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PHOTOS: White House celebrates dance for Black History Month

First Lady Michelle Obama celebrates dance at the White House Black History Month program
Long before Misty Copeland became a principal dancer in the American Ballet, others paved the way.  Women like Judith Jamison (Alvin Ailey Dance Company), Debbie Allen (dance legend, actress, producer), Virginia Johnson (Dance Theater of Harlem) and Fatima Robinson (Hip hop dance pioneer, activist) were breaking down barriers of discrimination against minorities with one kick ball change, twirl, or hip thrust at a time.  The collective power and gifts of these dance pioneers is immeasurable and they paid it forward on Feb. 8 at the White House mentoring and teaching 51 young Black ance enthusiasts from D.C. about life and dance.
For an hour and a half the East Room was transformed into a dance studio and the rest is history. Never before have dancers of various ages and skill levels learned and performed choreography that was taught by legendary dance masters on the spot -- in the White House.  ("Dance Moms" has nothing on them!) At the same time the history of Black American dance was incorporated in to the presentation.

Dance legend Debbie Allen poses with dancers following their performance. Photo by Mona Austin

Dancers walk the floor in bended posture.  Photo by Mona Austin.

The Office of First Lady Obama hosted the celebration which was themed, "Honoring the Past While Celebrating the Present; 7 Years of African American History."

From jamming with hosts Jimmy Fallon and Ellen DeGeneres to breaking it down in the Let's Move" workout, everyone knows the first lady fully embraces dance. She had a big dance party for her 50th birthday and a youth dance workshop in 2010, but this would be her final Black History Month event in the even years she has served as FLOTUS. 

The First Lady said the event was the fulfillment of one of her dreams.

"Today is a very special day at the White House, and it’s pretty special for me personally because I absolutely love dance.  Absolutely love it.  I think it’s probably my favorite art form.  . .But, as you know, I never pass up the opportunity to, you know, show some moves every now and then.   So to actually host all these extraordinary dancers today, this is really a dream come true for me."

Continuing Mrs. Obama further explained the broader significance of the event:" Today isn’t just a special day for me, it’s really a special day for our entire country.  Because for nearly 50 years, the women who are gracing us here today have been driving a force in the -- they’ve been a driving force in the cultural life of this nation.  From tribal rhythms to freedom songs, from modern dance to hip hop, their work has stirred our souls and ignited our imagination.  Through dance, they have told the stories of who we were, who we are, and who we can be." 

Dance Theater of Harlem pioneer told dancers how
about the inspiration for creating a dance school for Blacks
in the segregated 60s that would
offer classical training at the White House's
Black Hostry MOnth event on Monday,
February 8, 2016.
   And during Black History Month, that’s really what we celebrate -- we celebrate the people who have shaped our heritage.  We remember those who struggled for our rights and our freedoms, and we reflect on how far we’ve come and how much farther we have to go."
With America being one generation removed from the Civil Rights Era, there is a tendency to assume the doors that are now open were never locked to Blacks and Latinos.

“It wasn’t that long ago that many major ballet companies wouldn’t hire black dancers,” she said. “And the few black dancers that were hired were sometimes asked to wear white pancake makeup to hide their face from the audience. Some of the women who are with us today felt the sting of the discrimination first hand.”

Jamison gently reminded attendees that at times one must "create your own door." At nearly six feet tall, aside from her skin color, she did not fit the standard measurements of a ballerina, but went on to create opportunities and open doors for dancers of color around the world. 

Lowe talked about the progress she has seen in getting Hip Hop recognized as an art form.

Each dance pioneer gave a piece of the history before introducing the group they work with. After Debbie Allen led her group in a Katherine Dunham inspired number, Jamison said, "Hallelujah!  Y'all took us to church!" Jamison's group performed two inspiring numbers from "Revelation." Johnson's bunch were on point with a beautiful ballet presentation.
 The performances ended with Robinson's group dancing Hip Hop to  "Can You Feel A Brand New Day" which she choreographed for The Wiz Live!

Valerie Garrett President Obama's Chief Advisor and Deborah Lee head of BET and Chairwoman of the Alvin Ailey board were in attendance.

You could feel the spirit in that room.  The African drums were talking.  Saying something 'bout #blackgirlmagic, #blacklivesmatter #blackgirlsrock #weshallnotbemoved.  

Judith Jamison, Dance Theatre of Harlem Board Emeritus

Dance legend Debbie Allen demonstrates moves to young dancers in the White House East Room on February 8, 2016.

Judith Jamison can't hide her pride for these little dancers.  Photo by Mona Austin