Thirty-three years ago, dancer Arthur Mitchell acted on a dream when he founded Dance Theatre of Harlem. Today, it is one of the world's great dance companies.
Mosley, who graduated this month, says Dance Theatre of Harlem is a dream come true.
“Their classical ballet has soul to it,” she says.
And when the training program is completed?
“Hopefully, in those three years they will see that I am dedicated and talented,” Mosley says. “By that time, I should be in the company.”
The 18-year-old has been studying at Toledo Ballet since the sixth grade. It has been a comfortable world which, after so many years, she says feels like home. Toledo Ballet is kind of like a second family, she adds.
“They want you to succeed in everything you do,” Mosley says. “They encourage you to go out and explore.”
“I know it's going to be terribly competitive,” Mosley says. “At Toledo Ballet, we are training together and also are friends in the real world. But this will be a job. You have to
Toledo Ballet Director Nigel Burgoine, who himself entered London's prestigious Royal Ballet School at age 11, agrees.
“It will not be all sweetness and love,” Burgoine says. “Here in Toledo, it is all very nice. The students have their friends and they all work hard. But in New York, it is going to be competition time. They will all be competing for that one position in the company.”
And dancers always have to be at their best - they never know when the opportunity to move up might come along.
“If dancers are ready, they might be in the school for six months and then get snapped up into the company,” says Dance Theatre of Harlem's Laveen Naidu, who helps screen auditioning dancers and directs the company's Dancing Through Barriers outreach program.
For Mosley, there is no way to predict what the next three years will bring. Even her scholarship is uncertain; it will be re-evaluated on a semester-by-semester basis. Certainly, her chances of graduating into the main company are much greater by going through the professional program. But many dancers do not accomplish that goal. Some move on to different companies. Others simply cannot sustain the physical demands that a professional career entails.
“I have seen extremely talented dancers who crack under that kind of pressure,” Burgoine says. “The transition is incredible. Our students do an hour-and-a-half class and a one-hour rehearsal. In New York, Erica will start at 9 a.m. and work all day long.”
Burgoine added that making that transition is brutal for most dancers.
“You don't stand on stage and just become a ballet dancer. The feet are in agony. Take off the shoes at the end of the rehearsal and there is blood in them,” he says. “At the end of that first week, a dancer begins to wonder just whose body this is. You do it for love.”
“Our job is to distill technique,” Naidu says, “From a technical standpoint a dancer has to be as pure as possible, but you also have to be yourself. There is only one of you. Accordingly, we focus on individuality and personality.”
Naidu, who attended Mosley's audition, says his company has a neo-classical style of its own.
“Our dancers are classically trained. They have to have brilliant ballet technique, but they also have to be able to dance in our style using ballet as a foundation,” he says. “That is something they have to learn when they get here.
“It is hard to define it in words, but our stamp has to do with being classic but not classical - of taking the classical ballet technique, making it work for individuals, and becoming something that is unique.
“You can only teach this with much difficulty. A lot comes from the energy this place is imbued with and the faculty that understand that energy. This can only be passed on directly from person to person, by osmosis,” he says.
“We surround students with artistic leadership and a great faculty. That's how we nurture this.”
Designed for dancers between the ages of 17 and 22 who have completed high school and show the promise to become professional dancers, Dance Theatre of Harlem's Professional Program draws some 1,000 young people from across the country to audition.
The summer program accepts between 20 and 25 dancers. The winter program may accept up to 200 dancers at eight different levels. Of these 200, Mosley has been placed in the top 25.
Dance Theatre of Harlem was founded in 1969 by Mitchell and Kerel Shook. Mitchell sought to use the company to help continue the ideals of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Today, Dance Theatre of Harlem is known worldwide for its multicultural makeup and neoclassical ballet style. Repertoire ranges from African diaspora-inspired works to Balanchine.
Before leaving for New York, Mosley will take part in a two-week dance camp sponsored by Dance Place in Charlotte, N.C.