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Dance Theatre Of Harlem Brings Diversity And Talent To The Stage

Renata Pavam

The DanceTheatreof Harlem company performs in Charlotte this weekendat the Knight Theater. The 47-year-old dance institution is comprised of people of color from around the world.

WFAE’s Sarah Delia got a sneak peak of the show and spoke to two dancers who say they were drawn to this particular group because of its talent and history.

Dance Theatre of Harlem was founded in 1969 at the height of the Civil Rights movement. Its mission was and continues to be to bring the art of dance to children and adults of color. 

Now the dance company draws multicultural talent from around the world like Francis Lawrence who is of Indian and Irish-English decent and originally from Australia. 

He’s been with the company for four seasons. And the group’s diversity is what attracted him to it.

"In Australia I was the only colored person. I went through the Australian ballet school and in the company there was no one.  I didn’t have a lot of people of color in Australia to look up to. So it was really interesting when I came across this company to be like ‘oh there are people who look like me and do ballet!’" he said.

And being a part of a diverse group has other rewards besides working with talented dancers. Like meeting a mother and daughter after a show who were uniquely moved by a performance.

"She said her daughter turned to her half way through the show and said “Mommy! All those girls look like me! I think I want to be a ballet dancer!” he recalls. 

There’s also diversity in the type of dance you’ll see at a Harlem Theatre of Dance Show: a blend of modern, contemporary, and classical moves paired with impressive psychical strength.

The group’s style makes dance more accessible for everyday people says 28-year-old Texan native Lindsey Croop. She's also been with the company for four seasons.

"It uses familiar music or the dance is emotional. It's not reserved. So I feel like it brings a lot more that everyone can relate to," she said.

Not that there’s anything wrong with traditional ballets like your Nutcrackers or Swan Lakes, but she says, there’s more out there.

"It’s the same as reading books. Reading the classics are wonderful and they are enriching but at the same there’s a lot of room for new things."

A blending of two worlds the company does quite well.

"Dance Theatre of Harlem: 40 Years of Firsts" is on view at the Gantt Center beginning January 24 till June 26th, 2016. The exhibit includes costumes, video, and set pieces from the company's 47-year history. 

Sarah Delia is a Senior Producer for Charlotte Talks with Mike Collins. Sarah joined the WFAE news team in 2014. An Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist, Sarah has lived and told stories from Maine, New York, Indiana, Alabama, Virginia and North Carolina. Sarah received her B.A. in English and Art history from James Madison University, where she began her broadcast career at college radio station WXJM. Sarah has interned and worked at NPR in Washington DC, interned and freelanced for WNYC, and attended the Salt Institute for Radio Documentary Studies.