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WBUR CitySpace presents Tell Me More! Misty Copeland and the Ballerinas of the 152nd Street Black Ballet Legacy

Left to right: Misty Copeland, Gayle McKinney-Griffith, Sheila Rohan, Lydia Abarca-Mitchell and Karlya Shelton-Benjamin. Photos of the members of the 152nd Street Black Ballet Legacy by Dephine Diallo.
Left to right: Misty Copeland, Gayle McKinney-Griffith, Sheila Rohan, Lydia Abarca-Mitchell and Karlya Shelton-Benjamin. Photos of the members of the 152nd Street Black Ballet Legacy by Dephine Diallo.

WBUR CitySpace at The Lavine Broadcast Center is proud to present Misty Copeland, the first Black female principal dancer with the prestigious American Ballet Theatre and author of "Black Ballerinas: My Journey to Our Legacy" in conversation with trailblazing Black ballerinas and founding members of the Dance Theatre of Harlem, now of the 152nd  Street Black Ballet Legacy, on December 1.

Throughout her career, Copeland paved the way for many dancers as she broke barriers and overcame the realities of racism in dance. In her recent book, "Black Ballerinas,'' she aims to retell the history of Black ballet dancers and spotlight the foundational legacy of those who came before her.

In this iteration of “Tell Me More!,” Copeland will join — for the first time ever — four pioneering Black ballerinas, Lydia Abarca-Mitchell, Sheila Rohan, Gayle McKinney-Griffith and Karlya Shelton-Benjamin, who made history domestically and internationally in the 60s and 70s as part of the Dance Theatre of Harlem.

“It is wonderful to give these women their due and celebrate their legacy and all they have done for Black ballet dancers who have come after,” said Amy Macdonald, director of WBUR CitySpace.

WBUR arts and culture reporter Cristela Guerra will moderate the conversation exploring Copeland’s extraordinary journey to becoming a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, while paying homage to the Black ballerinas who made history in their own right. This event celebrates the meeting of two generations of ballerinas and the legacy created by women of color in the art of ballet. They will discuss roadblocks for Black dancers both past and present and share their respective journeys to prominence, while honoring those who helped performers of color achieve greatness unburdened by ignorance.

I am honored and excited to meet the incredible women of the 152nd Street Black Ballet Legacy. To be able to sit down with Lydia Abarca-Mitchell, Sheila Rohan, Gayle McKinney-Griffith and Karlya Shelton-Benjamin is exactly why this book is so special to me. I want to be a part of making sure that the contributions of Black women in ballet are recognized, celebrated and most importantly, remembered for the historical record.

Misty Copeland

“I am honored and excited to meet the incredible women of the 152nd Street Black Ballet Legacy. To be able to sit down with Lydia Abarca-Mitchell, Sheila Rohan, Gayle McKinney-Griffith and Karlya Shelton-Benjamin is exactly why this book is so special to me,” Copeland said. “I want to be a part of making sure that the contributions of Black women in ballet are recognized, celebrated and most importantly, remembered for the historical record.”

Despite the obstacles in their way, Abarca-Mitchell, Rohan, McKinney-Griffith and Shelton-Benjamin made history as world-renowned dancers while overcoming the prejudices of their classical art. The women’s efforts to reclaim their role in dance history was chronicled recently by The New York Times.

Abarca-Mitchell, the first Black Prima ballerina of a major company and of Dance Theatre of Harlem, was the first ballerina of color to grace the cover of Dance Magazine. She was the beacon of hope and a true changemaker that transformed the scope and possibility of what a ballerina could and should look like for the masses and for people of color. All four legacy dancers performed for royalty, including Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, U.S. Presidents, and had as devoted fans major celebrities, notably Mick Jagger, Michael Jackson, Sidney Poitier, Cicely Tyson, Lena Horne, and Leontyne Price.

"I look forward to joining Misty Copeland in conversation about our shared experiences as trailblazing dancers of color. Meeting with Misty highlights and magnifies the work of all Dance Theatre of Harlem's founding members. I am excited to share our respective journeys, while embracing and supporting Misty moving forward. I know our ancestors are rejoicing!,” said Abarca-Mitchell, the first Black Prima ballerina.

“Tell Me More! Misty Copeland and the Ballerinas of the 152nd Street Black Ballet Legacy” will take place at WBUR CitySpace, 890 Commonwealth Avenue in Boston, on December 1, 2021 at 7:30 p.m. Virtual and in-person tickets are available here.

Signed copies of Copeland's book "Black Ballerinas" will be available for purchase at the event. Virtual ticket holders can purchase the book from WBUR’s bookstore partner Brookline Booksmith here.

The event is presented as part of WBUR CitySpace’s “Tell Me More!” series, which pairs fascinating leaders in their respective fields for conversations about their journeys, inspirations and life lessons.

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