The phrase “each one, teach one” will take on a new meaning Nov. 6 when Harlem Stage hosts a unique conversation between two remarkable African-American dance pioneers—American Ballet Theatre principal Misty Copeland and dance legend Carmen de Lavallade—before an audience of aspiring young dancers from two major Harlem arts organizations, the Dance Theatre of Harlem and the Harlem School of the Arts.
Both de Lavallade and Copeland have generously set aside time in calendars where it is not uncommon to find, on any given day, rehearsals and performances bookended by media interviews or A-list events highlighting their impressive accomplishments. On occasion, the schedules of these two amazing women might intersect as they will at Harlem Stage and again in December 2017 when Copeland performs at the Kennedy Center Honors tribute to de Lavallade for what Dance Magazine called her “dizzying accomplishments” over the course of a six-decade-long career. So on the face of it alone, the Harlem Stage event will be a moveable feast for the young DTH and HSA dancers who can learn so much from the personal anecdotes, precious insights and wisdom borne of experience that these two legends will share.
After all, at one point in their lives Copeland and de Lavallade, too, were wide-eyed aspiring young artists filled with dreams, determination, discipline and dedication much like those attending this upcoming event. In part, that is one of the reasons that, despite their busy schedules, both women welcome opportunities to encourage, teach and mentor young talent.
“I feel like I’ve been fortunate to have been initiated into the mentorship world where people have sought me out because I know how important it is to have supportive people in your life,” Copeland said during a break in the demanding American Ballet Theatre rehearsal schedule.
Copeland said she is profoundly aware of the value of mentors; after all, her first ballet teacher and mentor launched her on “a journey that would change my life, paving the way to my future.” Later, she would also be mentored by a support group of accomplished and powerful Black women assembled by writer, producer, ABT board member and ballet lover Susan Fales-Hill (daughter of actress/dancer Josephine Premise) and manager Gilda Squire. One of the outstanding mentors whose shared experience and support was particularly helpful was Raven Wilkinson who, in the 1950s, was the first Black ballerina with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Copeland says the support of these women helped give her the assurance needed to make the leap
from soloist to principal ballerina.
Mentors, Copeland related, can “mean the difference between giving up on a goal and pushing yourself to do things you didn’t know you could and becoming someone you didn’t realize you had the capability to be.” That is why being a mentor to others has been, she explained recently, “something that’s so necessary to me from the time I’ve become a professional. It’s something that felt organic and natural, having had the support that I’ve had from the many amazing people in my life. I know the benefit that the next generation can reap from having that support from women like Carmen de Lavallade, myself and from the Black community as a whole. We need to have positive examples and support one another, so it seemed natural for me to want to start initiatives like ABT’s Project Plie, or be a part of the Boys and Girls Clubs and Turn Around Arts and participate in events like the upcoming Harlem Stage program. You know, these kids, even if they don’t recognize it now, will eventually appreciate the benefits of having a mentor at some point in their lives.”
Harlem Stage Executive Director Pat Cruz, host of the upcoming conversation between two amazing legends, said she hopes this event has the same effect on the young dancers from DTH and HSA who will be attending that mentors and other support networks have had on the career trajectories of Misty Copeland and Carmen de Lavallade. Cruz commented, “I hope the students are inspired and realize their creative potential and our audiences recognize the value that Harlem arts organizations have on the local community and see the ways that our contributions can be expanded exponentially when working in partnership.”
The event will be live-streamed at https://www.facebook.com/myharlemstage/.