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Fri, 08.15.1969

The Dance Theater of Harlem is Founded

*This date in 1969 marks the founding of the Dance Theater of Harlem (DTH).

Arthur Mitchell and Karel Shook founded it as the world’s first permanent academy-rooted, professional, predominantly black ballet troupe.  Mitchell formed DTH to focus on a threefold mission of social, educational, and artistic opportunity for the people of Harlem. DTH’s creation and official debut in 1971 proved that Black people could triumphantly and successfully dance ballet.  By 1993, they were a world-renowned company with forty-nine dancers, seventy-five ballets in its repertory, an associated school, and an international touring program.

DTH’s performances have included several very technically demanding neoclassic pieces. G. Balanchine’s The Four Temperaments 1946, Mitchell’s Rhythmetron 1968, A. Alley’s The River 1970, and more. DTH also excels in its versions of classical ballets, including Stravinsky’s Firebird 1982. They are best known for reviving dramatic ballets like Agnes de Mille’s Fall River Legend (1948) and Valerie Bettis’s A Streetcar Named Desire (1952). Some important artists associated with the DTH are ballerina Virginia Johnson, Lydia Arbaca, Karen Brown, Ronald Perry, Paul Russell, Eddie J. Shellman, Judith Rotardier, Lorraine Graves, Donald Williams, and others.

In 1972, after moving to their permanent home at 466 West 152nd Street, the DTH continues to do extremely well. Training in dance, choreography, and music with enhanced outreach programs bringing the art form to senior citizens and children of the Harlem community. The DTH has toured England, Russia, and South Africa. During the 1992 South Africa visit, Mitchell encouraged his dancers to learn from and teach the dancers there, a typical gesture from a man renowned for pushing his students to visit libraries and museums, both to widen their artistic horizons and teach them to act as role models.

In 1994, DTH completed a 6 million dollar expansion and renovation project, doubling classroom and administrative space and confirming their commitment to providing access to the training needed for a career in classical ballet.  in 2009, Virginia Johnson became the Artistic director of DTH.

To Become a Dancer


Dance Theater of

The African American Atlas
Black History & Culture an Illustrated Reference
by Molefi K. Asanta and Mark T. Mattson
Macmillan USA, Simon & Schuster, New York
ISBN 0-02-864984-2

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