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Dance Theatre of Harlem shares expertise with Hampton Roads residents before performances

The Dance Theatre of Harlem is performing in Newport News and Norfolk April 30 and May 3-5. (Photo by Zach D. Roberts)
The Dance Theatre of Harlem is performing in Newport News and Norfolk April 30 and May 3-5. (Photo by Zach D. Roberts)

 All photos by Zach D. Roberts

When the Dance Theatre of Harlem started in a church basement in 1969, founder Arthur Mitchell wanted it to become a ballet company that was open to everyone, former company dancer Christopher Charles McDaniel said.

So as the company prepared for several performances in Hampton Roads this week, they hosted a free community dance class this past weekend to learn how to dance.

“For me, it's nice to not have to think about proper technique, or like perfect ballet fifths, or tendu, or any of that,” McDaniel said. “It's really about the experience, the process in between, ust seeing everyone's faces and how much joy they're bringing to it.”

McDaniel began dancing with the Dance Theatre of Harlem as a child and is now a permanent faculty member at the School of American Ballet in New York. He led the free community class the Sunday before the Harlem ballet company began a week of performances in Hampton Roads.

“Arthur Mitchell, when he created Dance Theatre of Harlem, he was after not just making dancers of color, but he wanted to make global citizens who could make the world a better place through the genre of ballet,” McDaniel said. 

“What he impressed upon us is … that we're representing something larger than ourselves, and wherever we go, we have to make that place better. So if we can take what ballet and dance has done for us, and bring it to other people, then we're really making the world a better place one class at a time.”

Marquita Bianca is the director of Biofusion Dance and Creative Arts Center in Virginia Beach. She attended McDaniel’s class and was excited to see the well-known Dance Theatre of Harlem coming to the area.

When Bianca was a young dancer, she used to travel to Washington D.C. 

“When someone calls you and tells you that the Dance Theatre of Harlem is holding a masterclass, meaning they're coming from New York to you (and)you don't have to spend gas money, you don't have to fly … and it's free on top of that – that's such a blessing and a benefit,” she said.

Even though the class was called a masterclass, dancers of every level were welcome at the event.

McDaniel taught portions of choreography that will open the Dance Theatre of Harlem’s local performances.

“One of the main missions of Dance Theatre of Harlem is to make ballet accessible, we have a saying that ballet belongs to everybody,” McDaniel said. “This is not a traditional dance studio. It's not even a dance floor. But people want the movement, so they're going to wear whatever shoes they can put on, and come to move.”

The Dance Theatre of Harlem will perform April 30 in Newport News and May 3, 4 and 5 in Norfolk. Tickets and more information can be found through the Virginia Arts Festival.

WHRO's Vice President of News Maurice Jones is chair of the Virginia Arts Festival board and WHRO CEO and President Bert Schmidt is on the Virginia Arts Festival board. Jones and Schmidt are not involved in editorial decisions.

WHRO Public Media is a co-sponsor of the Dance Theatre of Harlem’s local performances.

Mechelle is News Director at WHRO. She helped launch the newsroom as a reporter in 2020. She's worked in newspapers and nonprofit news in her career. Mechelle lives in Virginia Beach, where she grew up.

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