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DANCE THEATRE OF HARLEM: A HISTORY, A MOVEMENT, A CELEBRATION
By E. Mesiyah McGinnis, Staff Writer
Published November 4, 2021

James Fugate, founder of Eso Won Books with co-author, Judy Tyrus, at a book signing. (E. Mesiyah McGinnis / L.A. Sentinel)

Former ballerina, Judy Tyrus, visited Los Angeles to promote her book, “DANCE THEATRE OF HARLEM: A HISTORY, A MOVEMENT, A CELEBRATION,” a book co-written by Tyrus, a longtime company member, and Paul Novosel, a music accompanist for the company and school. The two both shared a love for archiving the history of the organization.

Co-founders Arthur Mitchell (left) and Karel Shook (right) teaching class in the early days of Dance Theatre of Harlem (Courtesy)

According to the press release, the book looks at the African American history of ballet. With hundreds of sensational photographs, first-hand accounts, archival materials, and well-researched narrative, the book traces the Black dance company from its origins in a Harlem basement to its activism and innovations in virtual performances throughout 2020 and the global pandemic. It’s a celebration of the performances, community engagement, and arts education through which the company continues to carry forward the Dance Theatre of Harlem’s message of empowerment through the arts for all.

The images reflect the vision, execution, and evolution of Dance Theatre of Harlem. (Courtesy)

The book also places Dance Theatre of Harlem in a historical context with the events happening in the wider world; from the civil rights movement to the company’s groundbreaking and sometimes dangerous tours to apartheid South Africa, the Soviet Union, and China. It also tackles the segregation and racism that have troubled the company’s–and country’s–history, as well the social and political impact it made simply by being Black ballet dancers.

Historic performance photos of DTH Dancers (Courtesy)

Tyrus wanted to expand her visit to include promoting the book in diverse communities.  She stopped in Eso Won Books in the Leimert Park Village, an Afrocentric cultural and creative hub of South L.A. for a book signing and tour of the historical bookstore.  “I’m very happy she stopped in today and signed.  This is one of those books that people are going to love. They’ve seen the theatre [company] over the years, and now to have an autographed book, I can’t be happier, said James Fugate, founder of Eso Won Books.

A Company photo of Dance Theatre of Harlem (Courtesy)

As she signed books, Tyrus reflected. “Seven years of love went into this.  All the images … it was so hard selecting them for the book. There were 450 photos that we originally presented to the publisher.  It was a labor of love all the way,” she said.  Of Eso Won. “I love everything about this place.  I am coming back!” she said.

There were 450 photos that we originally presented to the publisher. (Courtesy)

Tyrus was a principal dancer with DTH for twenty-two years. She made it a point to stop by local dance schools, Debbie Allen Dance Academy (DADA), and Lula Washington Dance Theatre, where ballet is taught to young people of color every day.

DTH company photo (Courtesy)

“The book is meaningful because of its historical value; it brings back to life so many performances and influential works of our friend, Arthur Mitchell, and the wonderful dancers he trained, motivated, and loved,” said Lula Washington, Co-founder and artistic director of LWDT.  “It’s paramount that Black dancers and choreographers of today know this history and to see themselves in the historical triumphs of such legendary dancers,” said Tamica Washington-Miller, associate director of LWDT.

DTH Founder Arthur Mitchell and students rehearsing in the Church of the Master in Harlem. (Courtesy)

When asked why Trus and Novosel decided to write the book, Tyrus replied, “A single book about the history of Dance Theatre of Harlem has never been written.  Someone reading this book will take away with it an appreciation for ballet and that it is for everyone.  They will understand more about travel and dance; that it takes a village, that DTH is going strong, that Arthur Mitchell’s vision of bringing multicultural ballet to the world was realized, and that one should never give up on your dreams.

Above, Arthur Mitchell and DTH dancers in New York City. Below. Young dancers of color learn ballet at DTH. (Courtesy)

When asked how the book has been received, Tyrus replied, “The reactions have been excited, happy, congratulatory, celebratory, and supportive.”  Her last thoughts about the book, she reflected, “Art elevates the world. We were part of a movement to change the way the world views classical ballet.

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(Top image, left page, upper right) A photograph of Judy Tyrus partnering and other DTH company members. (Courtesy)  Judy Tyrus holds her book outside of the historic Eso Won Books in the Leimert Park Village neighborhood of South L.A. (Photo E. Mesiyah McGinnis)

When asked about the mission of the book.  “Progress has been made in cultural acceptance, but not nearly enough. Through periods of survival, Dance Theatre of Harlem called on the strength of its people, and their belief in its mission, to rise and rise again. DTH’s determination to offer representation and opportunity to new generations will carry it into the future. It is our hope that the world will follow its lead.” – Judy Tyrus and Paul Novosel.

You can find the book at Eso Won Books https://www.esowonbookstore.com, Barnes and Noble, and at www.kensingtonbooks.com

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