The late Arthur Mitchell’s dancing talent was discovered when he was a teenager in Harlem, on his way to becoming the first Black male permanent member of a major American ballet troupe.
Mitchell was born on March 27, 1934 in Harlem, N.Y., and he attended the New York City High School of Performing Arts. He found a love for classical dance and became the first male winner of its Annual Dance award. Mitchell earned a scholarship to attend the School of American Ballet to continue his study of classical dance.
In 1955, Mitchell was asked to join the New York City Ballet by George Balanchine and he swiftly became one of the dance style’s brightest young talents. In his 15 years with the New York City Ballet, Mitchell became its principal dancer and starred in a number of big-stage productions including being cast as Puck for A Midsummer’s Night Dream, causing a stir in the press but winning them over with his sheer talent.
In 1952, Mitchell made his Broadway debut in the opera Four Saints In Three Acts, and in 1954, he returned to Broadway in a production of the musical House Of Flowers with Diahann Carroll, Geoffrey Holder, Alvin Ailey, Pearl Bailey, and Carmen De Lavallade.
After the untimely death of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Mitchell was inspired to do something for Black youth in his native Harlem and began teaching classes out of a garage. In 1969, he founded the Dance Theatre with his mentor and instructor, the late Karel Shook. The school became the premier destination of Black classical dance, training some of the best and brightest.
Frederick Davis, Rasta Thomas, and the retired Amina L. Ahmad (formerly Llanchie Stevenson), the first Black female dancer for the National Ballet of Washington all trained there. Ahmad was a former principal dancer at the Dance Theatre.
Arthur Mitchell was 84.
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