From tap and opera to ballet and activism, Amber Barbee Pickens has used her own experience as a dancer and artist to craft a coloring book that is both beautiful and educational in its depiction of notable Black figures in dance. A small sampling of the figures found in Blooming in Motion is below, providing a peek into the influence and impact these individuals had on arts and culture.
Alvin Ailey (January 5, 1931–December 1, 1989) Alvin Ailey was a dancer, choreographer, activist, and founder of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Ailey choreographed close to 80 ballets over the span of his career. Ailey’s iconic ballet, Revelations, was inspired by his ‘blood memories’ in rural Texas and the Baptist Church. His timeless choreography has been recognized around the world. Today, the Alvin American Dance Theater is the world’s largest modern dance company.
Asadata Dafora (August 4, 1890–March 4, 1965) Asadata Dafora was a dancer, choreographer, director, musician, and writer. He is credited for bringing authentic West African culture in theatrical form to American audiences in the 1930s. This led to a western appreciation for cultural dance and performance. In 1933, Dafora founded his production company, the African Opera and Dramatic Company, and dance company, Horton’s Dancers. Kyonker or the Witch Woman was Dafora’s most notable production. His work introduced American audiences to the humanity of native Africans.
Carmen de Lavallade (March 6, 1931) Carmen de Lavallade is a preeminent dancer and choreographer whose career spans over sixty years. De Lavallade went to high school with Alvin Ailey and invited him to his first ballet class, which sparked their long history of creating together and breaking barriers. Many ballets were created for her by Lester Horton, Alvin Ailey, Geoffrey Holder, Glen Tetley, John Butler, and Agnes de Mille. She made her Broadway debut in House of Flowers where she met her late husband, Geoffrey Holder. She also succeeded her cousin, Janet Collins, when she became a prima ballerina at the Metropolitan Opera. In 2012, de Lavallade received a Kennedy Center honor for her multifaceted career as an artist in dance, theater, film, television, and teaching.
Eartha Kitt (January 17, 1927–December 25, 2008) Eartha Kitt was a dancer, singer, songwriter, comedian, actress, activist, and author. While studying at New York City’s High School for Performing Arts, Eartha Kitt received a scholarship with the Katherine Dunham School of Dance and Theater. There she performed as a featured dancer and vocalist. Kitt made her Broadway debut in “Blue Holiday” and film debut in “Casbah.” Her Broadway success in “New Faces of 1952’ led to a recording contract with a succession of hit records including “Love for Sale,” “I Want to Be Evil,” “Santa Baby”, and “Folk Tales of the Tribes of Africa.” In 1967, she booked the role of “Catwoman” in the television series “Batman.” Her signature purr during the series became world-renowned. She starred in films such as “St. Louis Blues” and “Anna Lucasta.” Her final performance was for The HistoryMakers’ an Evening with Eartha Kitt.
John W. Bubbles (February 19, 1902–May 18, 1986)–John W. Bubbles was a tap dancer, choreographer, vaudevillian, pianist, and actor. He is known as the father of rhythm tap which consists of dropping heels on offbeat, using toes for accents, and extending rhythm patterns. He became the first black artist to appear on television after he performed in a duo “Buck and Bubbles” with pianist For Lee “Buck” Washington.