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In partnership with the Clark Center and MoCADA
80 Hanson Place
Brooklyn, NY 11217
651 ARTS launches the second installment of its signature Live & Outspoken series with a discussion honoring dance educator and pioneer Thelma Hill. A panel of nationally acclaimed scholars and artists will convene to celebrate and pay tribute to the dynamic career on one of America’s most important dance figures.
As a young child growing up in New York City, Thelma Hill’s first dance training was in tap dance. She later studied ballet at the Metropolitan Opera School of Ballet. In the 1950s, Hill performed with many companies including those of Talley Beatty, Jean-Léon Destiné, and Geoffrey Holder. In 1954, she and Ward Flemyng founded the New York Negro Ballet Company. Hill served as dancer and later co-director for the company, which toured in Europe and the United States. In 1958, Hill and a group of top New York dancers, including Alvin Ailey, formed a fledgling dance troupe that would eventually become the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 1960.
Hill collaborated again with Ailey and other dancers, including Charles Moore and James Truitte, to found a dance-training program at a New York City YWCA. In 1962, the program became the Clark Center for the Performing Arts. Besides studio and performance space, the center provided classes in a variety of techniques and choreographic approaches.
After an injury forced her off the stage in the 1960s, Hill’s teaching career began to flourish. She was a proponent of the influential technique of Lester Horton. She taught at numerous institutions and was often known as “Mother Hill” by her students. These schools included the Davis Center for Performing Arts in New York City at City College of New York, the University of Cincinnati, and the American Dance Festival at Connecticut College in New London. She was also an active member of the Delacorte Dance Festival and Regional Ballet Association.
Hill died of smoke inhalation in 1977 during a fire in her New York City apartment. She was memorialized by the Thelma Hill Performing Arts Center (formerly the Arts Center) in New York City, which was renamed in her honor in 1977.
Delores Brown (moderator) danced with Thelma in the New York Negro Ballet. Delores Browne has danced in the Bluebird pas-de-deux from The Sleeping Beauty on tour in Europe with the New York Negro Ballet in 1957, Louis Johnson’s First Sin (1957), and in parts created for her by Alvin Ailey, Geoffrey Holder, Anthony Tudor, and other eminent choreographers. Delores Brown was awarded a scholarship to further her ballet training at 14. She later auditioned for the American School of Ballet and became one of six black students in the school. Her dream was to eventually join the ranks of the New York City Ballet. But after a year she left the school, tired from the strain of working to support her craft. Several years later, in 1957, she was invited to become a part of the first all black ballet company, the New York Negro Ballet. With the company, she toured throughout England, Scotland, and Wales.
Mickey Davidson has an international commitment to telling America’s rich musical story. She is more than a dance teacher or historian. She is an American Griot, passing on stories, told through rhythm, song, and movement, from one generation to the next. Davidson’s performing experiences include Sounds in Motion Dance Company, Norma Miller’s Lindy Hoppers, Charles Cookie Cook, Savoy Swingers, Roots of Brazil, Okra Dance Co., Cecil Taylor, Sun Ra, Ntozake Shange, and Oliver Lake.
Kathe Sandler is a Guggenheim Award-winning documentary filmmaker. Her credits include A Question of Color, the first nationally aired PBS documentary to explore attitudes about skin color, hair texture and facial features in African American communities, as well as Remembering Thelma, on the late dancer, teacher and mentor Thelma Hill, which screened at the New York Film Festival. Sandler, a former student of Hill’s, began the film as an undergraduate at New York University. She also adapted and directed Rosa Guy’s classic Harlem novel The Friends as a short film which won awards from the Black Filmmaker’s Hall of Fame. Sandler received filmmaking grants from the Ford Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, and the Independent Television Service. She is a founding member of the Black Documentary Collective, where she worked closely with her mentor, the late St. Clair Bourne. Currently a Ph.D. candidate at Rutgers University’s Department of Women’s and Gender Studies, Sandler is completing her dissertation “How Black Feminism Takes Place: Intergenerational Activism and Cultural Production in the New Millennium” and is at work on a similarly themed documentary film.
Otis Sallid’s tremendous talent became apparent early in his life while studying dance. His instructors recognized his affinity for dance and encouraged him to audition for the High School of Performing Arts in New York City. His instructors included such mentors as Martha Graham, José Limon, Eleo Pomare, Thelma Hill, Louis Johnson, Pearl Primus, Donald McKayle, Anna Sokolow, Lucas Hoving, Mary Hinkson, David Wood, Antony Tudor, Geoffrey Holder, Alvin Ailey and Benjamin Harkavy, a virtual who’s who in the dance business. Most recently, Otis Sallid produced and choreographed the Super Bowl segment with Stevie Wonder, John Legend, Joss Stone and India Arie, as well as producing the live events for The Middle East International Film Festival in Abu Dhabi. In 2013 Otis completed shooting FOX Searchlight’s feature film, Black Nativity, starring Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett, Jennifer Hudson and Mary J. Blige. Currently, Mr. Sallid has on tour James Brown: Get on the Good Foot, A Celebration In Dance, produced by the world-renowned Apollo Theater in New York City.
Jessica Lynne and DéLana R.A. Dameron reflect on ways they make a home, creatively, wherever they are.