From Josephine Baker to Misty Copeland, Black dancers have changed the dance community landscape. Throughout history, however, they’ve experienced exclusion and were often overlooked. Taking matters into their own hands, they began their own dance companies that continually challenge and improve the dance world.
The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, one of the first Black-owned dance companies in the United States, was founded in New York City in 1958. The company has since performed across the world for an estimated 25 million people, in addition to appearing on television, film, and online platforms. The company continues to produce new ballet, jazz, and modern dance works while also honoring those created by Alvin Ailey himself. The company also continues to expand; they recently opened Destination Dance in Atlanta in 2017 to bring the legacy of Allen Ailey to people across the world.
Dance Theatre of Harlem was founded at the height of the civil rights movement in 1968 by Arthur Mitchell, a student of George Balanchine, and Karel Shook. The ballet company tours both domestically and internationally, performing ballet classics and contemporary works celebrating African-American culture. Dance Theatre of Harlem also offers summer programs for passionate young dancers.
Founded in 1970 by Joan Myers Brown, The Philadelphia Dance Company (Philadanco) is a nonprofit company that supports dance in all forms. Celebrated for its work in preserving African-American dance traditions, the company produces a diverse repertoire of works, including jazz, modern, and ballet pieces. In 2012, Brown was awarded the National Medal of Arts by former President Barack Obama for her contributions to the dance community. One such contribution was the foundation of The International Association of Blacks in Dance. This organization helps bring light to important issues within the Black dance community and also works to create a strong network of Black-owned dance companies.
Focusing on contemporary dance styles, Dallas Black Dance Theatre seeks to bridge cultural differences through artistic excellence. Since its foundation in 1976 by Ann Williams, Dallas Black Dance Theatre has become the oldest professional dance company in Dallas and has amassed a national and global audience that continues to grow. The company also has its own dance academy that offers classes for children beginning at age four.
Homer Bryant, a former dancer with Dance Theatre of Harlem, founded the Chicago Multi-Cultural Dance Center in 1990. He sought to merge classical techniques of ballet with diverse dance styles that honored African-American culture. Recently, his techniques led to the creation of hiplet, a dance style that combines hip-hop and ballet, which features dancers performing street dance moves while on pointe shoes. Hiplet has become an international sensation, with dancers performing in Germany, South Korea, and Spain.