Arthur Mitchell teaching

Arthur Mitchell teaching

Arthur Mitchell challenged the prejudice that black bodies were not suited to classical ballet. He danced with George Balanchine's New York City Ballet in the 1950s and 1960s, the first black dancer to become a leading dancer with a ballet company. In 1969 Mitchell started his own school in Harlem 'to get the kids off the streets'. He used 'dance' rather than 'ballet' which the boys thought 'sissy'. They soon found out their mistake. Ballet training involves more physical discipline than any sport. But Mitchell knew when to relax the rules. Boys did not have to wear the dreaded tights. They danced to drumbeats rather than classical music. He also believed that the discipline would help children who had known little control in their lives. In 1971 he founded Dance Theater of Harlem to showcase the dancers he had trained. Mitchell gave structure and purpose to the lives of thousands of children who went on to dance, work in the theatre or, applying the discipline he had taught them, to become doctors or lawyers.