Katherine Dunham and her dance company

Celebrating Black Choreographers Who Shaped Dance History

Discover the impact of groundbreaking black choreographers and how they've shaped dance with their innovative techniques and cultural narratives.


Oct. 6 2023, Published 3:47 a.m. ET

Dance has been part of the Black culture for centuries, though it took a while to gain prominence in mainstream entertainment in the United States of America. Many Black choreographers have contributed to the emergence of innovative dance in entertainment; however, the work of the pioneers must be highlighted to know how much dance has evolved in the black community.

The following highlights the contributions and impact of trailblazing Black choreographers.

Katherine Dunham

Katerine is regarded by many as arguably the most influential dancer and choreographer of the 20th century. She particularly revolutionized choreography by adding African and Caribbean elements into modern dance techniques like ballet. With this modern combination, the Dunham technique was born and has remained part of mainstream choreography today.

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Dunham also gets the credit for creating the first all-Black dance company when she turned into a social activist advocating for more Black representation. She successfully uses dance as a tool for cultural integration and social justice.

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Donald McKayle

Donald was famous for adding social consciousness with narrative choreography. He used choreography to address several social, and racial issues. His 1959 masterpiece choreography work “Rainbow ‘Round My Shoulder” became his most popular signature work and contribution to Black choreography. The 1959 work detailed the experiences of Black slaves in chain gangs.

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Alvin Ailey

Many people consider Alvin Ailey the most impactful Black choreographer. He is the founder of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and he successfully created emotional and evocative choreography with the inclusion of African-American dance in the modern dance culture.

Alvin’s choreography work “Revolution” is his most popular contribution and it celebrates Afro-American spirituality and culture. Ailey’s dance organization is one of the most famous choreography companies in the United States of America today.

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Arthur Mitchell

The list of famous Black choreographers who made a significant impact on dance is incomplete without Arthur Mitchell. He successfully broke many racial barriers when he started. Arthur is credited for being the first Black dancer in the New York City Ballet group and he is the founder of the group “Dance Theater of Harlem.” He successfully gave Black dancers great opportunities and promoted diversity in the craft.

Arthur’s contribution to ballet dance and nurturing Black dancers had a huge impact on the acceptance of ballet among the black communities in New York.

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Bill Jones

Bill. T. Jones is an award-winning dancer and choreographer popular for bringing innovative choreography to the entertainment scene. He founded a dance company with Arnie Zane, a group that pushes beyond the boundary to deliver the best performances in choreography.

Bill does not only organize his dance troops to perform great choreography, but he also uses the performance to address social injustice and political issues, especially at conventions and rallies.

Because of these pioneers in dance, doors were open for many contemporary Black choreographers such as Sean Bankhead, Parris Goebel, and LaurieAnn Gibson.

The impact made by these choreographers will continue to reverberate in the minds of new and modern choreographers of today, thus increasing Black representation in the industry.

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