In 1969, at the height of the civil rights movement, Arthur Mitchell and Karel Shook founded Dance Theatre of Harlem. Their vision remains one of the most democratic in dance.
Arthur Mitchell created the company in New York City, after making history in 1955 as the first black principal dancer at New York City Ballet. Working in Brazil on a commission from the American government to assist in the founding of the National Ballet of Brazil, Mitchell decided to return to the US to try to make a difference in his community by teaching ballet classes in his native Harlem.
Arthur Mitchell created this space for a lot of people who had been told, ‘You can’t do this,’ to give them a chance to do what they dreamed of doing.” The company gained momentum in the midst of the Black Power movement.
In 1971, Dance Theatre of Harlem, billed as a “neo-classical ballet company,” officially debuted at the Guggenheim Museum to great acclaim. Through the 1990s, Dance Theatre of Harlem continued to break racial and political boundaries, to worldwide acclaim.Dance Theatre of Harlem is not just a ballet company or groundbreaking cultural institution, but an elegant example of what is possible when an inclusive approach to art is allowed to evolve and thrive.