An Homage to the People of The Dance Theatre of Harlem

My ballet journey started a long way away from New Orleans.  As a native of Brazil, as I was training in my hometown, I struggled with the question of how to become a better dancer. I came to the realization that staying at home was not an option.

Most young dancers go through a similar transition. Leaving home to focus on your art is an important step to really understand what kind of artist you want to become. My first few attempts to move away to become a dancer resulted in many trials and tribulations (a blog for another day!).

What I really want to talk about is the place that accepted me fully, that provided me the time and space to grow, and that introduced me to the people who embraced me. That all happened at the Dance Theatre of Harlem (DTH).

Arriving at DTH

The first day I arrived at DTH I heard this phrase from Laveen Naidu, the Director of “Dance Through Barriers Ensemble”*, “I don’t know what happened to your training, but we are willing to take a chance on you.” I was accepted into the DTH trainee program. Once in, I worked hard and faced the many gaps in my dance training, something that can be quite difficult, but I was constantly being encouraged with words and actions. It wasn’t that my teachers and mentors at DTH were not being hard on me, they were, but they were not tearing me apart. Looking back, they were treating me like person rather than another number. For that I am eternally grateful.

I owe my ballet career, in every way, to Dance Theatre of Harlem and its people. Today I would like to take some time to highlight a few of them. I want to apologize for not including more people and hope you know I am so thankful for all that the Dance Theatre of Harlem’s family has done for me. You were a constant source of friendship, kindness, motivation, work, love, glam, professional opportunities, role modeling, a shoulder to cry on, and were part of so many important moments in my life.

*Dance Through Barrier’s Ensemble- was DTH’s second company. Dancers got a real chance to experience professional life while maintaining focus on refining their training.

Tyrone Brooks, Artistic Director of Tallahassee Ballet

Tyrone Brooks was the Associate Director of the “Dance Through Barrier’s Ensemble” and a faculty member of the DTH school when I was accepted into the program. He taught the Tuesday morning ballet class and ran several of our rehearsals. He was a constant presence, an encouraging mentor. Our group of dancers went from students to “Ensemble” members, and finally into professional life. He was kind and funny and made a huge impression on me.

I am so grateful to have had his guidance then, but I am even more grateful to have reconnected with him years later in the city where I now live, New Orleans. He ended up not staying for long, but meeting with him as a director of my own school reinforced a bond that was always there. He was my mentor as a young student, and now he was my mentor as I navigated the tortuous paths of running a dance school. Always the giver.

From long phone conversations to insightful observations, there was not a time when I looked to him for advice and didn’t come out with my “bucket full.”

I admire, respect and love this amazing man.

Thank you, Tyrone, for all you do!

Rejane Duarte– AGNP, RN, LE, Cosmetic Dermatologist, former dancer and teacher at Dance Theatre of Harlem

Before there was Jarina Ballerina and Mrs. Jarina, there was teenager Jarina.

I was then a newcomer to a the Brazilian school Ballet Vera Bublitz, and in desperate need of a friend. That’s where she found me, or I found her, or we found each other. Our friendship was strong, and we fueled each other’s dreams. Our passion for ballet was the connector but our friendship was powered by the same aspiration to learn, experience life, and dance. We were hungry for travel and new experiences!

Longest story short, I can safely say I would not have had the professional experience I had, nor the mental health to stay in the dance world, if it were not for Rejane, one of my greatest of friends. Rejane’s calm, assured presence helped propel me to fulfill dreams that I could not even think were possible. She didn’t say “We can maybe try going to Germany.” No! When Germany was a possibility, she said “We are going to Germany.” For me, that was all I needed to hear. It was time to check the bank account, pack the bags and fly.

Rejane was always a safe harbor when things got hard or an unexpected problem arrived. There is no way I would have gone to the places I have been without the support of a great friend like her!

I am so grateful for the years of adventures, for the support during great times, and for the pep talks during the hard times. I am so thankful that we went on this crazy international dance journey together.

Arthur Mitchell- Artistic Director and Founder of the Dance Theatre of Harlem  

“Mister Mitchell”, as we called him, is an icon, and to have been accepted into his company was an honor of a lifetime. Having said that, I can clearly say the path to my professional life was not easy, and I’m the first to admit I was not always ready for what it took to be a professional dancer. It took someone like him to see the potential in me and to give me the opportunity to prove myself.

I learned the hard way that I better be prepared to step into his class, his office, or his rehearsal. His keen eye always picked up on any problems, from soft point shoes, to what you wore, to knowing material, to knowing who you are as dancer. I had better bring it, and if not, the results were quite intense! I had to learn quickly. Bring your best, always, always, always! However, he was generous with his attention, giving praise and providing opportunities if he saw growth. I have a few stories about last minute roles I got just because he noticed me doing the work.

I also have a very sweet memory with him that I would like to share. It was not dance related but had a huge impact on me. At one point I had offered to help the wardrobe mistress, Lynn Shipley, on decorating a tutu and creating a new tiara for the upcoming performance of “Le Corsaire Pas de Deux.” We were in the studio and he saw the tiara I had made. He called me over, put his arm around me and gave a complement about the headpiece. It was not so much the words, but the way he said it. I was so encouraged!

I have had a wonderful experience being a student and a professional ballerina in the company Mister Mitchell created. All I can say is thank you, always, always, always!