First African American Dancer at NYC Ballet Aims for Change
Steve Adubato goes One-on-One with the Founder of the Dance Theater of Harlem, Arthur Mitchell, to discuss his career as the first African American dancer for the New York City Ballet. Mitchell also explains how the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made him determined to provide opportunities for children of color by opening a classical ballet school, which became the Dance Theater of Harlem.
"Hi, this is Steve Adubato. Welcome to the Tisch WNET Studio here in Lincoln Center in New York City. It is our honor, our distinct honor, to welcome Arthur Mitchell, the Founder of the Dance Theatre of Harlem. Welcome Sir. Pleasure to be here. Glad to be here. It's great to have you. Started in 1968 or 1969? 1968 actually, and actually formally made the title in February the 11th, 1969. But I had already started putting everything in '68. There was a connection, as I read, between the assassination of Dr. King... Well because it became professional... The assassination of Dr. King in March of '68? Yes. Exactly right. What's the connection? Well the thing is the United States government had been sending me around the world, and I was scheduled to go to Brazil, and I was on the way to Idlewild at that time, and they announced on the radio... Idlewild - JFK? JFK? Yes. Yes. Well that's pre-JFK. Yes, I got it. I'm much older than I look. I'm 83 years old. You are not! Stop lying! This is public television! I'm 83 years old! You've got... What do you want me to do? I love it. Go ahead. Idlewild...? And so I was in the taxi, and they announced that Dr. King died. I said, "God damn it! Why is it someone like that's being taken away? When I have a list of people that should be gone, and they're still here?" Hmm. So I said, "I've got to do something in the community where I was born," which was Harlem, "and do something there for the young people that want to do something with their lives." The Dance Theatre of Harlem. Who goes there? Who learns to dance there? And why is it so important? Oh, from all over the world. Hmm. I mean, we bring students... well basically, it started in Harlem, because I was born on 113th Street and Lenox Avenue. And being the first, it makes me open up the doors, and I thought it was very important to go back to the community where I was born, and let the young people there get the education to prepare them to go around the world. But we bring students from everywhere. We used to... our master class is in English, Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, Chinese, and... which was quite wonderful, because... Hmm. ...whoever came, we could speak the language. Dance for you. When did you know that you were going to dance? I think I was born to dance, if..."