Karen Valby | The Swans of Harlem: Five Black Ballerinas, Fifty Years of Sisterhood, and Their Reclamation of a Groundbreaking History

Recorded May 2, 2024
Direct Download: 20240502-karenva.mp3

Featuring: Lydia Abarça, Sheila Rohan, Marcia Sells, Karlya Shelton, and Khadija Tariyan (daughter of Gayle McKinney Griffith)

In conversation with Shelly Power, The Dr. Carolyn Newsom Executive Director, Philadelphia Ballet

Karen Valby’s The Swans of Harlem tells the remarkable and—until now—rarely written about true story of the Dance Theatre of Harlem, a trailblazing troupe of Black men and women who performed some of ballet’s most iconic works for the such audiences as the Queen of England, the White House, and Stevie Wonder. This history focuses on five foundational members of the group and their enduring bond, including Lydia Abarça, the first Black prima ballerina with a major international dance company, the first Black ballerina on the cover of Dance magazine, and an Essence cover star; and her equally accomplished friends, Gayle McKinney, Sheila Rohan, Marcia Sells, and Karlya Shelton. Valby is a frequent contributor to Vanity Fair, and has also published work in The New York Times, O Magazine, Glamour, Fast Company, and EW, where she spent fifteen years writing about culture.

Shelly Power brings to Philadelphia Ballet, formerly Pennsylvania Ballet, her experiences in various artistic and executive leadership roles at Prix de Lausanne in Switzerland and Houston Ballet Academy. Since joining Philadelphia Ballet in 2018, Ms. Power has restructured the organization’s administrative functions with new, innovative partnerships, with the goal of promoting that ballet is for everyone. Ms. Power received a Bachelor of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies, with a focus on business, psychology, and fine arts from the University of Houston. She furthered her education at Rice University’s Leadership Institute for Non-Profit Executives and Case Western Reserve University’s Weatherhead School of Management’s Advanced Certification in Non-Profit Management.

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