7 famous African American dancers and where to watch them
The long-awaited tenth season of Afropop has, at last, come to Black Public Media. The second episode of the season, a three-part shorts program, finishes up with the short film He Who Dances On Wood. In this episode, viewers will become acquainted with New Yorker Fred Nelson and observe his daily routine of bringing a weathered wooden board into Brooklyn’s Prospect Park to tap dance. This daily ritual serves as Fred’s personal act of prayer, allowing him to find peace and contemplation in simple, joyful movement. In He Who Dances On Wood, viewers are invited to consider dance as both an art form and a mode of communication. Something beautiful and important can always be learned from watching masters at their craft, and Nelson’s daily performances inspired us to compile the following list of seven famous African American dancers and where you can watch them:
1. Misty Copeland, at the American Ballet Theatre
Misty Copeland’s success in ballet has made her a household name. This talented dancer began studying ballet at the age of thirteen, and soon joined the American Ballet Theatre’s corps de ballet. In 2007, she became the corps’ second African-American female soloist (and the first in two decades). By 2015, Copeland was promoted to principal dancer, making her the first African-American female to earn that position in the company’s history. Copeland has been featured in a number of publications, commercials, and TV shows, and stars in many of ABT’s biggest productions.
2. Ebony Williams, at the Broadway Dance Center
Now on staff at the Broadway Dance Center, Ebony Williams hails from Boston. She studied dance with the Boston Ballet and Roxbury Center for the Performing Arts through high school, before earning her BFA from the Boston Conservatory in 2005. An incredibly versatile dancer, Williams danced for many seasons at the acclaimed Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, but she has also had the opportunity to show off her hip-hop talents alongside artists such as Rihanna, Fergie, and Ciara. Most notably, she was a dancer in Beyoncé’s 2009 hit Single Ladies, performing in the music video and on tour.
Legendary ballet dancer Desmond Richardson is known for being the first African-American principal dancer in the American Ballet Theatre. Richardson’s impressive skill and artistic prowess have earned him personal Tony nominations, as well as roles in Tony award-winning Broadway productions. Having been featured in countless publications and invited to dance with some of the most prestigious companies around the world, Richardson is recognized as one of the best dancers of his time. He remains involved with Complexions Contemporary Ballet, which he co-founded in 1994 with choreographer Dwight Rhoden as a space to reinvent dance through a groundbreaking mix of methods, styles, and cultures. Richardson has also taught as the Faculty Artist in Residence at the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance in Los Angeles.
4. Princess Mhoon, at the Princess Mhoon Dance Institute
This famous dancer and choreographer has received praise for both her performances and her teaching. She is renowned for seamlessly connecting modern, ballet, hip-hop, and African dance styles. A Chicago native, Mhoon trained with numerous Chicago dance schools as a child. She holds a BFA in Dance and an MA in Public History from Howard University, and has taught and performed both domestically and internationally. In addition to founding and directing the Princess Mhoon Dance Institute in Washington D.C., Mhoon also founded DANCING FEET, an integrated arts program for schools and outreach institutions.
5. Savion Glover, at the Broadway Dance Center
Savion Glover is a famous tap dancer, choreographer, and dancer. This tap-dancing prodigy has been in the spotlight since childhood and was the youngest person ever to receive a scholarship for the Newark Community School of the Arts. As a young teen, Glover made his mark in the dance world by landing the leading role in the Broadway musical, The Tap Dance Kid. He has since performed in and choreographed multiple Tony award-winning Broadway shows, and has worked on choreography for a few major films. He currently teaches at the Broadway Dance Center in New York City.
6. Aesha Ash, the Swan Dreams Project
Now retired from the stage, Aesha Ash began taking jazz and ballet classes as a young child. At 13, she was accepted into the School of American Ballet; at 18, she joined the New York City Ballet. Ash danced in many soloist and principal roles with the New York City Ballet, and for most of her career there she was the company’s only African-American ballerina. Since leaving the New York City Ballet, Ash has danced internationally and performed in freelance roles. She recently founded the Swan Dreams Project, working to expose more African-American communities to ballet, and to increase their involvement and patronage while conveying the message that beauty and talent are not constrained by race or socioeconomic status.
One of today’s most famous and sought-after choreographers, Fatima Robinson’s work can be found, well, everywhere! Known for her ability to combine classic dance styles and hip-hop, Robinson has choreographed for brands such as Target, Chanel, and Burberry, among others. She has worked with dozens of famous actors and musicians, including Pharrell Williams, Usher, Rihanna, and Kendrick Lamar. Some of the biggest shows in dance entertainment feature her work, including The Voice and Dancing with the Stars, and her choreography has enlivened major events such as the Super Bowl Halftime Show (2011) and the Academy Awards (2007 and 2009). She has directed, produced, and choreographed everything from popular commercial campaigns to “Taking the Stage: Changing America,” the concert honoring the opening of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. Robinson was even invited by Michelle Obama to teach a master class at the White House, to celebrate African American Women and Dance.
These seven African American dancers impress and inspire the country, and the world, with their creative talents. Watch He Who Dances On Wood and don’t forget to stream the rest of the films included in Afropop X.