Black History month is such a special time in our community, because it gives us an opportunity to reflect on so many of those that have contributed to our culture and ultimately our way of life as we know it! With that being said, I just couldn't let this month go by without sharing some wonderful history that I've recently stumbled upon. There are many well known African American individuals in the dance community that I'm sure you've heard of in dance history; such as Alvin Ailey, Debbie Allen and Misty Copeland. However, I would like to shed some light on those that you may not be familiar with, that have paved the way for African American dancers all over the world! In today's blog, we will take a look at the life of miss Janet Faye Collins; one of the first ever black prima ballerinas.
Though she was born in New Orleans in 1917, Janet and her family quickly made the move to Los Angeles California when she was only four years old. Collins was introduced to dance a few years later, and at 10 years old, she soon began classical training at the Catholic Community Center in the city. During her time, many African American dancers were denied the opportunity to train in dance schools at all. Among the few instructors that accepted black dancers, Collins trained primarily with Lester Horton, Carmelita Maracci, and Adolph Bolm.
Though she loved ballet, Janet's parents urged her to shift her focus to study painting instead. With this, they hoped that art would give her more opportunity and a better chance at success as an African American woman than through dance. While Collins studied art on a scholarship at both Lost Angeles City College and the Los Angeles Art Center School, she never gave up on her dreams and continued to pursue her love for dance. She then was granted the opportunity to work with famous instructors such as Mia Slavenska.
At age 16, Janet auditioned for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, and was accepted, but under one condition. Janet would only be allowed to perform with their company if she agreed to paint her face and skin white. As a result, Janet quickly denied the offer and went on to work with Katherine Dunham and her company in the 1940s. Once she moved to New York, her dance career reached new heights almost instantly. She was recognized for her tremendous performances in Broadway productions such as "Out of This World" by Cole Porter.
Collins became the first black ballerina to ever perform at the Metropolitan Opera and was famously known for her roles in Aida and Carmen. Towards the end of her career, Janet taught Modern dance at Balanchine's School of American Ballet and Marymount Manhattan College in New York City.
Collins had worked hard to pursue her dreams despite all that was up against her. With her God given talent and beautiful courage, Janet Collins has inspired so many generations of black dancers everywhere to do just the same.
What legacy will you leave for the next generation to come? Whatever passions you have, let them move you! You never know who you'll inspire.
Your Beautiful Black Queen