Raven Wilkinson

Raven Wilkinson was one of the first African-American ballerinas, who during the 1950’s danced with Ballets Russes under the condition she posed as a white dancer by painting her face.


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Raven Wilkinson Bio

Our shade ‘Raven’ is respectfully named after the first African-American woman, Anne Raven Wilkinson (February 2, 1935 – December 17, 2018), to dance for a major classical ballet company.

It is also notable that this company initially rejected her twice – they were hesitant to hire a person of colour.

Raven broke the colour barrier in 1955 when she signed a contract to dance full-time with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. The company Ballet Russes de Monte-Carlo was formed in 1932, following the death of Sergei Diaghilev and the demise of Ballets Russes. A feature documentary about the company, featuring interviews with many of the dancers, was released in 2005, with the title Ballets Russes.

For several years years to come, whilst touring the United States of America, Raven was subject to intense racial discrimination. Raven was specifically asked not to make her race public knowledge. In order to do this, Raven often lightened her skin using make up. 

In terrible acts of discrimination, Raven was denied hotel access and restaurant service on multiple occasions, as well as enduring racial slurs and even being threatened by the Ku Klux Klan.

Later on in her life, Raven moved on to mentor Misty Copeland (American Ballet Theatre Principal Dancer). In 2019, Misty Copeland participated in an interview about Raven which you can watch or listen to here: Misty Copeland Tells the Story of Trailblazing Ballerina Raven Wilkinson – YouTube 

For another run down about Raven’s inspirational life, you can watch Sensei Aishitemasu’s Black HERStory video at: Hidden Figures: Raven Wilkinson #BlackHERstoryMonth 4/28 – YouTube

Thank you so much for reading!


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