Her Story: Raven Wilkinson

Anne Raven Wilkinson, American dancer, was the first Black woman to dance for a major classical ballet company. She was born on February 2nd, 1935 in Harlem, New York. Wilkinson broke the color barrier in 1955, at age 20, when she signed a contract to dance with Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo of New York. During her second year with the company she became a soloist, she continued to danced with them for another 4 years.

Wilkinson first auditioned for a position with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in 1954. The company rejected her twice, they were hesitant to hire a person of color due to the racial climate in the South where they regularly toured. However, she persisted, on her third attempt she was accepted to the company. Over the next six years, while touring through the United States, Wilkinson experienced intense racial discrimination. She was asked to not to make her race public, and she often lighten her skin with makeup for performances. Wilkinson was denied hotel access and restaurant service, she endured racial slurs and was threatened by the Ku Klux Klan. Eventually her race became common knowledge. When she left the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in 1961, it became impossible for her to sign with any American ballet company again due to racism.

In 1966, Wilkinson got a soloist contract with the Dutch National Ballet, where she danced until 1973. Wilkinson returned to the United States and performed with the New York City Opera as an extra dancer between 1974 and 1985. After retiring from ballet in 1985, Wilkinson taught ballet at the Harlem School of Arts. She became an important mentor to Misty Copland, who herself made history as the the first Black principal ballerina at the American Ballet Theater.

We celebrate Wilkinson for her determination and dedication to the art she loved. She broke racial barriers in ballet and paved the way for future dancers, she made history.

Links for Learning:



Raven Wilkinson

ANNE RAVEN WILKINSON (1935-2018) – BlackPast

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