This article originally appeared in the Spring 2024 Life Without Limits issue of Showstopper Magazine.

F A von Kaulbach

Today, it’s hardly a surprise to see a dance number break out on screen, but someone had to do it first! Ruth St. Denis played a big role in the early contemporary American dance space. She brought styles from around the world to the United States. She was also one of the first dancers on film! In 1894, she was filmed performing her “skirt dance” by Thomas Edison!

At 12 years old, Clayton Bates lost his leg in an accident with a cotton separator at a mill where he worked. An avid dancer, Clayton learned to dance with two broomsticks under his arm until his uncle made him a peg leg. When he was discovered by a New York producer in 1927, “Peg Leg” had learned to leap five feet in the air and dance almost every tap dance step!

Raven Wilkinson is the first African-American woman to dance for a major classical ballet company! She signed a full-time contract with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in 1955. She was later promoted to soloist and danced with the company for six years.

Arthur Mitchell is best known for joining the New York City Ballet as its only Black dancer in 1956, but before that, he was dancing on Broadway and even toured Europe! In 1962, he was promoted to principal dancer at NYCB. His success allowed him to promote and support Black dancers in the arts, and he opened the integrated Dance Theatre of Harlem in 1969.

Choreographer, dancer, and educator Alvin Ailey founded Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 1958 to bring American modern dance and African-American experiences together on stage. It would be joined by Alvin Ailey American Dance Center (aka The Ailey School) in1969 and is now a world-renowned home of modern dance.

The Rockettes were an all-white ensemble for 62 years until Jennifer Jones became the first Black Rockette in 1988. The Rockettes held an audition for the Super Bowl halftime show in 1987. She was one of 23 dancers chosen to perform out of 221 that auditioned. The next season she was hired as a fill-in for Radio City’s Christmas Spectacular.

Approaching her Broadway debut, dancer Kitty Lunn had the unthinkable happen. She slipped on ice and fell down a flight of stairs. It would take five surgeries and three years of recovery to get Kitty back in the studio in a wheelchair, and in 1995 she founded Infinity Dance Theater, a mixed company of disabled and non-disabled dancers.

If you could be in any Broadway show, what would it be? For George Lee Andrews, Phantom of the Opera was his home for more than two decades! As part of the original cast, George played multiple roles during his time with Phantom and set the Guinness World Record for most performances in a Broadway show, ultimately performing 9,382 times until his final bow on September 3, 2011.

Leo Mason

Once you fall in love with dance, it’s impossible to stay away. Italian prima ballerina Alessandra Ferri danced with prestigious ballet companies the Royal Ballet, ABT, and La Scala Theatre Ballet until 2007, but she couldn’t stay in retirement! In 2013, she returned to ballet at age 50 and has achieved the coveted rank of prima ballerina assoluta.

Ricky Fitchett/ZUMA Wire

Misty Copeland began her American Ballet Theatre journey at a summer intensive in 2000. Following that intensive, she accumulated achievements including joining their studio company, becoming the company’s second African American female soloist in 2007, and in June 2015, Misty was promoted to principal dancer. She is the first African American woman to hold the position at ABT!


Break dancing made its Olympic debut at the Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 2018. This is the first time dance (other than ice dancing) has found its footing in the Olympics! (It will return at the Paris 2024 Summer Olympics.) That year, Japanese dancer Ramu Kawai became the first to win gold for her breaking!

Previous articleJennifer Jones, The First Black Rockette, Wants You to Know That Spectacular is Always Possible
Next article6 Necessities for Easy Mornings
Veronica Good has been with Showstopper Magazine since 2016. When she isn't keeping you updated on the latest trends, she is at home with her many pets or probably playing The Sims 4. Veronica has a BA in English and an MA in writing from Coastal Carolina University. She is also a writer of fiction and poetry, and her work can be found in Archarios, Tempo, and Scapegoat.