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Broadway Black History Fact

Before Misty Copeland, There Was Lauren Anderson


For me, there is nothing more important than a lesson in history.  Over the last few years when we thought of an African American ballerina, it was Misty Copeland.  Never once did I stop to ponder those that have come before her. Now I know that there was a Prima Ballerina who paved the way. Her name is Lauren Anderson.

In 1990, Anderson became the first African American to be promoted to principal dancer at Houston Ballet – and one of the few African American ballerinas at the head of a major ballet company anywhere in the world.

Similar to the story of most African American greats, Anderson was told that she was not cut out for her dreams, that her physique was not “ideal” to be a ballerina.  As a teenager, she was strong and competitive. Instead of letting naysayers keep her from reaching her goals, she changed not only the way she exercised by taking up pilates, but completely removed meat from her diet to help make her muscles appear more lean.

Seven years after joining the Houston Ballet, Anderson took her role as principal dancer for the company.  By the time the mid 90s rolled around she had a reputation that preceded her internationally, particularly for her role in Cleopatra. This piece was specifically created for her by Ben Stevenson, who was once in doubt of her star power.

The Ballerina Guru conducted an interview with Lauren Anderson in December 2013. Below is a brief excerpt:

Firebird-Lauren-Anderson--670x1024There are now many African American female dancers given opportunities in the ballet world, such as Misty Copeland, Céline Gittens (Birmingham Royal Ballet), Michaela DePrince, etc. Do you think the ballet world is progressing in its narrow image of what a prima ballerina should be?

I think so for sure. I debuted in Odette/ Odile in 1996. I had not seen an African American Swan Queen in a major ballet company. I was excited to see Tyrone Singleton and Céline Gittens as the leads in Swan Lake last year.

Anderson has since retired from the ballet and is now a lecturer on ballet as well as an instructor.  Anderson makes it a point to conduct master classes not just for students who have parents that can write the checks for her talent but to make sure that dancers from all socioeconomic backgrounds have their chance to shine.

To read the full interview with the Ballerina Guru visit this link.

“The only color in art is on a canvas!”

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