“Night's Dancer: The Life of Janet Collins is an enthralling read. It reinforces Collin's struggle, personal strength and ultimate success. While following her dreams with endless energy, she leapt over boundaries.”—Karen Barr, Dance International
The biography of the first African-American prima ballerina
Dancer Janet Collins, born in New Orleans in 1917 and raised in Los Angeles, soared high over the color line as the first African-American prima ballerina at the Metropolitan Opera. Night’s Dancer chronicles the life of this extraordinary and elusive woman, who became a unique concert dance soloist as well as a black trailblazer in the white world of classical ballet. During her career, Collins endured an era in which racial bias prevailed, and subsequently prevented her from appearing in the South. Nonetheless, her brilliant performances transformed the way black dancers were viewed in ballet. The book begins with an unfinished memoir written by Collins in which she gives a captivating account of her childhood and young adult years, including her rejection by the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Dance scholar Yaël Tamar Lewin then picks up the thread of Collins’s story. Drawing on extensive research and interviews with Collins and her family, friends, and colleagues to explore Collins’s development as a dancer, choreographer, and painter, Lewin gives us a profoundly moving portrait of an artist of indomitable spirit.
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Reviews / Endorsements
“Much of Collins’s career is lost in the gaps of performance history, and Lewin has done wonders to restore to the record the work of this pioneering woman, as well as printing Collins’s forty-odd pages of reminiscences for the first time... Night’s Dancer is a fine contribution both to dance history and the history of segregation in the United States.”—Judith Flanders, Times Literary Supplement
“Lewin helps confirm that Collins is by far an icon of great stature. … This is a must-read.”—Charmaine Patricia Warren, Amsterdam News
“Lewin's scholarship is commendable, and the stories of how she discovered and assembled her information are almost as engaging as the main narrative.”—Lisa Jo Sagolla, Backstage
“A conversation about race might naturally turn to personal stories of those who experienced racism in America. Yael Tamar Lewin and Janet Collins, authors of Night’s Dancer: The Life of Janet Collins, offer an example of such an experience. Lewin offers much to discuss.”—Kaavonia Hinton, ForeWord
“The reader is given a glimpse of an artist of invincible spirit, a brilliant performer who became a unique concert dance soloist and trailblazer for African Americans. … This wonderful book also includes numerous photographs, some of Collins’s paintings, which help complete her story. Essential.”—L.K. Rosenberg, Choice
“The book stands as a testament to any dancer today wishing to fulfill their artistic potential in a world that can be unwelcoming and cold. Notably, Lewin’s research on Collins began during her own undergraduate studies and took shape over several years during which a trusting relationship budded between subject and author. This model of scholarship and the resulting work shares lessons on how to handle the narrative of a beloved artist with care.”—New Books in Dance
“[A] remarkable story is told in Night’s Dancer: The Life of Janet Collins. Collins was the first African-American dancer to break through the barriers of racial segregation in the US to become a resident ballerina at New York’s Metropolitan Opera in 1951. An unfinished memoir that has been completed by the dance scholar Yael Tamar Lewin, the book details an incredible career that saw Collins struggle against the bias towards her skin colour by classical ballet companies such as the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, perform as a notable concert dance soloist and become a pioneering advocate for black dancer in her country.”
“With Night’s Dancer, Lewin has produced a major work that continues to correct the absence of historical writing on African Americans in ballet and modern dance. The author incorporates Collins’s own writings, intimate details from the artist’s life, and rich contextual material to create a work that is emotionally touching and incredibly informative.”—John O. Perpener III, author of African-American Concert Dance: The Harlem Renaissance and Beyond
“Blessed with extraordinary gifts for dance and painting, Janet Collins broke barriers as the first African-American prima ballerina at the world-renowned Metropolitan Opera. Her life’s journey is inspirational. History should recognize her as one of its pioneers. Janet Collins was truly one of earth’s angels.”—Arthur Mitchell, co-founder of the Dance Theatre of Harlem
“Psychologists, sociologists, historians, painters, dancers, choreographers–here is your book! This is a careful, objective, revealing study of a complex and enigmatic person. Collins was richly blessed with creative talents and deeply drawn to a spiritual life. Night’s Dancer explores her struggle to fulfill and be fulfilled. A scholarly, beautiful, important work, and long overdue.”—Raven Wilkinson, first black dancer with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo
“Janet Collins is an important and under-recognized figure in American dance, an exceptional female dancer who absorbed many of the artistic influences of her day. Her story illuminates issues in American history and politics, and the roles of African Americans and women in dance.”—Karen Eliot, professor, Department of Dance, Ohio State University
“This carefully researched book reveals many facets of Janet Collins’s artistic and spiritual life along with the fact that she was the first black ballerina to dance at the Met. It places her in the context of other female modern dancers in the 1940s and 1950s and presents some provocative questions and comparisons regarding the role of the black dancer in American dance.”—Dawn Lille, researcher and curator of the 1996 photography exhibition “Classic Black” about black dancers in ballet before 1970, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts
- Winner of the The Marfield Prize / National Award for Arts Writing (2011)
YAËL TAMAR LEWIN is a dance historian, writer, and dancer living in New York City.
Click here for author's website.