This Timeline Shows How Much Black Dancers Have Contributed to Ballet

Misty Copeland in Swan Lake. Photo by Darren Thomas/QPAC

These days, we spend a lot of time talking about the most visible black pioneer in the dance world: Misty Copeland. But as Copeland herself will tell you, she’s not the first black dancer to have transformed ballet. And those who came before her don’t get nearly enough recognition.

Arthur Mitchell and Diana Adams in Agon. From the Columbia University archive.

That’s partially what inspired former Dance Theatre of Harlem member Theresa Ruth Howard to launch MoBBallet, a website that celebrates the history of black ballet dancers. The site features a new interactive timeline dating back to 1919, showing events like Arthur Mitchell joining New York City Ballet in 1955, the founding of the short-lived “Negro Unit” of Ballet Theatre in 1940 and the launch of Harlem School of the Arts in 1963. The timeline places these events in the context of what was happening in the arts, in black history and in the world during that time.

The timeline is still a work in progress—and you can weigh in with what you’d like to see included.

MoBBallet is a powerful reminder: As much as we need to support dancers of color to make our stages more diverse, we also need to recognize and celebrate those who’ve already broken barriers.

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