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Fri, 09.08.1944

Fred Benjamin, a true stage presence

Fred Benjamin

Fred Benjamin was born on this date in 1944. He was a Black dancer, choreographer, and instructor.

He was born in Boston, and began dancing at age four at Elma Lewis' School of Fine Arts in Roxbury.  He danced with the Talley Beatty Company from 1963 until 1966, when the company folded.  Two years later, he started his own New York-based Fred Benjamin Dance Company, which existed, largely without funding, for 20 years. Like most Black choreographers of the time, his work was compared to that of Alvin Ailey, but Benjamin modeled himself after his idol, Beatty.

The group movement in "Parallel Lines," the emphasis on entrances in a work such as "Our Thing," and many other works all echoed Beatty's influence.  Benjamin added ballet to Beatty's modern, energized style and helped popularize the genre known as ballet-jazz. He introduced many inner-city youth to dance through the Harlem Cultural Council's annual Dance Mobile series, but his greatest gift may have been in teaching.  This is underscored most at New York's Clark Center for the Performing Arts and Steps studios.

Benjamin has also worked extensively in theatrical dance. He has taught in the Netherlands, worked in summer stock, and danced with the June Taylor Dancers. On Broadway he worked with Gower Champion and Michael Bennett and performed in such hits as "Hello, Dolly!" and "Promises, Promises."

Fred Benjamin died on December 14, 2013 of organ failure in Manhattan, New York.

Reference:
Encyclopedia of African American Culture and History
5 vols. Macmillan, 1996.
Reprinted by permission of Gale Group.

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