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Arthur Mitchell (1934–2018), trailblazing African-American ballet dancer

by Kirk Fox

Arthur Mitchell was a ballet dancer who achieved international acclaim as the first African-American principal dancer at the New York City Ballet. He danced with the company from 1956 to 1968. Following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., he was inspired to help found the Dance Theatre of Harlem.

His career as a dancer and choreographer blazed a trail and created opportunities for other Black dancers in classical dance.

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Died: Wednesday, September 19, 2018 (Who else died on September 19?)

Details of death: Died in New York City at the age of 84.

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The power of ballet: In 1957 legendary choreographer George Balanchine paired Mitchell with White female dancer Diana Adams in “Agon.” During the era of segregation, the dance was not only a political statement, but hailed by critics and audiences for both its aesthetic beauty and technical difficulty.

Notable quote: “I actually bucked society and an art form that was three, four hundred years old and brought Black people into it,” he told The New York Times in an interview in 2018.

What people said about him: “You gave me so much, through our conversations, your dancing and by simply existing as a Brown body in ballet. But you were so much more than a Brown body. You’re an icon and hero.” —Misty Copeland, first African-American female principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre

Full obituary: The New York Times

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