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raven wikinson

Latin Ballet of Virginia recognizes Black History Month: The Pioneers

Latin Ballet is celebrating Black History Month with the most influential and inspiring dancers and choreographers. These are their stories of the challenges they overcame throughout history. These are their stories of success and their rise to legendary status. Every week this month we will present African-Americans who persevered and diligently fought for their right to dance on the stages of the world and showed the world that race has no place in the arts...or anywhere else for that matter. These individuals are the inspiration for so many of our modern day dances and the reason that African/Caribbean dance was brought America. We commend these amazing talents.

Raven Wilkinson

She was the first black ballerina to be accepted into a major classical ballet company. She faced horrific racism and danger while she danced, but triumphed as a pioneer of dance.

Janet Collins

The first black prima ballerina who danced for the Metropolitan Opera in 1951. She became a teacher, a choreographer, and always a dancer. Because of her great passion for dance, Janet broke the color barriers of history.

Bill "Mr. Bojangles" Robinson

A Richmond, VA native, Mr. Bojangles could often be seen next to Miss Shirley Temple and was the highest paid African-American entertainer in his time. He would bring musicality to tap that no one had seen before using stairs as his medium.

Pearl Primus

Miss Primus brought African dance to the American Audience. As an anthropologist, dancer and choreographer, Primus brought the spirituality of African dance to the stage. She was impactful in her use of literature, poetry and traditions in dance.

Florence Mills

Known as the "Queen of Jazz", Florence Mills, was a successful Vaudeville dancer and singer. She played a part in the very first all black Broadway show, "Dixie to Broadway". Her dancing was infectious and it was said that the Prince of Wales could be seen tapping his feet when she took the stage. She died of medical complications at the young age of 31.

Catherine Dunham

Catherine Dunham brought her worldly dance experience to stage and film. She brought dance education to low income and high risk youths in St. Louis. She incorporated African and Caribbean movements into contemporary dance creating her own unique technique. She was also the first to form an all black dance company bringing ritualistic dance to American audiences.

Arthur Mitchell

Arthur Mitchell's accomplishments include creating the first African-American classical ballet company. The word "no" never existed in his vocabulary and he was quite determined despite the times. He inspired young people in Harlem to have self-confidence and motivation and accepted anyone who wanted to work. Discipline and determination, were key elements to the success of his school

Alvin Ailey

Known as "Cultural Ambassador to the World", Mr Ailey was a choreographer and activist who founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in New York City. His work revolutionized modern dance and it's popularity in concert dance performance.

Norma Miller

The "Queen of Swing, Norma Miller was discovered at the age of 12. She would later go on as the creator of the Lindy Hop. She's known for her comedic performances and her acrobatic dancing. She's still dancing at 97 years old and has worked with such great Jazz legends as Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie and Duke Ellington.


Josephine Baker

Titled with such monikers as "Black Venus," "Black Pearl" and "Creole Goddess", Josephine Baker is a legendary dancer, singer and actress. She was provocative and humorous and left her mark on the world of dance for her bold performances. She was world renown with great popularity for her work on the stages of Paris.  She fought segregation through organizations like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and inspired the liberation of many women!