Dance Theatre of Harlem will make a stop at Penn State Tuesday during its 50th anniversary tour.
The dance company got its start five decades ago when acclaimed dancer Arthur Mitchell wanted to found a school in Harlem. Now, the resulting ballet company performs all over the world, while still training a diverse range of dancers and engaging its local community.
One of the company’s members, Amanda Smith, long dreamed of joining Dance Theatre of Harlem. Originally from Orange County, California, she began dancing at 3 years old before studying dance with a concentration in ballet in college. During her senior year, she auditioned for Dance Theatre of Harlem, but didn’t quite make the cut at the time. Following a three-year stint with North Carolina Dance Theater, Smith auditioned for Dance Theatre of Harlem once again.
“I auditioned for Dance Theatre of Harlem a couple times throughout my career before Virginia (Johnson, artistic director,) called me and said I got the job. But it was because I persevered. I was determined. I was like, ‘I’m gong to dance with Dance Theatre of Harlem some day. I know I am.’ It was a dream of mine. I love what Dance Theatre of Harlem stands for,” Smith said.
The dance company’s 50th anniversary tour, Smith said, has been all about reaching new audiences.
“(We’ve been) able to reach places that haven’t seen us before or have always wanted to see us and never had a chance to. Going out and reaching out to different communities and making a difference through dance — I feel like that’s what the company is doing in its 50th year.”
The dance company just returned from a series of shows in Brazil in mid-October and, before it stops in State College, will have presented four other shows in the meantime, traveling from New York City to California and back again. Through all the busyness of touring, Smith says she finds her inspiration personally as a dancer through her faith and the belief that dancing is her purpose in life.
“I personally am a huge believer of God and I’m spiritual in that way. I find that I’m here for a purpose and to give back what God has given me,” she says. “I feel it’s important to share what you’ve been given, your purpose with others, so that (it) may bring light to others. Every day people go through something and you never know what people are going through or how you can make a difference through your art form, and I find that alone is inspiration for me to keep going and keep inspiring others around me. Just knowing that I’m here for a reason, I was placed on this earth to give back, is inspiration in itself.”
The upcoming performance at Eisenhower Auditorium blends neoclassical, classical and contemporary ballet. Even if you’re somewhat familiar with ballet as a dance genre, audience members can still see something new, Smith says.
“You’ll see things you’ve never seen before,” she said. “Just keep an open heart and open mind and I think you’ll be pleased with what we bring (to the stage).”
Catch Dance Theatre of Harlem Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. at Eisenhower Auditorium. Tickets are available on the Penn State Center for the Performing Arts website. A portion of each Dance Theatre of Harlem ticket sold will support Thon.