Celebrating Black History Month: Debra Austin

by Elysian Magazine

First African American female dancer New York City Ballet
Ballet Master and co-founder of the Carolina Ballet, Raleigh, NC

Debra always knew she was born to dance. Her dreams took flight when, at the age of 12, she was awarded a scholarship to the School of American Ballet. At age 16 she came to the attention of the great empresario George Balanchine (1904-1983), universally regarded as the foremost contemporary choreographer in the world of ballet. Balanchine selected Debra Austin to dance with the New York City Ballet for her distinctive talent but in doing so, enabled history to break down a racial barrier. Debra became the first African American ballerina to dance with the New York City Ballet. She was principal dancer in works choreographed by Balanchine, including Symphony in C, Divertimento #15, and Ballo della Regina, in which Balanchine created a solo for her. She also danced lead roles for Jerome Robbins in The Four Seasons, Interplay, and Chansons Madécasses, which he created on her. She danced with the Zurich Ballet and the great Rudolf Nureyev. And she would become the prima ballerina for the Pennsylvania Ballet, dancing Swan Lake, Coppélia, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Giselle, and La Sylphide.

Today Debra is a Ballet Master and a Founding Member of the Carolina Ballet in Raleigh, North Carolina along with her husband, Romanian ballet dancer Marin Boleru. Married since 1992, they have two daughters, Olivia and Bianca. Today Debra helps young women realize their own dreams—because she, too, dreamed, many years ago…and her dream came true.

For Debra Austin’s full interview click here.

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