This February, for African American History Month, DDP is sharing the stories and names of Black and African American women leaders (past and present) in ballet/dance. Our ongoing features of women in dance and their significant contributions to the industry, all under the hashtag #DDPHerstory on our Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, are central to our mission of informing equity, and you can see a growing list of these artists and leaders on our website. We encourage you to also share the stories, names, and work of Black women choreographers, directors, academics, set, costume and lighting designers, and other leaders with us this month (and all months). It is critical that we build a greater dialogue surrounding their extraordinary contributions to the art form. Let’s acknowledge the work we have to do to be more inclusive and equitable and ensure that these artists and leaders are empowered in this space that has for too long excluded women, particularly women of color. We also encourage our community to check out MoBBallet’s Roll Call page to read the stories of 500+ Black men and women dancers!
For more steps you can take to support BIPOC professionals in dance, view the hashtag #CommitToChangeInBallet on Instagram, which was built off of the expertise of DDP Advisory Council member and DEI consultant Erica L. Edwards (view her episode of Global Conversations here!). We also encourage you to check out Cultivating Better Tomorrows and consider engaging their incredible services. Did we miss anybody? Let us know here so we can add more leaders to our women in ballet Leader Board and include them in the campaign. View the growing list of Black and African American women leaders below—we’ll be updating the page as we post throughout February, so come back for more every Tuesday and Thursday!
Click on the names to read more about the women featured in our February posts (so far):
We’ll be sharing new names in posts every Tuesday/Thursday and highlighting the story of one woman (with links to more, of course) in our captions. Follow the posts as they come out below!
2/2/21 Feature: Melissa M. Young, Artistic Director of Dallas Black Dance Theatre, is a Honduran-American raised in Santa Ana, California. She attended Orange Coast College with a focus in Business Administration. She is a graduate of The Ailey School in New York City and was selected to train as an exchange student at Amsterdam School of the Arts (de Theaterschool) in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Melissa joined Dallas Black Dance Theatre in 1994. This marks Melissa’s 26th season with Dallas Black Dance Theatre. Young started her career at DBDT as a dancer for 11 years, then Rehearsal Director, Academy Director, Associate Artistic Director, Interim Artistic Director, and was appointed as Artistic Director on September 25, 2018. Teaching master classes both nationally and internationally, Melissa specializes in the Dance Technique of Lester Horton. Melissa currently serves on the Next Generation Leadership Committee for the International Association of Blacks in Dance, Inc. Read more about Melissa and her achievements here.
2/4/21 Feature: Sidra Bell is a world renowned choreographer, artistic director, and academic. She is a Master Lecturer at the University of the Arts and has previously served as an Adjunct Professor at Barnard College. She received her BFA in History from Yale University and an MFA in choreography from Purchase College. She was awarded a 1st Prize for Choreography at the Solo Tanz Theater Festival in Stuttgart. Her company, Sidra Bell Dance New York (SBDNY), received the Pittsburgh Post Gazette’s 2010 Best in Dance for ‘ReVUE’, and in the 2012 Year in Review in ArtsATL’s notable performances for ‘Nudity’. She has commissioned work for BODYTRAFFIC, Ballet Austin, Sacramento Ballet, Juilliard, River North Chicago Dance Chicago, Ailey II, LEVYdance, Robert Moses’ KIN, LINES Ballet School, Uppercut Dansteater (DEN), Motto Dans Kolectif (TUR), Peridance Contemporary Dance Co., Tisch, University of Utah, August Wilson Dance Ensemble, Point Park University, University of Michigan, Ailey School, Barnard College, and New York Live Arts, among many others. Her dance films have included Seattle Film Festival, Frameline37 (San Francisco), Outfest (L.A.), and Lincoln Center’s NewFest. It was awarded two grand jury prizes from Outfest. Read more about Sidra Bell here.
2/9/21 Feature: Hope Boykin is a mover, educator, and choreographer. She is a three-time recipient of the American Dance Festival’s Young Tuition Scholarship. She attended Howard University and while in Washington, D.C.,performed with Lloyd Whitmore’s New World Dance Company. Boykin was a student and intern at The Ailey School; later, she was a member of Philadanco and received a New York Dance and Performance (Bessie) Award. She joined Alvin Ailey in 2000. As a dance maker, Hope combines life’s greatest influences and personal experiences to construct, design, inform, and display her ideas, all while continuing to build her vocabulary of movement – defining her voice and style. Hope is also Artist-in-Residenct at UC Kauffman Dance. She has worked with Philadanco, University of The Arts, Dallas Black Dance Theatre, Minnesota Dance Theater, Ballet East, The Ailey School, The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and the company in her name, HopeBoykinDance, continues to bring confirmation that her voice is relevant and remains important within the dance world today. Learn more about Hope Boykin here.
