Pennsylvania Ballet (1972-1973)
Ballet des XX. Century (1973)
Tanz-Forum Cologne (1973-1977)
Frankfurt Ballet: First Soloist (1977-1980)
Born July 14, 1946 in Wilmington, Delaware, professional dancer James Saunders was the son of Mary Lee and Major Saunders. After earning his BA in painting and sculpture at the Philadelphia College of Art, Saunders discovered dance at age 22. He then studied at the School of Pennsylvania Ballet. His teachers there and in Europe included Benjamin Harkarvy, Edward Caton, Hector Zaraspe, Irene Bartos, Rosella Hightower, and Anna Price.
Saunders was a member of several dance companies: Pennsylvania Ballet (1972-1973), Maurice Béjart’s Ballet des XX. Century (1973), Tanz-Forum Cologne (1973-1977), and Frankfurt Ballet (1977-1980). His leading roles included those in pieces by George Balanchine, Hans van Manen, Heinz Spoerli, Glen Tetley, Christopher Bruce, and Talley Beatty.
Saunders’ other ventures include serving as the artistic director of the Deutsche Ballett-Bühne eV (1980s), founder of his own studio Tanzprojekte Köln (1984), director of several of his own dance training projects (1985-1991), participant in the Creating Movement Projects in Johannesburg and Soweto (1989-1994), and member of the Board of Advisers of the Soweto Community Dance Project.
He taught at many dance organizations worldwide: the Darvash School in New York; European Center for New Dance Developments in Arnhem, Netherlands; Dance Factory, Dance Umbrella – Wits University, Free Flight Dance Company, and Moving into Dance in Johannesburg; State Theater Dance Company and the Technique College in Pretoria, South Africa; Summer Dance Weeks in Vienna, Austria; Makki School in Kyoto, Japan; and the Rubin Academy for Music and Dance in Jerusalem, Israel.
While performing at the Museum Ludwig in Cologne, Germany, Saunders suffered a fatal fall that resulted in his death. On August 24, 1996, he passed away at age 50. He is buried in Gracelawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Delaware.
Posthumously, he was awarded a 1996 Cologne Dance Theater Prize, and BMW South Africa established a scholarship for young Black dance talents.
Saunders enabled “thousands of people to rediscover their bodies and their natural movement abilities” and was a firm believer that “everyone is a dancer, a mover” (Deutsches Tanzarchiv Köln).