Dancer Theresa Ruth Howard recently announced the launch of Memoirs of Blacks in Ballet (MoBBallet), a groundbreaking legacy project documenting and transforming conversations around black ballet artists. The initiative focuses on bringing visibility to the lesser-known history of black ballet dancers around the world through video profiles, essays and archival data that capture the artistry and humanity of black ballet dancers.
On its launch on February 9, MoBBallet’s website housed a community sourced Roll Call, which lists the names of black ballet dancers past and present. It also presented a digital timeline that places historical moments in black ballet history next to key events in world history, and an E-Zine that sheds light on issues affecting the ballet community and society at large.
The recipient of a $50,000 grant from the Knight Foundation, MoBBallet’s first anchor project, the Philadelphia Project, will document the stories of four Philadelphia trained black ballerinas—including Joan Myers Brown, founder of The Philadelphia Dance Company; Delores Browne from the New York Negro Ballet Company; and Judith Jamison, artistic director emerita of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.
Coinciding with the launch of MoBBallet, Howard served as keynote speaker at Dutch National Ballet’s Positioning Ballet conference on February 11, where she officially introduced MoBBallet’s mission to promote larger discussions within the international dance community around the stories of black ballet dancers. A select group of leading artistic directors from America, Europe, Asia and Russia were invited to attend the conference.
“Diversity in ballet in America is a very specific challenge given our racial history,” remarked Howard. She called Positioning Ballet an “unprecedented opportunity” to see and hear what companies’ issues are regarding diversity in the field.
To date, MoBBallet has listed more than 289 names on the Roll Call and calls for professional black ballet dancers not already on the list to add their names. MoBBallet’s archival information covers important moments in the history of black ballet from 1919 to present day.
For further information or to tour the digital archive, head to www.mobballet.org.
All photos courtesy of Theresa Ruth Howard.