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New Book Discusses The History Of African American Ballet Dancers In Philadelphia

By Cherri Gregg

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - A local author recently published a book on the history of African American ballet dancers in Philadelphia.

Listen To The Interview WIth Author Brenda Dixon Gottschild...


Titled "Joan Myers Brown and the Audacious Hope of the Black Ballerina," the book begins by discussing elite dance schools founded in the 1920s in a segregated Philadelphia, a time when mainstream ballet companies excluded Black dancers.

"Back in the 1920s, Essie Marie Dorsey was very much involved in training black ballerinas, hoping that one of her ballerinas would be the first to be a black dancer in a white dance company. It didn't happen in the 1920s and 30s, it didn't happen in the 1940s and 50s.So what do you do when you can't become a ballerina, but you still love ballet? That's the story of Joan Myers Brown's life.

Author Brenda Dixon Gottschild says Joan Myers Brown understood that America wasn't ready for a black ballerina in the 1940s, so she spent 15 years dancing on the road. Then she returned to Philadelphia to start a dance school in 1960 and later the Philadelphia Dance Company, a place where her elite black dancers could showcase their talent.

"She created a ballet-based modern dance company- that's what Philadanco is."

Gosttschild says Philadanco has since evolved into a Philadelphia institution and a world renowned dance company that showcases the talent of all dancers, regardless of their color.

"Joan understood timing. It's about seizing the moment, doing what is possible to do and when you can't, you move on."

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