This 87-year-old dancer empowers Black ballerinas in Philadelphia

Emerald Pellot

For over 50 years, Joan Meyers Brown has inspired Philadelphia’s Black ballerinas.

Awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Barack Obama, Brown has danced with the greats, like Sammie Davis and Pearl Bailey. She founded Philadanco, an internationally-acclaimed dance company, to provide Black dancers with opportunities. 

“In high school, my gym teacher invited me to the ballet club and I just felt the challenge of saying, ‘Oh, I can do that.’ And I fell in love with dance,” Brown, now 87, told In The Know.

Unlike many of Brown’s other Black contemporaries, she never struggled to find work growing up. (At the time, Black dancers were systematically rejected by most local dance schools.)

In 1970, Brown decided to return home to Philadelphia and give back to the youngsters. Philadanco has been at it ever since.

“I just thought she was mom,” Brown’s daughter Marlisa Brown Swint told In The Know.  “And once I got older, I’ve realized her value to not just me, to everyone in the city, around the country, how much she’s done for so many people. I just wish I could do as much as she’s done.”

Today, the dance company still trains a diverse group of emerging and professional dancers and choreographers in a safe, nurturing environment. 

“I don’t want to be an old bore but I want to stay involved as long as I can, Brown told In The Know. “And I’m interested in making sure Philadanco continues.” 

If you enjoyed this story, you might also like reading about this world champion pole artist who is 68 years old.

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