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JANET FAYE COLLINS (1917-2003)

JANET FAYE COLLINS (1917-2003)

In 1951 Janet Collins became the first black prima ballerina to perform with the Metropolitan Opera Ballet in New York City, New York.  As such she broke one of the last major color barriers in classical ballet. Janet Collins was born on March 2, 1917 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  Her mother was a seamstress and her father was a tailor.  In 1921 when she was four Janet moved with her parents to Los Angeles, California.

At the age of ten, Collins began to study dance.  Her first dance training was at the Los Angeles Catholic Community Center.   Ironically, Collin’s parents urged her to study painting rather than dance because at the time, art seemed to offer more opportunities to gifted African Americans than classical dance.  Collins studied art on a scholarship at Los Angeles City College and later at the Los Angeles Art Center School.

Collins, however, never completely abandoned dance and fortunately she attracted the attention of Adolph Bohm, Carmelita Maracci, and Mia Slavenska, all prominent dance instructors who agreed to work with her.  Despite such training, Collins was rejected when she auditioned for Leonide Massine, the director of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in 1932 at the age of fifteen.  His company was performing in Los Angeles during its American tour and advertised for an aspiring young dancer to audition for the company.  When Collins’ turn came, a hush fell over the dancers but when she finished the ballerinas applauded.  Massine saw her talent but told her to be accepted, “she would have to paint her skin white for performances.” In the exchange quoted in U.S. News & World Report, Collins responded, “I thought talent mattered, not color.” To read more click here.