The Swans of Harlem (Adapted for Young Adults)

By Karen Valby

Coming 01.14.25

A full accounting of five incredibly talented Black ballerinas from The Dance Theater of Harlem, founding members among them, that illuminates their hard-fought, historic, and overlooked contributions to the world of classical dance at a time when racism shut out Black dancers from major dance companies.

At the peak of the civil rights movement, Lydia Abarca was the first ballerina in a Black ballet company to grace the cover of Dance magazine. Alongside founding members Shelia Rohan and Gayle McKinney-Griffith and first-generation dancers Karlya Shelton and Marcia Sells, Abarca invited a bright light to shine on Black professional classical dancers. Grit, determination, and exquisite artistry propelled these swans of Harlem to dizzying heights as they performed around the world for audiences that included celebrities, dignitaries, and royalty.

Now, decades later, these trailblazing ballerinas and longtime friends are giving voice to their stories on- and offstage, reclaiming their past so that it is finally recorded, acknowledged, and lauded, never to be lost again.

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