Viral Videos
Debra Austin in "Giselle."

Whenever Debra Austin jumped, she soared—and not only onstage. Invited by George Balanchine to join New York City Ballet at age 16, she was the first African-American woman to enter the company. She later joined Zurich Ballet, returning to the U.S. to accept a principal contract with Pennsylvania Ballet in 1982—a groundbreaking milestone for a black dancer outside of Dance Theatre of Harlem at the time. In this clip from a 1987 production of Giselle, her beautifully pliant feet and effortless ballon shine through the fuzzy video quality. In her Act I variation, the classical, understated purity of her port de bras belie the sheer technical strength of her attitude pirouettes and hops on pointe. Then watch, at 4:00, how she appears to fly through the air as a spectral wili, only to rise ever so delicately for a series of fluttering ronds de jambe en l'air.

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Photographed by Nathan Sayers for Pointe.

This is Pointe's June/July 2014 Cover Story. You can subscribe to the magazine here, or click here to purchase this issue.

Alicia Graf Mack tells the remarkable stories of three stars who have beaten ballet's odds, finding successful careers in the field they love.


Photo by Nathan Sayers for Pointe.

Ashley Murphy

As a young girl in Shreveport, Louisiana, Dance Theatre of Harlem's Ashley Murphy never dreamed of a career in ballet. “I didn't grow up hearing that being a professional dancer was a real job," she says. Ballet was just an extracurricular activity that she enjoyed, along with gymnastics and piano lessons.

Not until she attended summer programs at New York's Joffrey Ballet School, The Ailey School and DTH did Murphy begin to realize her own potential. Though she earned admission to Dillard University in Louisiana, she ultimately followed her heart and accepted a spot with DTH's junior company. Within a year, director Arthur Mitchell, noticing her air of quiet mystery, promoted her to the professional company.

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