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Apr27
Theatre & Performing Arts

The Swans of Harlem: Reclaiming the History of Black Ballet at Francis W. Parker School


The legendary “Swans of Harlem” ballerinas take the stage with Brandis Friedman (co-anchor, WTTW Chicago Tonight / host, Black Voices) and author Karen Valby to reclaim and lift up the trailblazing contributions to the dance world by these Black artists whose stories have been marginalized, devalued and forgotten by history. Stay after the chat for a live dance performance tribute to the Swans by the Chicago-based dance company Move Me Soul.

At the height of the Civil Rights Era, Lydia Abarca was a star prima ballerina leading international performances for the Dance Theatre of Harlem, and the first Black ballerina with a ballet company to grace the cover of Dance Magazine. Abarca formed an unbreakable bond with fellow pioneering dancers, including Sheila Rohan, Karlya Shelton and Marcia Sells. At a time of intense racial and gender inequality, these remarkable women performed for the Queen of England, at the White House and beyond. Decades later, however, their story was still missing from history. This groundbreaking group of friends reunite at Chicago Humanities to discuss Valby’s new book, The Swans of Harlem: Five Black Ballerinas, Fifty Years of Sisterhood, and Their Reclamation of a Groundbreaking History. Their enthralling saga celebrates resilient Black women, the enduring power of female friendship, and reveals the hidden history of Black ballet, kept secret for far too long.


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