Elmer “Skeets” Ball

Katherine Dunham Company
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
Australian Ballet
Trockadero Gloxinia Ballet Company

Photo via The Philadelphia Inquirer, 1988.

Elmer “Skeets” Ball was born ca. 1936 and raised in West Philadelphia. He trained at the Judimar School and received his academic education from West Philadelphia High School and later Howard University. After graduating, Ball decided to pursue the art form he had developed at the Judimar School. During his more than 30-year career, Ball “performed with just about every major black choreographer in the United States,” said The Philadelphia Inquirer.

With companies like the Katherine Dunham Company, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, the Australian Ballet, and Trockadero Gloxinia Ballet Company, Ball toured around the world, performing in Europe, Africa, and Australia. During the 1960s, Ball, declared the “toast of Paris” by his biographer, performed in France under the professional name “Matthew Cameron,” utilizing his fluent French. During his time in Europe, he worked for Swedish television and Italian filmmakers and was a member of a group who performed for the Queen of England.

In the first half of the 1970s, Ball danced in Australia, including performances with the Australian Ballet.

In an effort to be a “complete artist,” Ball studied acting improvisation with Joseph Papp, Joan Hazel Bryant, and Marvin Nelson and appeared in several plays: Kwamina on Broadway (though he is not listed in the production’s cast) and Langston Hughes’ Black Nativity at New York’s Shakespeare Festival. (Coincidentally, Ball was said to have spent time in North Africa with Hughes.)

The dancer returned to Philadelphia in the late 1970s to choreograph, teach, and design costumes. As a choreographer, Ball was given an award from the National Create-a-Drama Laboratory for Research in the Related Arts for his “great masterpiece” Arcanus Spirits.

Teaching, Ball was known for his investment in the lives and wellbeing of his students; it was said that Ball “instilled pride in scores of young men, took them off the streets, and got them to dance ballet” (Philadelphia Daily News). He taught at Philadelphia College of the Performing Arts and the Dunham technique at Juda Dance Company, also in Philadelphia. He spent three years as the ballet master of the New Freedom Theater.

Ball died at the age of 52 on November 27/29, 1988 in Center City, Philadelphia.* Noted as “glamorous,” “graceful,” and “eloquent,” Ball was honored with a memorial featuring dances performed by his students.

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