A children’s biography of Cuban ballerina Alicia Alonso.
On June 3rd, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh will be hosting a panel discussion with the Pittsburgh Public Theater, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and Hill Dance Academy Theatre for a discussion on racial diversity and disparity in the world of classical dance, what’s changed and what still needs to change. This subject has been highlighted in opinion pieces in Dance Magazine, Pointe Magazine, Seattle Dances and The New York Times.
While many may be familiar with the name and career of Misty Copeland, probably the most prominent Black ballerina working today, there is a rich history of Black, Indigenous and Person of Color dancers in the ballet world that so far has been less publicized. To share that history, I’ve put together a list of materials that can be checked out from the Library that celebrate and center the lives, voices, work and influence of these dancers.
Biographies for all ages abound, along with picture books written by dancers to inspire young readers. Titles for adults also include histories of dance, a number of archival performances on DVD of ballerinas such as Maria Tallchief, Carmen de Lavallade, Nora Kimball and more, and documentaries about breaking into the modern world of ballet.
To discover even more of these artistic athletes, check out this list of 25 African American ballerinas, explore the website of Memoirs of Blacks in Ballet and read this PBS blog on ballerinas who broke color barriers. There is also a documentary about Ella Havelka, the first Indigenous dancer in the Australian Ballet, streaming on Hoopla which you can watch for free with your library card.
Register online for June 3’s Black Skin, White Tights: Discussion on Racial Diversity in Classical Dance.
If you’re a fan of reading about dance in fiction, check out this Staff Picks featuring Teen books about dance and dancing.
Looking for a good book, album, movie or TV show? We’re happy to recommend them to you! Use this Personalized Recommendations form to send us some information about what you like and we’ll curate a list just for you.
True story of five little girls with cerebral palsy or other physical disabilities who were determined to become ballerinas.
In this celebration of ballet’s splendor, lush photographs and poetic narrative put readers center stage with young ballerinas from the Dance Theatre of Harlem.
Among the women profiled in this book of collective biography is Debbie Allen, who was featured in the movie Fame! and was the first Black dancer at the Houston Dance Foundation, among other achievements.
A picture book biography about the first African American prima ballerina in the Metropolitan Opera.
A young Misty Copeland discovers her love for dance through the ballet of Coppélia.
A young girl growing up in Harlem in the 1950s, whose mother cleans and stitches costumes for a ballet company, dreams of becoming a prima ballerina one day, and is thrilled to see a performance by Janet Collins, the first African American prima ballerina. You can also check out this title as video on Hoopla or as video with read-along on Hoopla.
Sassy tries out for a summer dance festival in Washington, D.C., despite the other girls’ taunts that she is much too tall.
American Ballet Theater soloist Misty Copeland encourages a young ballet student, with brown skin like her own, by telling her that she, too, had to learn basic steps and how to be graceful when she was starting out, and that some day, with practice and dedication, the little girl will become a firebird as well. Includes author’s note about dancers who led her to find her voice. You can also check out this title as eBook on OverDrive/Libby.
Explains how Misty Copeland became the first African American female principal dancer for the American Ballet Theatre.
A biography of Katherine Dunham, emphasizing her childhood, her love of anthropology and dance, and the creation of her unique dance style.
Dancers from all kinds of backgrounds talk about their different paths to success as ballerinas, modern dancers, music video performers, and Broadway showstoppers, including Black ballerinas Aesha Ash and Lauren Anderson.
Sylvia Townsend, an African American girl, falls in love with ballet after seeing Swan Lake on TV. Although there aren’t many ballet schools that will accept a girl like Sylvia in the 1950s, her local bookmobile provides another possibility when a librarian helps Sylvia find a book about ballet. With the help of her new books, the determined seven-year-old starts teaching herself the basics of classical ballet.
Ballerina Maria Tallchief describes her childhood on an Osage reservation, the development of her love of dance, and her rise to success in that field.
Discover the first African-American principal dancer in American Ballet Theatre history, Misty Copeland. You can also check out this title as eBook on OverDrive/Libby.
Traces the histories of different styles of dance as they evolved in America, in a single illustrated book.
Two dance programs featuring performances by ballerina Maria Tallchief.
Looks at the life and accomplishments of Misty Copeland, who in 2015 became the first African American woman to be named principal dancer in a premier ballet company.
An intimate and revealing documentary that follows the careers of Carmen de Lavallade, a dynamic dancer and choreographer from California, and her husband Geoffrey Holder, an actor, dancer, choreographer and theater director.
Six ballerinas–Mary Ellen Moylan, Maria Tallchief, Melissa Hayden, Allegra Kent, Merrill Ashley, and Darci Kistler–keep alive Balanchine’s ballets and the inspiration they learned from him. These dancers, along with Suzanne Farrell, Tanaquil Le Clercq, and Diana Adams, are seen in excerpts from Balanchine ballets.
In 1960s San Francisco Osumare decided to concentrate on dance, which brought her to Europe and “jazz ballet” and then creating her own dance companies in Europe, integrating Lincoln Center, doing fieldwork in Ghana, and more.
An autobiography of a Black dancer who started studying dance at six and went on to work with Alvin Ailey, on Broadway, and then with her own company.
Cuban-American Bujones was the youngest principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre and a gold medal winning dancer.
Profiles six contestants in the Youth America Grand Prix, a prestigious competition for aspiring young ballet dancers, including Michaela DePrince.
Katherine Dunham was a deep influence on dance history, especially in choreography, where her study of African Dance became incorporated in performance and her use of dance in activism.
Tallchief tells her story from her childhood in Oklahoma on an Osage Reservation to the stage with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and as muse to George Balanchine. She recounts how her world was in part brutal hard work and exhaustion but also proud exhilaration.
Acosta came from a poor life in Cuba, compounded by racism, to international success as a ballet dancer.
In Peter Sellars’ adaptation of Brecht and Weill’s work, featuring Nora Kimball, a satirical story of a travel around America and its dual personalities of a utopia and a violent place.
Contrasting ballet’s prestigious image and ability to inspire passion and awe in dancers with its history of racism, imbalance of fame between men and women dancers, and impossible beauty standards, Angyal goes on to find what a new generation of dancers is doing to rectify these problems.
Among the voices in this anthology is that of ballerina Joan Myers Brown, who founded PHILDANCO! – the Philadelphia Dance Company.