Dance Theatre Of Harlem

Lorraine Graves, Principal Dancer For Dance Theatre Of Harlem, Dies At 66

Lorraine Graves launched her professional career with the Dance Theatre of Harlem, where she became its principal dancer within one year.

The Dance Theatre of Harlem announced that ballerina Lorraine Graves has died at age 66.

The organization revealed on Instagram that Graves died on March 21.

“A dear and beloved friend, she is remembered for her striking stature, brilliant technique, and commanding artistry as a celebrated principal dancer with Dance Theatre of Harlem, as well as for her skills as Ballet Master, teacher, and coach,” the nonprofit captioned in a photo of its former principal dancer.

Graves was born on October 5, 1957, in Norfolk, Virginia, to the late Tom and Mildred Graves. An obituary stated that she embarked on her classical ballet journey at the age of 8 1/2, training under the late Gene Hammett at the Academy of the Norfolk Ballet. She etched her name in history as the first African American student accepted into the prestigious institution.

Her talents earned her full scholarships to the School of American Ballet and American Ballet Center. At Indiana University, Bloomington, Graves accelerated her four-year program, attaining a Bachelor of Science in Ballet, with distinction, in just three years.

She launched her professional career with the Dance Theatre of Harlem, co-founded by Arthur Mitchell and Karel Shook, and ascended to principal dancer within one year. After three years, she assumed ballet mistress and later regisseuse roles, overseeing works by choreographers like Mitchell, Glen Tetley, Michael Smuin, Billy Wilson, Alonzo King, and the Balanchine Repertoire staging.

“She touched many lives and was an integral part of the 20-year Dance Theatre of Harlem/Kennedy Center Pre-Professional Residency Program among many others,” Dance Theatre of Harlem said in its caption. “…Arthur Mitchell’s right-hand woman as she was, Ms. Graves’ interest was always in identifying and nurturing the next generation of outstanding dancers.”

The obituary added that in 2012, Graves embarked on a historic Russian tour, assisting Mitchell in teaching at the prestigious Bolshoi Academy, Vaganova School, and Boris Eifman Company, solidifying her reputation on the global dance stage. Graves’ expertise was also sought after as a permanent guest teacher at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre. She continued teaching at the Todd Rosenlieb Dance Center, Governor’s School for the Arts, and Ballet Virginia International.

“Her loss is a great one, and she will be greatly missed,” the Dance Theatre of Harlem concluded.