2 3 Throwback Thursday and Raven Wilkinson | Ballet Webb

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Throwback Thursday and Raven Wilkinson

Throwback Thursday and Raven Wilkinson

Born in 1935, Raven Wilkinson was a black ballerina during a period in history when few African Americans were professional ballet dancers. She began her dance training in New York after being inspired by a performance given by Janet Collins, and soon began studying dance full time. Before long she auditioned for the newly formed Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo.

Many people tried to discouraged her efforts, since the racism of the day made it unlikely she would ever be accepted, but she persevered. Finally, after several auditions, she was accepted on a trial basis for six weeks. It was 1955. She was instructed to pretend she was white and never reveal her true heritage. Onstage she wore white base, and for a time she was able to stay in normally segregated hotels when the company was on tour in the south.

But this changed two years later, during a stay in Atlanta with the company. A hotel owner asked her if she was black, and she refused to lie. She was forced to leave the premises and stay in another hotel. So racial discrimination became an increasingly difficult problem. She couldn’t perform or travel with the company during stays in segregated cities and instead was sent ahead to whatever place the management felt was safe for her. There she had to wait for the company’s later arrival.

Finally, exhausted by years of racism, she left the company. She auditioned for other companies but was never accepted. She taught dance and gave lecture demonstrations. She even joined a convent for six months. In 1967 she was invited to join Holland’s National Ballet where she stayed until 1974. She returned to the U.S. and became a permanent member of the New York City Opera, performing character roles.

Raven Wilkinson also performed in South Pacific in 1987, and in A Little Night Music in 1990-91.

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:

Dance History Factoid #60:
Raven Wilkinson was a black ballerina with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo.”

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