Arthur Mitchell is known around the world as an accomplished artistic director, an astute educator, a talented choreographer, and an extraordinary dancer. Born in New York City on March 27, 1934, Mitchell began his dance training at New York City’s High School of the Performing Arts, where he was the first male student to win the coveted Annual Dance Award.
Mitchell continued his classical training when he received a full scholarship to the School of American Ballet. In 1955 he was the first African American male to become a permanent member of a major ballet company when he joined the New York City Ballet. During his 15-year career with the New York City Ballet, Mitchell quickly rose to the rank of principal dancer and electrified audiences with his performances in a broad spectrum of roles. Mitchell is best known for two roles choreographed especially for him by the late George Balanchine: the pas de deux from Agon and the lighthearted Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Mitchell was also a popular guest artist in nightclubs, on Broadway, in film, and on television, both in the US and abroad.
In 1966 Mitchell organized the American Negro Dance Company, which represented the US at the first World Festival of Negro Arts in Senegal. In 1967, at the request of the US International Association, he founded the National Ballet Company of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro. Upon learning of the death of the Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, Mitchell was inspired to provide children―especially those living in Harlem―the opportunity to study dance. During the summer of 1968 he began teaching classes in a remodeled garage. In 1969—with financial assistance from Alva B. Gimbel and the Ford Foundation, as well as his own savings—Mitchell founded Dance Theatre of Harlem with his mentor and ballet instructor Karel Shook.
As a professional dance company and a school of the allied arts, the Dance Theatre of Harlem—of which Mitchell is Founding Artistic Director—continues to expand into a multi-cultural institution that attracts thousands of professional dancers and students from around the world. Mitchell, whose illustrious career spans over 50 years, is the recipient of the Kennedy Center Honor, a National Medal of the Arts, a MacArthur Genius Foundation fellowship, the New York Living Landmark Award, the Handel Medallion, the NAACP Image Award, and more than a dozen honorary degrees.