Ballet Stars
Debra Austin and Jeffrey Gribler in Pennsylvania Ballet's production of Balanchine's "Rubies." Copyright Steven Caras, all rights reserved.

Debra Austin has a special place in dance history: In 1971, at age 16, she was the first African American woman George Balanchine hired into New York City Ballet. After nine years with the company and two years with Zurich Ballet, she joined Pennsylvania Ballet as a principal dancer, making her the first female African American principal hired by a major U.S. ballet company outside of Dance Theatre of Harlem. Famous for her buoyant jump, Austin's vast repertoire ranged from classical roles to Balanchine to Hans Van Manen. Since 1997, she's been passing on her knowledge as ballet master at Carolina Ballet, a company led by her former director at PAB, Robert "Ricky" Weiss.

In honor of her achievements, Texas Christian University's School of Classical and Contemporary Dance has named Austin as this year's Cecil H. and Ida Green Honors Chair. She started at TCU this week, where she's been leading master classes and cross-department collaborations, attending cultural events and giving lectures. We caught up with Austin prior to her residency to talk about her extraordinary career.

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Ballet Stars
Raven Wilkinson in Les Sylphides. Photo Courtesy Wilkinson.

Ballerina Raven Wilkinson passed away on Monday at her home in New York City at age 83. Wilkinson is best known as the first African American woman to dance full-time with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and as a cherished mentor to Misty Copeland.

Raven Wilkinson presenting Misty Copeland with the Dance Magazine Award in 2014. Photo by Cherylynn Tsushima for Dance Magazine.

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Ballet Stars
Photo by Karyn Kipley for Pointe.

Nashville Ballet dancer Kayla Rowser is one organized woman—her teal Lug bag is full of compartments. “That's why I love it," says Rowser. “I need a pocket for every little thing so that I can easily get to the bottom of my bag during five-minute breaks." Her sturdy duffel houses everything from a day planner to trail mix to her favorite MAC lipstick. Rowser also keeps a Moleskine journal to jot down corrections she receives throughout the day. “It's a good way for me to check in with notes I've received from previous rehearsals and to see places where I can take more risks."

Rowser usually keeps a custom leotard by S-Curve Apparel & Design or Elevé Dancewear handy, too. “Both companies have been really wonderful about offering mesh that matches my skin tone," says Rowser, who also has her performance tights custom dyed. “I switched to tan tights two or three years ago," she says. “I remember seeing Houston Ballet's Lauren Anderson on the cover of Dance Magazine, and it was the first time I ever saw a dancer in tan tights." Anderson is still a source of inspiration for Rowser. “She wrote to me the first time I danced Sugar Plum to wish me good luck," she says, adding that she keeps a copy of that letter with her at all times.

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