2/11/21 Feature: Judith Ann Jamison is an American dancer and choreographer. She is the artistic director emerita of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Jamison rose to international fame as a dancer with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater for 15 years, starring in iconic soloist roles of Alvin Ailey’s choreography. After, she formed her own company, The Jamison Project. In 1989, she returned to Alvin Ailey as the Artistic Director, serving for 21 years and bringing the company to international recognition. She has choreographed several renowned works and won numerous awards, including a primetime Emmy Award, an American Choreography Award, the Kennedy Center Honor, a National Medal of Arts, a “Bessie” Award, the Phoenix Award, and the Handel Medallion. Read all about Judith Jamison and her incredible leadership and contributions to the arts here.
2/16/21 Feature: Courtney Cochran is a New York City based dancer, choreographer, and Pilates teacher. Cochran trained at Crockett Deane Ballet in Sacramento, CA, where she was chosen as an emerging choreographer for Regional Dance America’s 2008 Festival. Cochran continued training at Alonzo King LINES’ BFA Program and later at Dance Theatre of Harlem’s Professional Training Program. In 2019, she was nominated for Dance Lab New York’s collaboration with The Joyce Theatre, where her work was featured at the Guggenheim Museum’s Works & Process program. She has danced with Brooklyn Ballet, Sierra Nevada Ballet, Gleich Dances, The Black Iris Project, Collage Dance Collective, and Dance Theatre of Harlem. Cochran received her pilates mat certification with Power Pilates in 2017 and her comprehensive certification from Ellie Herman Pilates in 2019. Learn more about Courtney here.
2/18/21 Feature: Katlyn Addison, a dancer and choreographer, began her professional classical ballet training at the age of 9 with The National Ballet of Canada School, where she trained for two years before joining Quinte Ballet School, studying the Cecchetti method of dance and receiving the highest level of Cecchetti certificates. She was accepted into Houston Ballet Ben Stevenson Academy for a year before joining Houston Ballet II. She joined the main company as a corps de ballet dancer and remained at Houston Ballet for 4 years before joining Ballet West in 2011. In 2018, Addison was promoted to First Soloist at Ballet West. She was the first Black ballerina in Ballet West’s history to perform the Sugar Plum Fairy in Frederick Ashton’s “The Nutcracker.” An accomplished choreographer, Addison was named one of Huffington Post’s “26 Black Female Choreographers and Dancers You Should Know.” She has created work for Ballet West and the University of Utah School of Dance, and she has taught and choreographed for ArtÉmotion. Read more about Katlyn’s career with Ballet West here.
2/23/21 Feature: Katherine Dunham, known as the “Matriarch of Black Dance” was a performer, choreographer, director, and creator the Dunham Technique. She studied at the University Chicago, becoming one of the first Black women to earn her bachelor, masters, and doctoral degrees there in anthropology. Dunham founded the Negro Dance Group, receiving such great success that the Rosenwald Foundation offered to finance her dance career. She revolutionized American dance by taking influence from Black dance and rituals for anthropological dance movement. Dunham opened her first school in Chicago before opening the Dunham School in New York. Later, she founded Katherine Dunham Company and directed the Federal Theater Project. Dunham appeared in numerous films and wrote several books, receiving numerous accolades for all her work, including the Presidential Medal of Arts, The Kennedy Center Honors, the plaque d’Honneur Haitian-American Chamber of Commerce Award, French Legion of Honor, Southern Cross of Brazil, Grand Cross of Haiti, NAACP Lifetime Achievement Award, The Albert Schweitzer Music Award at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Academy Laureate, and the Urban Leagues’ Lifetime Achievement Award. Read more about Katherine Dunham here.
2/25/21 Feature: A choreographer, dancer, and educator originally from the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, Yusha-Marie Sorzano trained at the New World School of the Arts, Thomas Armour Youth Ballet, and The Dance Theater of Harlem. She received an award for outstanding choreography from New World School of the Arts, as well as an award from the National YoungArts Foundation. She attended the Ailey/Fordham BFA Program and was invited to join Ailey II. She has danced with Complexions Contemporary Ballet, The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Morphoses, TU Dance, BODYTRAFFIC, Camille A. Brown and Dancers, and Benjamin Millepied’s LA Dance Project. She has also performed alongside recording artists Wynton Marsalis, Sweet Honey in the Rock, and Rihanna. Sorzano has taught at the Ailey School, LINES Ballet, TU Dance, Contemporary Choreographers’ Collective, New World School of the Arts, The Windward School, Brasil’s Mostra Danca, and Italy’s Danzainfiera. She currently serves as the Artistic Director of the Joffrey Ballet School’s Dallas Summer Intensive and as an Associate Director for Community Engagement with Francisco Gella Dance Works. Read more about Yusha-Marie Sorzano here.
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