Vijftien jaar geleden stierf Janet Collins, een Amerikaanse ballerina. She was the first African American dancer to perform in the Metropolitan Opera. Ze debuteerde daar dan ook niet toevallig in “Aida“, al was dat pas in 1951! (op de foto van Wikipedia wordt ze bij die gelegenheid gekust door choreograaf Zachary Solov)

Janet Faye Collins was born in New Orleans, and at the age of four moved with her family to Los Angeles, California, where Collins received her first dance training at a Catholic community center. She studied primarily with Carmelita MaracciLester Horton, and Adolph Bolm, who were among the few ballet teachers who accepted black students. She also had fond memories of studying with Los Angeles dance teacher Dorothy Lyndall.

In 1932, aged 16, Collins auditioned with success for the prestigious Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, but as she was required to paint her face and skin white in order to be able to perform, she did not join the company. In the 1940s, Collins collaborated with well-known dancer Katherine Dunham and joined the Dunham Company. However, the constraints on black classical dancers were too strong for her to have a vibrant performing career. In some Southern cities, race laws kept her off the stage, and her parts were played by understudies. 

A turning point in her dance career came in November 1948, when she performed in a one-night program at the Las Palmas Theater in Los Angeles. She earned excellent notices. In 1948, she moved to New York and got the chance to dance her own choreography on a shared program at the 92nd Street YMHA (the jewish community center).

In 1949, Collins earned glowing reviews in a variety of performances, including the Broadway production of Cole Porter’s musical Out of This World for which she received the Donaldson Award for best dancer on Broadway in 1951. It was in that role that she was noticed by Zachary Solov, then the ballet master of the Met.

In later life Collins taught modern dance at Balanchine‘s School of American Ballet in New York City and at Marymount Manhattan College in New York City from 1951 until 1972. In 1974, Collins retired from performing and teaching, turning to religion and finding comfort as an oblate in the Benedictine order. She was also an accomplished painter. Janet Collins died in 2003 at the age of 86, in Fort Worth, Texas. (Wikipedia)

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