NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Arthur Mitchell, who broke barriers for African-Americans in the 1950s as a ballet dancer with the New York City Ballet and who would go to become a driving force in the creation of the Dance Theatre of Harlem, has died. He was 84.
Mitchell died Wednesday at a New York City hospital according to his niece, Juli Mills-Ross. She said the death came after renal failure led to heart failure.
Mitchell started dancing with the New York City Ballet in 1955 under choreographer George Balanchine.
Balanchine put him in several leading roles, including one pairing him with a white female dancer in “Agon” in 1957.
In 1968, impacted by the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., he started a dance school that grew to include the Dance Theatre of Harlem. Mitchell initially charged 50 cents a week for kids to take classes and within months, he had 800 students.
In 2003, Mitchell talked to CBS2 about the power of dance.
“The arts ignite the mind, they give you the possibility to dream and to hope,” he said. “It instills a sense of wonderful pride, and I don’t mean ego. But I call it I am, and that’s what kids need today.”
Mitchell was born in Harlem and graduated from the School of Performing Arts.
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