Founders \ Directors
VIRGINIA JOHNSON - Artistic Director
Virginia Johnson returns to Dance Theatre of Harlem as artistic director having been a founding member and principal dancer. Born in Washington, DC, Johnson graduated from the Academy of the Washington School of Ballet. She briefly attended the School of the Arts at New York University as a University Scholar before joining DTH in 1969. During her 28 years with the company she performed most of the repertoire, with principal roles in Concerto Barocco, Allegro Brillante, Agon, A Streetcar Named Desire, Fall River Legend, Swan Lake, Giselle, Voluntaries, Les Biches among others.
Three DTH productions in which she danced leading roles were recorded for broadcast: A Streetcar Named Desire for Dance in America on PBS, Creole Giselle, which was the first full-length ballet broadcast on NBC, and Fall River Legend, which won a cable ACE award from the Bravo Network. In addition, she was included in two acclaimed television dance series, Margot Fonteyn’s “The Magic of Dance” and Natalia Makarova’s “Ballerina.”
Her choreographic credits include the television film, Ancient Voices of Children in which she danced and an early, self-produced solo concert for Rae Metzger’s Concert Socials. Later choreographic works include ballets created for Goucher College, Dancers Respond to AIDS, the Second Annual Harlem Festival of the Arts, Thelma Hill Performing Arts Center and Marymount Manhattan College, where she was also an adjunct professor. The latter two projects were an outgrowth of Dancers Making Dances, a collaborative choreographic project with former DTH colleagues, Judy Tyrus and Melanie Person
While still performing, her interest in journalism led her to Fordham University where she continues to pursue a degree in communications. After retiring from performing, she founded POINTE magazine and was editor-in-chief from 2000-2009. The popular publication helps dancers prepare for the professional ballet world developing educational seminars and lectures on health and wellness for dancers, auditions and professional preparation.
Her honors include a Young Achiever Award from the National Council of Women, Outstanding Young Woman of America and the Dance Magazine Award, a Pen and Brush Achievement Award and the Washington Performing Arts Society’s 2008-2009 Pola Nirenska Lifetime Achievement Award and the 2009 Martha Hill Fund Mid-Career Award. Highlights of her guest appearances include a tour of Australia with Stars of World Ballet, several appearances at various International Festivals of Dance in Havana Cuba, and with the Royal Ballet at The Royal Opera House in London. Her commitment to community service is maintained through volunteer assignments with New York Cares.
ARTHUR MITCHELL - Founder, Artistic Director Emeritus
Arthur Mitchell is known around the world as an accomplished artistic director, astute educator, talented choreographer and extraordinary dancer. Born in New York City on March 27, 1934, he began his dance training at New York City’s High School of the Performing Arts, where he was the first male student to win the coveted Annual Dance Award.
Mitchell continued his classical training when he received a full scholarship to the School of American Ballet. In 1955, he was the first African-American male to become a permanent member of a major ballet company when he joined the New York City Ballet.
During his 15-year career with the New York City Ballet, Mitchell rose quickly to the rank of principal dancer and electrified audiences with his performances in a broad spectrum of roles. Mitchell is best known for two roles choreographed especially for him by the late George Balanchine: the pas de deux from Agon and the lighthearted Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Performing in nightclubs, on Broadway, in film, and on television, Mitchell was also a popular guest artist in the United States and abroad.
In 1966, Mitchell was asked to organize the American Negro Dance Company, which represented the United States at the first World Festival of Negro Arts in Senegal, Africa. In 1967, at the request of the US International Association, he founded the National Ballet Company of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro.
Upon learning of the death of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968, Mitchell was inspired to provide children ― especially those living in Harlem ― with the opportunity to study dance. During the summer of 1968, he began teaching classes in a remodeled garage. In 1969, with financial assistance from Mrs. Alva B. Gimbel, the Ford Foundation and his own savings, Mitchell founded Dance Theatre of Harlem with his mentor and ballet instructor Karel Shook.
As a professional dance company and a school of the allied arts, the continued expansion of Dance Theatre of Harlem into a multicultural institution has attracted thousands of professional dancers and students from around the world. Arthur Mitchell adds to the legacy every day as Dance Theatre of Harlem’s founding artistic director.
KAREL SHOOK (1920 - 1985) - Co-Founder, Dance Theatre of Harlem
Karel Shook is recognized internationally as one of the most influential and productive ballet teachers of our time. Born in Renton, Wash., he began his career as a child actor at the Seattle Repertory Theater. At the age of 13, he was awarded a scholarship to the Cornish School of Allied Arts and became the special protégé of its founder, Nellie Cornish, who encouraged him to study ballet. He was, for several seasons, a member of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. He also appeared in Broadway musicals and spent one year with the New York City Ballet. In 1952, he joined the faculty of the Katherine Dunham School as director of the ballet department. When the Dunham School closed, he established his own school, the Studio of Dance Arts — where he taught most of the leading black dancers and choreographers of today. In 1957, he joined the faculty of the June Taylor School. In the fall of 1959, at the invitation of Sonia Gaskell, he became first teacher and ballet master of the Dutch National Ballet, a post he held for nine years. In 1968, he returned to the States to become Arthur Mitchell’s co-director of the Dance Theatre of Harlem.
Besides his unusual gifts as a teacher, Shook was also a choreographer and writer. While in the Netherlands, he choreographed 24 works for stage, opera, film and television, among which were the highly successful Jazz Nocturne, The Tales of Hoffman, Rigoletto, I Capuletti ed i Montecchi, Alceste, an opera-ballet for television, and Da Capo, out of which came an hour-long television documentary on the making of a ballet. For the Dance Theatre of Harlem, he has restaged two pas de deux: Don Quixote and Le Corsaire, a Dance Theatre of Harlem crowd pleaser and signature work throughout the years. While in Holland, he wrote many articles on dance. In addition, a portfolio of his poems, “Beyond the Mist,” with lithographs by the celebrated painter, Sam Middleton, was published in a limited edition by ARTA, The Hague, in 1968. Shook is the author of the book Elements of Classical Ballet Technique, published by Dance Horizons (1978) and “New York, London, and Dancers as Ambassadors” in Unified World (is this a book or magazine?) (1978).
Shook had numerous, highly developed talents as a musician, sculptor, accomplished chef, gardener and linguist. However, he regarded himself first and foremost as a ballet teacher. Outside of New York City and Amsterdam, he taught for extended periods in Stockholm, Paris, Rome, Venice, Barcelona, Seville, Bordeaux, Monte Carlo, Brussels, Frankfurt, Cologne, St. Thomas, Wichita and Tonawanda, New York, where he was artistic advisor to Maris Battaglia’s American Academy of Ballet.