Ward Fleming founds Ballet Americana/New York Negro Ballet

Ward Fleming, with the financial support of Lucy Thorndike and Theodore Handcock, created Ballet Americana. The original members were Thelma Hill, Anthony Basse, Charles Neal, Elizabeth (Betty Ann) Thompson and Cleo Quitman. One of their earliest performances was at the Brandon House in 1954, however the company in full gave its first official performance at the Seventh Annual Choreographers Night, presented by the New York Ballet Club on May 19, 1957.

After their New York debut, the company, now renamed the New York Negro Ballet, embarked on tour to England and Scotland in August 1957. The name change was a result of the presenter’s desire to make certain that audiences knew what they were coming to see; the company was billed as “America’s Most Novel and Exotic Company.” They traveled to New Castle, Edinburgh, Sheffield, Liverpool, Manchester, Nottingham, and Cardiff. They spent six days in each city, performing twice a day, with matinees on Wednesdays.

The original members were Ward Fleming, Thelma Hill, Anthony Basse, Charles Neal, Elizabeth (Betty Ann) Thompson  Sylvester Campbell and Cleo Quitman. Other members were Delores Browne, Georgia Collins, Doris de Mendez, Dan Dorsey, Ronald Frazer, Michaelyn Jackson, Dorothey Jimenez, Yvonne McDowell, Sheila Peters, Ronald Platts, Eugene Hill Sagan, Robert Tadlock, and Carol Ann Robinson.

The company’s repertoire included diverse works including Louis Johnson’s Folk Impressions, Graham Johnson’s Raisin’ Cane, as well as classical works including the Blue Bird Pas de Deux, Waltze, and Theme and Rhapsody. The company was meant to travel on to Paris when the tour was cut short due to the death of Lucy Thorndike, one of their sponsors. Some members chose to remain in Europe and dance there; Ronald Frazer went on to Cologne Ballet, and Sylvester Campbell eventually joined the Royal Netherlands Ballet. Others like Frances (Franca) Jimenez and Gene Sagan also ended up working in Europe.

*Note that some sources write Ward Fleming’s last name as “Flemying.”

New York Negro Ballet on the SS Flandre. Photo via Alabama Tribune.


Dancing Many Drums: Excavations In African American Dance, Thomas F. Defrantz
The Dance: Review, The New York Times

See also:

Ward Fleming







New York Negro Ballet — Michel de Lutry works with Cleo Quitman and Theodore Duncan, 1957.
New York Negro Ballet — Delores Brown backstage, preparing for the Bluebird Pas de Deux, 1957.






Ward Fleming aboard the SS Flandre w/ New York Negro Ballet, August 1957.
New York Negro Ballet members aboard the SS FlandreFrances Jimenez, Cleo Quitman, Dorothey Jimenez, Delores Browne, August 1957.









Ballet Americana in a Louis Johnson ballet, 92nd Street Y, June 1958.




















Other Happenings in 1957

Ballet/Dance History

Oct 31: Jamaica premieres on Broadway. The cast included dancers from various New York companies: Barbara Wright, Lena Horne, Alvin Ailey, Jane Craddock, Frank Glass, Nat Horne, Charles Moore, and Billy Wilson, among others.

American History

Jan 18: Three B-52’s set record for around-the-world flight, 45 hr 19 min.
Feb 1: The first Black pilot (PH Young) flies a US scheduled passenger airline.
Apr 6: NYC ends trolley car service.
May 6: Pulitzer prize awarded to John F. Kennedy.
Jun 24: The US Supreme Court rules that obscenity is not protected by the First Amendment in Roth v. United States.

World History

Jan 23: Indian nationalist V. K. Krishna Menon begins the longest ever speech at the UN on Kashmir, eight hours in duration over the course of two days.
Feb 18: Dedan Kimathi, a Kenyan freedom fighter is executed by the British colonial government.
Feb 27: Mao’s makes famous speech to the Supreme State Conference “On Correct Handling of Contradictions Among People,” expounding Maoist ideals.
Mar 8: USSR performs atmospheric nuclear test.
Mar 13: Bloody battles after anti-Batista demonstration in Havana, Cuba.
May 4: Anne Frank Foundation forms in Amsterdam.
Jun 2: US television interviews Nikita Khrushchev.
Jun 21: Louis St. Laurent resigns as Prime Minister of Canada, ending the longest uninterrupted run at the federal level in Canadian history.

Arts & Sciences

Jan 13: All that Fall, the first radio play by Samuel Beckett, airs on BBC Third Programme.
Feb 4: The first electric portable typewriter is placed on sale (Syracuse, NY).
Feb 28: 14th Golden Globes—The King and I, Kirk Douglas, and Ingrid Bergman win.
Apr 11: Pablo Neruda is arrested in Buenos Aires.
Apr 13: 12 Angry Men, directed by Sidney Lumet, starring Henry Fonda and Lee J. Cobb, is released.
Jul 12: US Surgeon General Leroy Burney connects smoking with lung cancer.
Jul 16: US Marine Major John Glenn sets transcontinental speed record (03:28:08).

Human & Civil Rights

Feb 14: Georgia Senate unanimously approves Sen Leon Butts’ bill, barring Black people from playing baseball with whites.
Mar 6: Centenary of Dred Scott slavery court decision is marked by the rediscovery of Scott’s grave.
May 22: South Africa’s government approves race separation in universities.
Jun 17: Tuskegee boycott, where Black people boycott city stores, begins.


Jan 5: Dodgers’ Jackie Robinson announces his retirement in lieu of being traded to the NY Giants.
Jan 28: 45th Women’s Australian Championships: Shirley Fry Irvin beats Althea Gibson (6-3, 6-4).
Feb 11: NHL Players’ Association forms (NYC), Red Wings’ Ted Lindsay is elected president.
Mar 25: NBA modifies the free-throw rule.
Jul 6: 64th Wimbledon Women’s Tennis—Althea Gibson beats Darlene Hard (6-3, 6-2).
Jul 21: The first Black person wins a major US tennis tournament (Althea Gibson).

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