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Mitchell inspired black Bermudian dancers

A pioneering African-American ballet dancer was an inspiration to black Bermudian dancers, a former pupil said yesterday.

Sophia Cannonier trained with Arthur Mitchell, who died this week.

“Everywhere he went there was an impact,” Ms Cannonier said.

“Everywhere the Dance Theatre of Harlem travelled, there was an impact.

“Black dancers were not dancing classical ballet until, I think, the Dance Theatre of Harlem came.”

Mr Mitchell died in New York aged 84.

He was the first African-American to dance with the New York City Ballet in the 1950s.

He cofounded the Dance Theatre of Harlem, the first African-American classical ballet company, in the late 1960s.

The company performed the George Balanchine ballet Concerto Barocco at the City Hall Theatre during a tour to Bermuda in 1970.

Ms Cannonier said that as a young dancer at the Bermuda School of Russian Ballet she met black male dancers who had been to the Dance Theatre of Harlem.

She added: “I remember them saying ‘Yes, you need to go to Arthur'.

“It didn't dawn on me the power of Dance Theatre of Harlem until I had actually left Bermuda.”

Ms Cannonier first met Mr Mitchell when she moved to New York to attend his school in 1987, aged only 16.

She admitted Mr Mitchell had “put the fear of God” into her as her teacher.

Ms Cannonier explained: “He made us very strong by making us very fearful of him because he knew that we had to be stronger than strong to make it in the dance world, especially as black dancers.

“He always groomed us to know that we were representing more than ourselves — we were representing more opportunity for people like ourselves.”

She became a member of Mr Mitchell's company later that year and remained as a professional dancer for more than a decade.

Ms Cannonier kept in touch with Mr Mitchell after she left the company and his impact and influence on her spanned her entire life.

She added: “I do what I do today with the zeal and the zest that I have for it because of that.”

Ms Cannonier said Mr Mitchell was an outstanding and funny man who was strict, but kind. She said: “He really made people pull together.

“He really knew what he was talking about and he would not settle for anything less.”

Mr Mitchell was born in Harlem on March 27, 1934.

He was appointed a MacArthur Fellow, received the National Medal of Arts and was awarded a Fletcher Foundation Fellowship over his lifetime.

Inspirational figure: Arthur Mitchell in his prime

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Published September 22, 2018 at 9:00 am (Updated September 22, 2018 at 8:28 am)

Mitchell inspired black Bermudian dancers

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