The ballet dancer.
Lithe. Supple. Sylph-like. Agile. Ethereal.
Immortalized in Edgar Degas’ famous sculpture of a ballet dancer and of his paintings, the image of a young White woman comes to mind when the words ballet dancer are mentioned.
Little Dancer of Fourteen Years, by Edgar Degas.
Danseuse, by Edgar Degas.
But, sadly, the image of a Black ballet dancer, man or woman, often fails to come to mind when people consider the subject of the ballet and its retinue. But, Black ballets dancers do exist.
The most famous of Black American ballet dancers is Ms. Lauren Anderson.
Here is her story.
Lauren Anderson (b. February 19, 1965) American ballet dancer and a former principal dancer with the Houston Ballet.
Lauren Anderson, Houston Ballet’s first black prima ballerina in a major dance company in 1990.
Photo: Karen Warren / © 2012 Houston Chronicle SOURCE
Born in Houston, Texas, an only child of Lawrence Anderson, a school administrator, and Doris Parker-Morales, a classical piano teacher, she trained at Houston Ballet’s Ben Stevenson Academy, from the age of seven. She graduated from Lamar High School, Houston, Texas in 1982. She joined the Houston Ballet in 1983. She honed her skills early in life in performances that would lead her to the prestigious Houston Ballet corps.
THAT WAS THEN: At the age of 10, Anderson was the Nutcracker‘s lead soldier in 1978. Photo: LAUREN ANDERSON / HC
Ms. Anderson entered the Houston Ballet’s Ben Stevenson Academy at 7, and was only 13 when she stepped onto the stage as Alice in the Houston Ballet’s production of Alice in Wonderland.
It was there she met with the subtle forms of racism in the world of the performing arts:
“Alice was really, really white,” Anderson said, “and I was really, really brown.”
She was sheltered from the more insidious aspects of racism while under the tutelage of the Houston Ballet’s director, Ben Stevenson.
In 1990, she joined the Houston Ballet as its principal dancer. She was the first Black American ballerina to become a principal for a major dance company. Her performance in the title role in Cleopatra gave her international recognition. Ms. Anderson originated the role of Cleopatra in the ballet of the same name created by Ben Stevenson, and her performance received rave reviews.
Lauren Anderson inspiring a new generation of dancers
Houstonian Lauren Anderson as “Cleopatra” in a performance from the Houston Ballet.
She has performed works by Sir Kenneth MacMillan and George Balanchine.
She has performed many memorable roles as America’s first Black principal ballet dancer.
DANCING ON AIR: Anderson in Houston Ballet’s Don Quixote. Photo: DREW DONOVAN, HOUSTON BALLET / HC
Lauren Anderson and Carlos Acosta perform in Benjamin Britten’s Pas de Deux in 1998. Photo: JACK MITCHELL / HC
Beloved in her hometown, and around the world, Ms. Anderson has shown that she has a light-hearted side to her when in November 2000 she was dubbed “The Pigskin Pavlova“.
After a lustrous career as principal dancer, Ms. Anderson in the Christmas season of 2006 performed her final role as the Sugar Plum Fairy of The Nutcracker.
Photo source: Jim Caldwell.
Her retirement was not easy for her:
“So for her, quitting dancing and leaving the Houston Ballet is infinitely more painful and personal than a career change: As she takes a breather between Nutcracker rehearsals, she reflects on her conflicting emotions. For a moment, the usually voluble, wise-cracking Anderson falls silent. “It’s almost like a death,” she finally says. “I’m in mourning. What’s wonderful about being a ballerina,” she explains, “is being able to tell a story without saying a single word. It’s magical and scary, all at the same time. You dissect yourself, you reach down deep inside yourself, and you’re so fragile afterwards. That’s what I’ll miss being the music. I can’t imagine anything better.
In 2007, Ms. Anderson became an outreach associate in the Houston Ballet’s education department, teaching ballet classes at Houston Ballet’s Academy, conducting master classes at schools in the Houston area inspiring a new generation ballerinas, as well as being in demand as a lecturer on the subject of ballet.
She comments on her life as a ballet dancer who blazed trails for others to follow and how life will be for her:
“……………..corns and broken toes notwithstanding, won’t it be hard to give up the thrill of being a prima ballerina the adulation, the bouquets, all that jazz for a more conventional life? “You betcha!” is the resounding answer. “I’m afraid of regular, I’m afraid of normal. I’m used to being special, and it all ends too damn soon. But I’ve had a great ride, and you know what? If I can make just one person enjoy this ride as much as I have, I’ll have accomplished something. And it ain’t over yet. It’s not finished. I’m blessed.”
We, your admiring and adoring fans, are blessed for all that you have given us.
4 responses to “BLACK WOMEN IN AMERICA: LAUREN ANDERSON”
Another ballet dancer that defied the stereotype was Maria Tallchief.
She was the first Native American (Osage Nation) woman to break into ballet.
Reblogged this on The Black Hole Of The Internet and commented:
This was such a beautiful post. We can be anything that we want to be.
We are very Proud of the accomplishments of Lauren. As a friend in High School and laster as Professional Women conquering the world we share a passion for life and the pursuit of Happiness!
Gwendolyn de Ashborough
(First African American Women to Captain a Professional Polo Team for England in the Cartier World Cup Polo Championships in St. Moritz Switzerland)
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