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September 18

Agnes De Mille

This 1980 Kennedy Center Honoree’s created her first ballet, Black Ritual, for the American Ballet Theater. It marked the first time a major ballet company used African American dancers.

Photo by Gjon Mili/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images

1905: Dance Queen of Broadway
Agnes de Mille is born in New York City
Her father William and her uncle Cecil were both big-shot Hollywood directors, so perhaps it was genetic that Agnes de Mille sought a life in the arts. She studied piano, considered acting and took dance lessons, and choreographed big dance sequences for movies like Cleopatra and ballets including the sensational Rodeo (which received 22 curtain calls). Yet it was as a choreographer for the theatrical stage that de Mille really found her calling.

The dance routines she created were anything but routine. Musicals like Carousel, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and especially Oklahoma! revolutionized musical theater by the way de Mille incorporated her choreography right into the plot, further rounding out characters’ personalities, and blending folk dance with ballet.
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