What seems hard now will someday be your warmup - Anonymous

Raven Wilkinson was a pioneer in American Ballet

At 20 years old Wilkinson became the first African American woman to receive a contract to dance with a major ballet company in segregated America. But it came at a heavy price. She and her parents were instructed to keep her race a secret. She even wore white makeup on stage and said she didn't want to put the company in danger but didn't want to deny who she was. In an interview with 'Pointe Magazine' about the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo of New York if asked directly she was to say, "No, I'm not black". Some of the other dancers suggested she say she was Spanish but that was like "telling the world there's something wrong with what you are."
Wilkinson began studying at a young age with well known Russian dancers and was discouraged against auditioning with the company by fellow students but was accepted after
three tryouts. Two years after joining Ballet Russe she refused to lie when the owner of an Atlanta hotel asked if she was black. She was banned from staying with her company and forced to stay in a colored hotel. Racial discrimination increasingly became a problem for her professionally and personally including an experience with the Klu Klux Klan. The company's director would prohibit her from dancing in some towns and send her to other cities where she would be safe and wait for the company's arrival. Several years later, after much success, Wilkinson was told it was unlikely she would go any further in ballet and should leave the company and start a school of African dance. Outraged by this suggestion she left the company, auditioned for other companies but never being accepted, she stopped dancing for several years, taught ballet and gave lectures. In the mid 1960's she was invited to join Holland's National Ballet and danced with the company for over six years. She also performed with the New York City Opera for more than ten years.
Wilkinson has been an inspiration for many other dancers, including Misty Copeland, who in 2015 became the first African American ballet dancer to be named principal at American Ballet Theater in New York, one of the nation's most important companies. 
Raven Wilkinson passed away December 17th, 2018 at the age of 83.


  1. The picture at the top of the article is of Delores Brown, not Raven Wilkinson.

    1. Thank you for bringing this to my attention! It's good to have support.


Post a Comment