| As a young child growing up in New York City, Thelma Hill's first dance
training was in tap dance. She later studied ballet at the Metropolitan
Opera School of Ballet.
In the 1950s, Hill performed with many companies including those of
Talley Beatty, Jean-Léon Destiné, and Geoffrey Holder. In 1954, she and
Ward Flemyng founded the New York Negro Ballet Company. Hill served as
dancer and later codirector for the company, which toured in Europe and
the United States. In 1958, Hill and a group of top New York dancers,
which included Alvin Ailey, formed a fledgling dance troupe that would
eventually become the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 1960.
Hill collaborated again with Ailey and other dancers, including Charles
Moore and James Truitte, to found a dance-training program at a New York
City YWCA. In 1962, the program became the Clark Center for the Performing
Arts. Besides studio and performance space, the center provided classes in
a variety of techniques and choreographic approaches.
After an injury forced her off the stage in the 1960s, Hill's teaching
career began to flourish. She was a proponent of the influential technique
of Lester Horton. She taught at numerous institutions and was often known
as "Mother Hill" by her students. These schools included the Davis Center
for Performing Arts in New York City at City College of New York, the
University of Cincinnati, and the American Dance Festival at Connecticut
College in New London. She was also an active member of the Delacorte
Dance Festival and Regional Ballet Association.
Hill died of smoke inhalation in 1977 during a fire in her New York
City apartment. She was memorialized by the Thelma Hill Performing Arts
Center (formerly the Arts Center) in New York City, which was renamed in
her honor in 1977.
-- Derry Swan