Black Ballet Dancers

I was way ahead of everyone where looking at Black dancers who do ballet is concerned.  Misty Copeland‘s lineage is quite long.

I started doing research on them back in 2001 when I was the library technician for the National Ballet School in Toronto. Black History Month was coming up and I was not about to put a picture of Harriet Tubman up on the wall – again.  And so it was that I looked into Black ballet dancers.  My discoveries were many.

Around that time the book Dancing Many Drums: Excavations in African American Dance was published. I contacted the editor, Thomas F. DeFrantz, and we emailed each other regularly.  I also discovered through the book that I myself had an indirect connection to this history through my mother. One of the members of The New York Negro Ballet, circa the 1950s, was the “Pavlova-like” Helen Tait who was from British Guyana (see GCA newsletter p. 26).  Acting on a hunch, I ask my mother if she knew Ms. Tait – sure enough, she did for Ms. Tait used to direct drama productions at Bishops’ Girls School. After that, I always asked “Did you know?” and “What was s/he like.”

RavenasswanBut my greatest passion (obsession?) was for Raven Wilkinson not so much for her work in the USA and the racist she endured there. That I took as a given.  What got me was the aspect of her life that few talked about – her time in the Netherlands when she danced with Royal Dutch Ballet (now the Dutch National Ballet). The link above gets it wrong – she did not go, she was asked to come join.

Anyway, I acted on a hunch again and emailed the DNB, asking about Wilkinson.  They send me email back that took a half hour to upload, which included this (clipped) picture. I believe this was from Gisele, and I know, based on the cast lists that DNB forwarded, that Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn was in this production.

But what really gave me joy was the fact that a journalist contacted me about this photo (previously unpublished) and asked permission to take a copy to Ms. Wilkinson herself, as he was to interview her.  Later, I heard from him saying that she was delighted to see the picture as she had not seen in decades.