Today’s Dame of the Day is Elsie Ivancich Dunin (July 19, 1935-). This Croatian choreographer specializes in sword dances and other specialities of the Croatian diaspora. In 1981, she founded Cross-Cultural Dance Resources, a non-profit dedicated to the study of dance ethnology.
Today’s Dame of the Day is Zohra Sehgal (27 April 1912 – 10 July 2014). After watching her sister’s marriage fail, Sehgal vowed to pursue a career in acting instead of getting married. She studied ballet in Europe and, during his European tour, met choreographer Uday Shankar. Upon her return to India, Shankar offered her a spot in his touring dance company. This position kickstarted her 60 year career; Sehgal went on to star in dozens of silent and speaking film roles.
Today’s Dame of the Day is Maria Tallchief (January 24, 1925-April 11, 2013). As a child growing up in the Sioux Nation, Tallchief danced constantly. When she turned 17, she moved from Oklahoma to New York City to pursue a career in dance. Tallchief’s grace and power captivated choreographer George Balanchine and, when he launched the New York City Ballet, he placed her at the forefront of the corps. Tallchief received the National Medal of the Arts and a Kennedy Center Honor for her dancing. Not only is she considered the first prima ballerina of the United States, but she was also the first Native American woman to earn the title.
Today’s Dame of the Day is Raven Wilkinson (November 2, 1935-). At age five, a performance by the Ballet Russes brought her to tears and she begged her parents to let her take lessons. Her uncle bought her lessons for her ninth birthday and Wilkinson never stopped dancing. She began her career with the Ballet Russes, making her the first black ballerina in a major ballet company. When racist politics drove her from the company, she joined the Dutch National Company and later the New York City Ballet.
Today’s Dame of the Day is Jin Xing (August 13, 1967-). Born into a middle class Korean family, Jin’s aptitude for classical dance led her to become one of the most recognizable trans women in all of China. In spite of experiencing temporary leg paralysis after surgery, Jin studied dance throughout her youth and became a ballerina and choreographer. Over the course of her career, she taught in Europe, toured the world, and settled in Shanghai to open her own studio.
Today’s Dame of the Day is Tamara Rojo (May 17, 1974-). Rojo studied dance from the age of five and rose through the ranks of the Ballet de la Comunidad de Madrid. In 1996, the Scottish National Ballet invited her to join their corps; one year later, she was recruited as a principal dancer for the English National Ballet. Even when a foot injury threatened to end her career, she powered through rehabilitation and returned to the stage. In 2003, the King of Spain awarded her the Royal Gold Medal of Fine Arts.
Today’s Dame of the Day is Maya Angelou (April 4, 1928 – May 28, 2014). To describe her as prolific is an understatement; this great woman packed five lives into her time on Earth. After enduring the Great Depression, the racism of the South, and rape during her childhood, she went on to become a writer, singer, dancer, producer, composer, director and scholar. She spent time abroad in Ghana, learned multiple languages through her world travels, and befriended Malcolm X, Alvin Ailey, James Baldwin and countless others. Angelou worked as a prostitute, became the first black female streetcar conductor in San Francisco, documented the decolonization of Africa as a journalist, penned seven autobiographies and earned over fifty honorary degrees.
Today’s Dame of the Day is Alicia Alonso (December 21, 1921-). Known for her stellar performances of Giselle and Carmen, this ballerina and choreographer founded the Alicia Alonso Ballet Company which later became Ballet Nacional de Cuba. While Alonso was renowned for her dancing skill, she contended with partial blindness due to a detached retina. To compensate, she guided her partners with lighting cues to the places she expected them to be.
No matter the line of work, everyone has rituals. Whether it’s savoring a morning coffee, wearing a pair of lucky socks, or listening to a favorite playlist, routine can be comforting. Sometimes, it’s difficult to remember that everyone gets nervous when we witness someone performing at the top of her game. This series of behind the scenes videos from the American Ballet Theatre dispels this myth and humanizes its corps of dancers. In “Rituals,” the principals discuss how they prepare for a performance.
Ultimately, I wish that Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre would follow suit. Their YouTube channel has remained dormant for a while, but I would love to see more behind the scenes action. It’s so easy to forget that dancers are people when they’re exhibiting superhuman levels of grace and flexibility. Until then, here’s their season preview from 2013-2014; makes me eager to see what they have in store this year.