A Woman to Know: Raven Wilkinson

My never-ending question is 'When are we going to get a Swan Queen of a darker hue?' — Raven

(Raven at 80, still dancing)


Raven always remembered one dinner in Alabama.

"When we walked in, it was full of lovely couples, families with little children — a wonderful family atmosphere," she told Pointe Magazine. "Then, as I pulled out my chair, I realized that they all had white Klan robes on the chairs next to them. I remember thinking, here are people who can be so cruel and ugly, and yet they're so loving toward their own families. In a way, it made me less frightened of them. They lost some of their power in my eyes."

Raven never lost her own power. She was the first African-American ballerina to tour with an American dance troupe in the 1950s. She continued dancing until age 50, eventually touring in Holland and Russia.

Today, Misty Copeland is the American Ballet Theatre's first African-American prima ballerina. As she told ELLE Magazine last year: "When I met Raven it was like this awakening ... [but] she was a mentor in my life even before I met her." When Misty first performed "Firebird," a ballet dance of power and passion, she dedicated it to Raven.

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