Therrell Smith is a maker—still. The daughter of an African-American physician, when Therrell couldn’t find anyone to teach her ballet in segregated Washington, DC, she took herself off to Paris to study with the legendary Russian ballerina Matilde Kchessinskaya. She came back home and opened her own school in 1948. My mother, wanting to support her good friend, sent her two daughters to study with Therell. I was one of them. It is because of Therrell Smith that I fell in love with ballet—not just the lovely movement and orderliness of it, but the fact that it only works when you give of yourself. At 95, Therrell is still teaching today. She goes into the D.C. public schools and works with young people in the midst of typically chaotic 21st century lives, giving them the solid grounding that comes from studying a classical art form.
In an interview with Virginia Johnson and company members, learn more about Dance Theatre Harlem’s comeback with its inaugural New York season, April 10-14, 2013, on NYC-ARTS.
Virginia Johnson photo by Rachel Neville.