Discover New York City’s Dance Theatre of Harlem: Artistic Creativity that Educates and Inspires

In 1969 dancers Arthur Mitchell and Karel Shook founded the Dance Theatre of Harlem. Mitchell and Shook started the , located at 466 West 152nd Street, in response to the assassination of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

About Dancers Arthur Mitchell and Karel Shook

Fourteen years before he co-founded the theatre, Arthur Mitchell joined the New York City Ballet, an event that made him the first African American male principal dancer in a major ballet company. August 1999, following years of exemplary dance, Arthur Mitchell, born March 27, 1934 in New York City, was inducted into the Dance Hall of Fame.

Throughout his career, the master dancer was honored with numerous awards including the National Medal of Arts, Kennedy Center Honor for lifetime contribution to the performing arts, a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship and the Heinz Award. In April 2009, 40 years after he co-founded the school, Mitchell stepped down as the theatre’s artistic director. He was succeeded by Virginia Johnson, a founding company member.

The author of Elements of Classical Ballet Technique, Karel Shook was born in Renton, Washington. Prior to co-founding the Dance Theatre of Harlem, the dance master taught at the Katherine Dunham School of Dance. Shook passed away on July 25, 1985 at the age of 64 at his home in Englewood, New Jersey.

Dance Theatre of Harlem Goals

With the intent to elevate the self-esteem of children and adults, the theatre incorporated dance into educational programs in effort to strengthen and encourage its students’ confidence, discipline and creative expression. Following more than a year of work and study, the theatre’s dance company presented its first public performance at Manhattan’s Guggenheim Museum.


Both Arthur Mitchell and Karel Shook were dedicated to the theatre which has a school and a professional dance company. The school teaches a variety of dance forms including classical ballet, movement, cultural and modern styles and jazz.

“Dancing Through Barriers” is a residency program offered by the theatre. Residency programs run for 15 to 30 weeks. The programs partner with schools to teach students the art of classical ballet. Residencies are available in New York City, Detroit, Michigan, Baltimore, Maryland, Washington, DC and Miami, Florida.

More Dance Theatre of Harlem Arts Programs for Students and Adults

Designed for children as young as Pre-K all the way up to high school seniors and mature adults, the theatre’s programs cover video taped performances, lectures and open floor discussions that engage instructors and students and athletic and family workshops.

A master’s class is available for experienced dancers who are looking to strengthen their craft. The classes are combined with in-depth lectures or video assemblies. Classes are customized for beginners with minor dance experience as well as proficient dancers who require advanced training.

Through the years the theatre has both thrived and struggled. Despite financial difficulties, particularly during 2004, the theatre has always maintained a professional and honorable decorum.

The theatre’s professional dance company has performed in countries and international locations such as Russia, South Africa and China. In 2006 former President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush honored Arthur Mitchell and the Dance Theatre of Harlem with an event at the White House. Since its inception the theatre and its co-founder, Arthur Mitchell, have received over 300 official citations for excellence.