Arthur Mitchell (dancer)

Arthur Mitchell (dancer)

Arthur Mitchell (March 27, 1934 - ) is an African-American dancer and choreographer who created a training school and the first African-American classical ballet company, Dance Theatre of Harlem. Among other awards, he has been recognized as a MacArthur Fellow, inducted into the National Museum of Dance's Hall of Fame, and has received the United States National Medal of Arts and a Fletcher Foundation fellowship.

Early life

Born in Harlem, New York, Arthur Mitchell was encouraged by a guidance counselor who saw his talent to apply to the selective High School of Performing Arts. He was accepted and decided to work toward making a life in classical ballet. When Arthur Mitchell graduated from the High School of Performing Arts in New York City in the early 1950s, he won a dance award and a scholarship to study at the School of American Ballet, the school affiliated with the New York City Ballet.

Career at New York City Ballet

In 1955 Mitchell made his debut as the first African American with the New York City Ballet (NYCB), performing in "Western Symphony". Rising to the position of principal dancer with the company in 1956, he performed in all the major ballets in its repertoire, including "A Midsummer Night’s Dream", "The Nutcracker", "Bugaku", "Agon", and "Arcade". Mitchell was the only African-American dancer with the NY City Ballet until 1970. Choreographer and director the NYCB George Balanchine created the pas de deux in "Agon" especially for Mitchell and the white ballerina Diana Adams. Although Mitchell danced this role with white partners throughout the world, he could not perform it on commercial television in the United States before 1965, because states in the South refused to carry it.

Mitchell left the New York City Ballet in 1966 to appear in several Broadway shows, and helped found ballet companies in Spoleto; Washington, DC; and Brazil, where he directed a dance company.

Dance Theatre of Harlem

After the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968, Mitchell returned to Harlem, where he was determined to provide opportunities in dance for the children in that community. A year later, he and his teacher Karel Shook formed a classical ballet school. Dance Theatre of Harlem (DTH) was born in 1969 with 30 kids in a church basement in a community where resources of talent and creative energy were virtually untapped. Two months later, Mitchell had attracted 400 youngsters attending classes. Two years later they presented their first productions as a professional company.

Mitchell used his personal savings to convert a garage into the company's first real home. In Harlem, DTH created an explosion of professional opportunity in dance, music, and related theater activities. The school has an outstanding number of former students who have been successfully engaged in careers as dancers and musicians, as technicians in production, stagecraft, and wardrobe, and in instruction and arts administration. With this success, DTH challenged the classical dance world to review its stereotypes and revise its boundaries.


Mitchell has received numerous awards in recognition of his groundbreaking work and achievements.
*1993 - Kennedy Center Honors, one of the youngest persons recognized [ [ Arthur Mitchell] , accessed 23 May 2008]
*1994 - Named as a MacArthur Fellow
*1995 - United States National Medal of Arts, presented by the President
*1999 - Inducted into National Museum of Dance's Hall of Fame, Saratoga Springs, NY
*2005 - Awarded a Fletcher Foundation fellowship in its inaugural year, in recognition of his contributions to African-American culture.
*2006 - Mitchell and the Dance Theatre of Harlem were honored at the White House by President Bush with a dinner in his honor.

In addition, Mitchell has received honorary doctorates from numerous leading universities, as well as awards from the City of New York and community organizations.

ee also

*List of African American firsts


* [ "Tufts E-news" (Tufts University): Arthur Mitchell]
* Infoplease (2007).
* Miles, J. H., Davis, J. J., Ferguson-Roberts, S. E., and Giles, R. G. (2001). Almanac of African American Heritage. Paramus, NJ: Prentice Hall Press.
* Potter, J. (2002). African American Firsts. New York, NY: Kensington Publishing Corp.
* The John F. Kennedy Center for The Performing Arts (2007).

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