the Four Realms’ was created specifically for her by Director Lasse Hallstrom.

Debbie Allen

Debbie Allen
Gettyimages | Leon Bennett

Best known for her portrayal as dance instructor Lydia Grant in the TV and film versions of Fame, Debbie Allen is one of the art’s premiere choreographers. Allen, the sister of actress Phylicia Rashad, made her debut on Broadway in the stage play Purlie.

Debbie Allen won three Emmy Awards and has choreographed the Academy Awards for 10 years. She played the wife of Alex Haley in the 1979 miniseries Roots: The Next Generation and worked as a producer and director on the television series A Different World.

Camille A. Brown

Camille A. Brown
Wikimedia | https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Camille_A._Brown_-_Headshot_-_By_Whitney_Browne.jpg

Dancer and choreographer Camille A. Brown skillfully spell out a story through movement. She worked on Broadway’s Once on This Island and with singer John Legend as choreographer for the NBC special Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert.

Brown has been decorated with notable awards and accolades including being a four-time Princess Grace Award winner, Tony Award recipient for best Choreography for Choir Boy, Guggenheim Fellowship, TED Fellow, a Bessie Award, USA Jay Franke & David Herro Fellow and Doris Duke Performing Artist Award. She has been featured on the cover of Dance Magazine in 2018 and Dance Teacher Magazine in 2015.

All-time Greats

Gregory Hines
Gettyimages | Jack Mitchell

There are scores of choreographers and dancers who have contributed to the arts by way of dance. When it comes to tap, the late Gregory Hines and Savion Glover certainly deserve an honorable mention. The late Donald McKayle also made history by becoming the first African American to direct and choreograph a Broadway musical - Raisin in 1973 and Sophisticated Ladies in 1981.

Todrick Hall commanded attention during season 9 of American Idol. Dancing since the age of 9, Hall has worked with Beyonce, Ariana Grande and Taylor Swift.

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