Dance Theatre of Harlem, a New York-based dance group, will perform at Mount Baker Theatre in Bellingham on Tuesday, March 21.
Dance Theatre of Harlem is an 18-member, multi-ethnic dance company. The company was founded by Karel Shook and Arthur Mitchell in 1971 in Harlem, New York, after years of teaching ballet to aspiring ballerinas.
According to its website, Dance Theatre of Harlem is a “beacon for Black dancers worldwide.” The company quotes Virginia Johnson, a founding member, stating, “it was not about making a 'Black ballet company.’... It was to make people aware of the fact that this beautiful art form actually belongs to and can be done by anyone.”
Derek Brockington, the group’s social media coordinator, said the organization’s social mission and purpose has stayed the same since its founding in 1969: inclusion, equity and education.
Hosting a world-famous ballet group allows the surrounding community to learn about this type of dance and witness the inclusive approach to this art form.
“We embody the idea of dancing for something larger than ourselves,” Brockington wrote in an email. “Everyone deserves to see themselves represented on the stage and to have their stories told, so we embrace putting our full selves out there, and I think that can be inspiring.”
Western Washington University dance instructor and choreographer Angela Sebastian grew up in the Philippines and began ballet when she was 4 years old. While she may not attend the Dance Theatre of Harlem’s performance in March, Sebastian recognizes the dancers’ skill and dedication they put into their craft. She instills a dedicated work ethic in her students while also building relationships with them. She teaches her students about her culture and creates a space in her classroom for people of different backgrounds to come together through ballet.
Sebastian said she is always learning from her students through listening and exchange. Her teaching is rigid in some ways, but she also works to create a safe space. Working in a culture that is different from the one she grew up in gave her many areas of influence that helped her grow in heart, mind and body.
Ainsley DeGuzman, a Filipino student in Western’s dance program, has engaged in some of the same conversations about the intersection between dance and cultural identity. Recently, the program invited Toni Pasion, a prominent Filipino dancer, for a week of skills-building workshops and conversations.
“Toni Pasion is Filipino like me and when it was announced that she was coming, I knew I needed that experience,” she wrote in an email. "I am very Americanized and only get bits and pieces of my own culture through my Dad, and it was such a great experience having her come and share her knowledge.”
Both DeGuzman and Sebastian stressed the importance of supporting multi-ethnic dancers and the dance community by going to local performances. Sebastian said people have the opportunity to learn by watching the Dance Theatre of Harlem at Mount Baker Theatre this month.
“They just gotta get immersed,” Sebastian said.
DeGuzman felt similarly.
“As a person of color in dance, specifically ballet, I was told that it is important to show up to make dance spaces more diverse,” DeGuzman said.
She said it’s a great experience to support a company like the Dance Theatre of Harlem doing impactful work.
“I think everyone should watch art that isn’t what they typically see,” she said.
Dance Theatre of Harlem is visiting many cities on its 2022-23 tour, varying in terms of population. Brockington said the group is intentional in its decision to visit a variety of different cities.
“Our goal is always to inspire as many people as possible and broaden the reach of ballet. Exposure to the arts is important no matter where you live,” Brockington said. “In many cities, we are some audience members’ first introduction to ballet. Education plays a big role in the work we do at DTH.”
Tickets for the performance on Tuesday, March 21, are on sale through Mount Baker Theatre’s website.
Imogene Eagan (she/her) is a city news reporter for The Front this winter quarter. She is a third-year visual journalism pre-major. She loves spending time at the Wade King Student Recreation Center, whether it be working at the front desk or weight lifting. She likes to spend her time outside of school by taking photos of Western’s athletic teams, collecting house plants and exploring the city with friends.
You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.