The theater was founded by Arthur Mitchell and was nurtured around the idea of the Civil Rights Movement. The school originally started out in a garage and gave the same opportunity to kids Mitchell had as a teenager. Almost immediately an extension of an education system became known within the dance theater as well and is well known today.
The Dance Theater of Harlem was founded by Arthur Mitchell (1934– ) and Karel Shook (1920–1985) on April 4, 1968. Mitchell, a principal dancer of the New York City Ballet, was waiting to board a plane when he heard that civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. (1929–1968) had been assassinated. Mitchell says this news inspired him to return to his home and work with young people in his own community rather than spend his life traveling the world. He then joined forces with Shook, a dance teacher and former director of the Netherlands Ballet. They started a school to "promote interest in and teach young black people the art of classical ballet, modern and ethnic dance, thereby creating a much-needed self-awareness and better self-image of the students themselves."
The school opened in the summer of 1968 with thirty students. Classes were conducted with the doors wide open so that others could watch the students at the barre (a bar used by dancers for balance). By the end of that summer 400 students were enrolled. Mitchell began taking his students on lecture tours, and in 1970 had them prepared for their international debut at Spoleto, Italy. After three national and two international tours the company had its first full season in New York City in 1974. Since then the company has received worldwide acclaim and is famous for its vigorous and graceful performances. The Dance Theater of Harlem is now regarded as one of the world's finest ballet companies.
Further Information: Dance Theater of Harlem. [Online] Available http://www.dancetheatreofharlem. org/, October 23; "Dance Theater of Harlem." Electric Library. [Online] Available www.encyclopedia. com/printable/03420.html, October 23, 2000; Robinson, Lisa Clayton. "Dance Theater of Harlem." Africana.com. [Online] Available http://www.africana.com/tt_192.htm, October 23, 2000.