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Arthur Mitchell
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    (March 27, 1934-September 19, 2018)
    Born in Harlem, New York
    Dancer with the New York City Ballet (1955-66)
    Co-founded the Dance Theater of Harlem (DTH; 1969)
    Appeared on Broadway in ‘Four Saints in Three Acts’ (1952), ‘House of Flowers’ (1954-55) and ‘Noel Coward’s Sweet Potato’ (1968)
    When he was admitted to the High School of Performing Arts in Manhattan, he overdid his stretching exercises and wound up in the hospital with torn stomach muscles.
    The Dance Theater of Harlem came close to going bankrupt on several occasions, leading to questions about his business acumen.
    He described himself as ‘a political activist through dance.’
    At twelve, he became the main breadwinner of his family when his father left.
    When asked to join the New York City Ballet, he had one condition: ‘that there be no publicity that a Negro — at that time we used the word ‘Negro’ — was breaking any kind of racial barrier. I wanted to get in the company on my own merits.’
    He recalled, ‘When Dance Theatre of Harlem started, there was still a fallacy that black people could not do classical ballet. People said to me, ‘Arthur, you’re the exception.’ ‘No,’ I said, ‘I had the opportunity.’’
    After a couple of months of holding classes in a church basement, he used his personal savings to convert a garage into the first home for the DHT.
    A year after the Dance Theater of Harlem was founded, the New York Times dance critic wrote, ‘No young company has made such progress in so short a time.’
    He received a MacArthur Foundation ‘Genius Grant.’

Credit: C. Fishel

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