The Miracle On 152nd Street

Dance Theatre of Harlem

By Dance Theatre of Harlem

Karel Shook teaching class (1969) by MarbethDance Theatre of Harlem

Karel Shook (1920 – 1985) is recognized internationally as one of the most influential ballet teachers of our time. He danced with Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and with New York City Ballet. Teaching at the Katherine Dunham School, he met and trained Arthur Mitchell. He started his own school, the Studio of Dance Arts, where he taught many of the leading dancers and choreographers of today.In 1959 he became first teacher and ballet master of the Dutch National Ballet; a post he held for nine years.

Three young men before class ("circa.1970") by MarbethDance Theatre of Harlem

Some young men didn’t want to wear tights to class, so to make everyone feel comfortable, Mitchell allowed “dungarees.”

“In the school of DTH, children are not treated as children, but rather as young people; they are met eye to eye in a teacher-student communication that is direct, forthright and free of deception.

Karel Shook from “The First Ten Years”

The garage at 466 W. 152nd Street before being renovated (1971) by MarbethDance Theatre of Harlem

The garage at 466 W. 152nd Street before being renovated.

The new building had three studios, dressing rooms and offices.

One of the studios at 466 W. 152nd Street during the renovation (1971) by MarbethDance Theatre of Harlem

One of the studios at 466 W. 152nd Street during the renovation. The task to renovate the garage and create studios, was monumental.

Karel Shook, Cicely Tyson and Zelda Wynn. (:circa. 1970") by MarbethDance Theatre of Harlem

Karel Shook, Cicely Tyson and Zelda Wynn

In the early 1970’s with larger facilities, the number and variety of classes offered at DTH increased. DTH offered ballet, modern, ethnic, jazz, tap, acting, music, percussion and sewing. Apprenticeships were offered in costume and set design, stage lighting and stage managing. Wardrobe supervisor, Zelda Wynn helped to start these additions to the DTH curriculum.

Zelda Wynn (1905–2001) owned her own shop on 57th and Broadway in New York. She was hired as DTH’s first costume mistress, with the responsibility of tending to wardrobe maintenance and designing and constructing costumes. A well-known designer, she created gowns for notable black female celebrities including Ella Fitzgerald and Gladys Knight. A notable creation designed by Ms. Wynn was the first Playboy Bunny costume commissioned by Hugh Hefner. Wynn spent 18 years with Dance Theatre of Harlem before retiring at the age of 83.

Arthur Mitchell leading a lecture-demonstration (1969/1970) by MarbethDance Theatre of Harlem

Arthur Mitchell leading a lecture demonstration

The 90-minute lecture-demonstration included an explanation of ballet, a demonstration of rehearsal techniques and a mini performance. Audience members were invited onstage to show the latest social dances, as Arthur Mitchell demonstrated how their steps relate to classical ballet.

Young Dance Theatre of Harlem School students in the library (1969/1970) by MarbethDance Theatre of Harlem

Young Dance Theatre of Harlem School students in the Library

"It is time to face the children of the world and see in their eyes what our future is going to be. In the midst of urban chaos, with its political dichotomy and disintegration, the young are lost and floundering in a turbulent sea of ever-changing social mores that promise them no hope for the time that will be their lives. Children are begging for a disciplined structured persuasion that will set their feet on a road toward a future that is solid and convincing."

Karel Shook from "The First Ten Years"

Dance Theatre of Harlem School students tap dancing (1975/1977) by MarbethDance Theatre of Harlem

Dance Theatre of Harlem School students tap dancing

Arthur Mitchell assisting young DTH school students in ballet class (1970) by MarbethDance Theatre of Harlem

Arthur Mitchell assisting young DTH school students in ballet class

Arthur Mitchell was detailed, meticulous and very enthusiastic.

"One has to have a talent for teaching--a separate talent, different from the kind that makes a great performer."

Madame Alexandra Danilova

Lydia Abarca and Walter Raines in Arthur Mitchell's "Biosfera" (1969) by MarbethDance Theatre of Harlem

Lydia Abarca and Walter Raines in Arthur Mitchell’s, "Biosfera"

“One of our first performances was 'Biosfera' at the Lee Nordness Gallery. 'Biosfera' is an abstract version of an African ritual. It spotlights balance and strength of the two bodies engaged in an exercise of countering space and gravity. The ballet was created with an original musical score by Marlos Nobre and costumes by Zelda Wynn."

Walter Raines, DTH Principal Dancer

Arthur Mitchell and Dance Theatre of Harlem company members (1969) by MarbethDance Theatre of Harlem

Arthur Mitchell and Dance Theatre of Harlem company members

(Standing L-R)- Arturo Vivaldo, Gerald Banks, Derek Williams, Walter Raines
(Seated L-R)- Virginia Johnson, Lydia Abarca, Arthur Mitchell, Sheila Rohan and Patsy Ricketts

“Miracles are provoked by necessity, hunger, aspirations, or the need to correct a deranged condition. Miracle workers do not practice sleight- of- hand; they activate atoms in a positive way. Marian Anderson stated it very succinctly when she said, ‘God meant this to be!’”

Karel Shook from "The First Ten Years"

Credits: Story

Photographs by Marbeth
Copyright held by Dance Theatre of Harlem
Curated by Judy Tyrus

Credits: All media
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