Night's Dancer cover, Janet Collins

Janet Collins Day

Celebrating Janet Collins

Please join Wesleyan University Press in a special social media celebration on Saturday, November 13, 2021, for Janet Collins Day: the 70th anniversary of trailblazing artist Janet Collins’s debut in 1951 at the Metropolitan Opera.

We invite you to post about this important pioneer in African-American dance history, and to “like” and “share” our posts, too! Also, please see below for a current list of participants—you can check out their posts as well.

Collins first appeared at the Met as the leading dancer in a new production of Aïda, which opened the opera company’s 67th season. It brought her international acclaim, both for her dancing and for soaring over the color line as the Met’s first full-time African-American company member—four years ahead of singer Marian Anderson.

Her Met tenure, which lasted through the 1953–54 season, included appearances in Carmen, La Gioconda, and Samson et Dalila. While Collins’s dancing continued to receive wonderful reviews, it was her performances in La Gioconda—in which she portrayed the Queen of the Night in the Dance of the Hours, wearing a ballerina’s traditional tutu and pointe shoes—that established her as a role model for African-American dancers in ballet.

A story told about the Met’s general manager at the time, Rudolf Bing, relates that when the opera company’s board expressed disapproval that he hired an African-American dancer, Bing replied, “Well, I never knew I couldn’t.”

To learn more about Collins’s extraordinary life and career—including her audition for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, which told her that she would have to paint her face white to join the company—please see her authorized biography, Night’s Dancer: The Life of Janet Collins, by Yaël Tamar Lewin, to which Collins contributed her unfinished memoir. This autumn also marks the 10th anniversary of its publication.

Read a recollection of Janet Collins, from Judith Judson, here.

Special thanks to our Friends of Janet Collins Day

Companies, schools, and organizations: 

Alvin Ailey School

Ballethnic

Ballet Hispanico

Brown Girls Do Ballet

Cleo Parker Robinson Dance

Collage Dance

Complexions

Dance Theatre of Harlem

Dallas Black Dance Academy

Dallas Black Dance Theatre

Dayton Contemporary Dance Company

Debbie Allen Dance Academy

Garth Fagan Dance

International Association of Blacks in Dance

Jones-Haywood Dance School

Lula Washington Dance Theatre

Metropolitan Opera Archives

Opera Bracelets

Opera News

PHILADANCO! 

Rod Rodgers Dance Company

Ronald K. Brown/EVIDENCE 

School of American Ballet

Swan Dreams Project

Individuals who are participating or assisting:

Debbie Allen

Aesha Ash

Cindy Battisti

Debbie Blunden-Diggs

Joan Myers Brown

Arcell Cabuag

Peter Clark

Carmen de Lavallade

Elise Drew León

F. Paul Driscoll

Blythe Drucker

Garth Fagan

William J. Ferguson II

Sandra Fortune-Green

Shalishah Franklin

Janet Gilliland

Nena Gilreath

Kim Grier-Martinez

Marcellus Harper

Léo Holder

Virginia Johnson

Evelyn Kocak

Yaël Tamar Lewin

Ramona Logan

Rachel Lubell

Waverly T. Lucas

Michelle Manzanales

Karen McDonald

Monica Montaño

Gwyneth Muller

Keyana Patterson

John Pennino

Melanie Person

Kim Peters

Tiffany Pittman

Lyndsay Polizzi

Dwight Rhoden

Desmond Richardson

Cleo Parker Robinson

Marcia Sells

Maureė Sullivan

Denise Saunders Thompson

TaKiyah Wallace

Erwin and Lula Washington

Tamica Washington-Miller

Melissa M. Young

Thank you for celebrating Janet Collins with us!

View a listing of dance books here, including some great gift ideas.
Be sure to use code Q301 at check out to receive a 30% discount.

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