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Black Presence Website Bios

Dianne McIntyre, born July 18, 1946, is a dancer, teacher, and choreographer who has created her own style of modern dance. She draws on a blues aesthetic to convey her message through a movement vocabulary that blends modern dance and African American social dance. McIntyre sets her choreography to a variety of music, but is most well known for her use of avant-garde jazz. She believes in letting images and ideas evolve and flow naturally through movement and music instead of forcing choreographic statements, and lets her real life experiences influence her choreography.

Arthur Mitchell is the artistic director of the Dance Theatre of Harlem. An educator, choreographer, and dancer, Mitchell made history in 1955 when he joined George Balanchine's New York City Ballet, becoming the first African American principal dancer of a major ballet company. In 1968, in response to the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. a year earlier, Mitchell, along with Karel Shook, his teacher and mentor, founded Dance Theatre of Harlem as a school of the arts and professional ballet company. In 1993, Mitchell became one of the youngest recipients of a Kennedy Center award for his lifetime of extraordinary contributions to American culture through the performing arts.

Alvin Ailey was born January 5, 1931, and is one the world's most famous and influential choreographers. After studying with Katherine Dunham, Lester Horton, Martha Graham and other dance teachers, he founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre in 1958. The Ailey Company soon gained world renown and became the first American dance company to tour the Soviet Union in 50 years. His most famous piece, Revelations, was inspired by and reflects black spirituality. Ailey died December 1, 1989, from AIDS related illness.

Dr. Pearl Primus was born in Port of Spain, Trinidad. She had aspirations to become a physician, but a student work program led her to the field of dance. Her journey in the dance world began when she became an understudy in a dance group. Dr. Primus made her mark in the dance world with dances based in West African culture and dances that protested social injustices in the lives of African American people. She made pieces that dealt with the struggles of sharecroppers, lynching, and even the Birmingham, Alabama church bombings. She was one of the first African American dancers to receive positive reviews from dance critics, and her work has helped to inspire many dancers all over the world.

Jawole Willa Jo Zollar was born in Kansas City, Missouri. Like many artists, she was influenced by Dianne McIntyre. She studied at McIntyre's school, Sounds in Motion, for several years. Zollar formed her own company, Urban Bush Women, which uses spoken word, music and dance to present cultural experiences of African diasporic peoples in its performances.

Garth Fagan was born in Jamaica in 1940 and began his dance training with Jamaica National Dance Theater during his early teens. Fagan studied with Jose Limon, Alvin Ailey, and Martha Graham after moving to the United States for college. After directing the All-City Dance Company in Detroit, Michigan, Fagan began his own company, The Bottom of the Bucket, But… Dance Theatre, in 1970. The group, now known as Garth Fagan Dance, is world-renowned for the innovative works of Fagan. Mr. Fagan is a distinguished professor at the State University of New York at Brockport as well as the winner of a 1998 Tony Award for his choreography for The Lion King.

Katherine Dunham, dancer, choreographer, humanitarian, scholar and author, earned her bachelor's degree in anthropology from the University or Chicago. After receiving her degree, Dunham traveled through the Caribbean studying dance and culture. She is well known for the school she established in New York City, her touring company, and the dance technique she created. After she closed her school and dismantled her company, Dunham relocated to East St. Louis, to head a dance program for Southern Illinois University. For the last thirty years, Dunham has remained in East St. Louis, where she established the Katherine Dunham Center for Arts and Humanities. At age 94, she continues to teach and is currently writing another volume of her autobiography.