Dance History Quiz | Carmen de Lavallade’s Cousin

Fun facts for teachers & students

At age 86, Carmen de Lavallade received a 2017 Kennedy Center Honor for her decades of work as a dancer and teacher. One of her cousins, a professional dancer, inspired her to pursue a career in the performing arts. Who was it?

a. Katherine Dunham
b. Raven Wilkinson
c. Janet Collins
d. Alvin Ailey

c. Janet Collins

As an African American dancer, Carmen de Lavallade helped break down color barriers in the professional dance world: she performed with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and American Ballet Theatre, danced on Broadway and in Hollywood, and served as a professor at Yale School of Drama. In a 2015 Time magazine piece, she credited her cousin, Janet Collins, the first African American prima ballerina at the Metropolitan Opera House, for paving the way. “By the time I arrived at the Met for my debut in Aida five years after Janet, she had broken down most of the barriers, so the path was easier for me,” de Lavallade wrote. “My challenges would come later facing racism on primetime television, when as a black woman I was not allowed to dance with a white man, Glen Tetley, on the Ed Sullivan Show. A last minute replacement by Claude Thompson allowed the show to go on—patience, strength, and endurance.”

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