Black Ballet History Reading List

Who loves seeing staff recommendations when browsing bookstores? As a part of PNB’s celebration of Black History Month 2021, we have compiled this list for anyone looking to add to their To Be Read pile. This list is not exhaustive by any means, but we hope it will be a helpful place to start. Keep scrolling for recommended books for adults and kids, and podcast episodes about Black ballet dancers and history from some PNB staffers.

If you’re looking for a shorter read, here are a couple articles and lists for further reading:

Meet 9 Dance Theatre of Harlem Alumni Who Continue to Spread Arthur Mitchell’s Legacy – By Theresa Ruth Howard, Dance Magazine

Arthur Mitchell: What to Watch and Read – By Peter Libbey, The New York Times

The International Association of Blacks in Dance’s (IABD) Books for Black Dance Legacy


Book Recommendations

Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina
By Misty Copeland

I raced through Misty Copeland’s book in two days. Her vulnerability about her ballet journey is incredible. The book starts with her very first ballet class at the Boys and Girls Club in Southern California and gives an insider’s look at working through the ranks of American Ballet Theatre and becoming the company’s first Black Principal Dancer.

Recommended by Maris Antolin, Marketing Assistant.


Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina
By Michaela DePrince

A friend gifted me Michaela DePrince’s Taking Flight in 2014, the year the book was released. Michaela’s ballet story starts in Sierra Leone where she finds an old copy of Dance Magazine with former PNB ballerina Magali Messac on the cover that sparks her interest in ballet. What follows is a truly incredible and often painful story of one young person following their dreams.

Recommended by Lia Chiarelli, Chief Marketing & Advancement Officer.


Revelations: The Autobiography of Alvin Ailey
By Alvin Ailey with A. Peter Bailey

This Alvin Ailey autobiography was published in 1995, six years after his death. The forward by Lena Horne and introduction by Ailey’s co-author, A. Peter Bailey, give insight and context to Ailey’s life and career for anyone who isn’t familiar. There’s a lot packed into less than 200 pages! Ailey covers growing up in Texas and Los Angeles, goes in-depth about his work with Lester Horton, the founding of his own company, and his friendship with Carmen De Lavallade. Every chapter is a veritable who’s who of the contemporary dance, Broadway, and Hollywood scenes of the 1940s, 50s, and 60s (think Lena Horne, Arthur Mitchell, Janet Collins, Harry Belafonte, Langston Hughes, Truman Capote).

This book is out of print, but the link will take you to where you can find a used copy.

Recommended by Maris Antolin, Marketing Assistant.


Night’s Dancer: The Life of Janet Collins
By Yael Tamar Lewin

The stages of life are often as grand as the stages performers dance on. Janet Collins’ life was an enormous stage, filled with continuous acts that challenged her yet her talent, authenticity, and tenacity of spirit remained sincere through it all. This book is a fascinating study of the ballerina, including her unpublished memoirs as a precursor to Lewin’s exceptional study. 

Recommended by Jackson Cooper, Major Gifts Officer


Invitation to the Party: Building Bridges to the Arts, Culture and Community
By Donna Walker-Kuhne

This book launched a seminal moment in time by defining the dual goals of audience development and community engagement for arts organizations. Donna takes us through her experiences building community in different settings for different companies and shares the guidebook on how to do and evaluate this work well. Donna is a leading expert in this space and continues to share her reflections on her weekly blog: https://walkercommunicationsgroup.com/category/arts-and-culture-connections/

Recommended by Lia Chiarelli, Chief Marketing & Advancement Officer.


Books for kids

Dancing In the Wings
By Debbie Allen, Pictures by Kadir Nelson

Sassy loves to dance, but her long legs and big feet keep her dancing in the wings instead of onstage – until she auditions for a famous director who comes to town. This beautifully illustrated tale will give any young dancer inspiration and courage to be themselves.

Click here for a read-aloud of Dancing in the Wings.

Recommended by Kristen Ramer Liang, Engagement Manager.


My Story, My Dance: Robert Battle’s Journey to Alvin Ailey
By Lesa Cline-Ransome, Illustrated by James E. Ransome

Robert Battle recounts his journey from a childhood in leg braces to his eventual career as a dancer, choreographer, and ultimately artistic director of Alvin Ailey Dance. Battle’s retelling of the first time he saw Alvin Ailey’s Revelations exemplifies the power of representation.

Click here for a read-aloud of My Story, My Dance.

Recommended by Kristen Ramer Liang, Engagement Manager.


Bunheads
By Misty Copeland, Illustrated by Setor Fiadzigbey

Bunheads looks back on ABT Principal Dancer Misty Copeland’s early days in ballet school, centering on her experience with the classic story ballet Coppélia. Copeland’s tale wonderfully expresses the nerve-wracking feeling of an audition, the joy of newfound friendships, and the exhilaration of dancing onstage.

Click here to watch a video of Misty Copeland reading Bunheads.

Recommended by Kristen Ramer Liang, Engagement Manager.


Firebird
By Misty Copeland, Illustrated by Christopher Myers

Inspired by Copeland’s first principal role in Firebird, this picture book reads like poetry. It’s a love letter to young dancers, encouraging them to keep working and reaching for their dreams.

Click here to watch Misty Copeland read her book Firebird.

Recommended by Kristen Ramer Liang, Engagement Manager.


A Dance Like Starlight: One Ballerina’s Dream
By Kristy Dempsey & Floyd Cooper

Set in 1951 Harlem, this book provides a clear-eyed portrayal of the struggles aspiring Black ballerinas faced in the 50s and celebrates the hope one girl finds in watching the first Black prima ballerina, Janet Collins, perform onstage at the Met.

Click here for a read-aloud of A Dance Like Starlight: One Ballerina’s Dream.

Recommended by Kristen Ramer Liang, Engagement Manager.


Podcast Episodes

Conversations are the evolving nature of ballet, the industry, and those within and observing it are taking the podcast medium to a new level. These podcasts and podcast episodes highlight the directions dance and ballet are headed in the coming decade and those who are helping lead the charge including Theresa Ruth Howard and PNB’s own Amanda Morgan. 

Recommended by Jackson Cooper, Major Gifts Officer.

Amanda Morgan: Ballet Dancer, Choreographer, Activist (Podcast by Josephine Reed, National Endowment for the Arts)

The Dance Edit: Amanda Morgan

THE DANCE UNION 

POD DE DEUX

Movers and Shapers: Theresa Ruth Howard

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