Profile: Arthur Mitchell is known around the world as an accomplished artistic director, astute educator, talented choreographer, and extraordinary dancer. Born in New York City on March 27, 1934, he began his dance training at New York City’s High School of the Performing Arts, where he was the first male student to win the coveted Annual Dance Award.
The Early Years: Mitchell continued his classical training when he received a full scholarship to the School of American Ballet. In 1955, he was the first African-American male to become a permanent member of a major ballet company when he joined the New York City Ballet.
During his fifteen-year career with the New York City Ballet, Mitchell rose quickly to the rank of Principal Dancer and electrified audiences with his performances in a broad spectrum of roles. Mitchell is best known for two roles choreographed especially for him by the late George Balanchine; the Pas de Deux from Agon and the lighthearted Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He also performed in nightclubs, on Broadway, in film and on television. Mitchell was also a popular guest artist in the United States and abroad.
DTH: Upon learning of the death of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1968, Mitchell was inspired to provide children-especially those living in Harlem-with the opportunity to study dance. During the summer of 1968, he began teaching classes in a remodeled garage. In 1969, with financial assistance from Mrs. Alva B. Gimbel and the Ford Foundation, Mitchell founded Dance Theatre of Harlem with his mentor and ballet instructor Karel Shook.
Awards: Mitchell is the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including the Heinz Award in 2001 and the Governor’s Martin Luther King Award in 2000. He was inducted into the Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney Hall of Fame at the National Museum of Dance in 2000. He received the Americans for the Arts Education Award in 1997, the John W. Gardner Leadership Award in 1996, the National Medal of Arts in 1995, and the MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Fellowship and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the School of American Ballet in 1994. In 1993, during Dance Theatre of Harlem’s 25th Anniversary, Arthur Mitchell was elevated to Living Landmark status by the New York Landmarks Conservancy, became one of the youngest Kennedy Center Honors recipients and was presented with the Handel Medallion, New York City’s most prestigious award for artistic contribution.
A partial list of his affiliations include the Council of the National Endowment for the Arts and an appointment to the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships by President Bill Clinton. He is an Honorary Patron of the Market Theatre Foundation in South Africa, former council member on the New York State Council on the Arts.