Art of Aging: Legendary Philadanco's founder is still making moves

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Philadanco is fast-approaching its 50th anniversary. The troupe's legendary founder, Joan Myers Brown shares her success.

Joan Myers Brown grew up in Southwest Philadelphia and joined the ballet club in high school.

She is the Founder and Exec. Artistic Director of Philadanco.

"There was no one else black in my class. And I felt that I had to prove that I could but then I started loving the fact that I was moving and dancing," Myers said.

She danced for the Canadian National Ballet then became a cabaret dancer before opening the Joan Myers School of Dance Arts in 1960 to train young black girls to be ballerinas.

"I wanted to make sure they were well-trained, got jobs," she said.

Ten years later, she founded her own dance company, Philadanco.

"There were only maybe six, but now I think there's a hundred, hundreds of black dance companies,

As a teacher and director, Myers Brown has taken Philadanco dancers around the globe, performing in 20 countries.

Myers said, "In fact we went to Macedonia where they never had an American company let alone a black company."

And she's brought dozens of artists into the world.

"Leslie Odom is singing, Lee Daniels is making movies. But they all started here dancing," Myers said.

In 2013, President Barack Obama gave Myers Brown a National Medal of Arts for creating an artistic haven for African-American dancers and choreographers.

"I think I've gotten every award they give in Philadelphia. Just being acknowledged for what you do is gratifying. Makes you work harder, makes you want to continue to do what you do," added Myers.

Nearly half a century later, her focus at age 86 remains on training dancers for the world stage.

Janine Beckles, a dancer at Philadanco said, "She's a professor of tough love, but it's pushing us to our greatest potential."

And challenging any barriers that stand in the way.

Joe Gonzalez, a dancer at Philadanco agrees, "Her mission with the young African American community, she's still accomplishing and still reaching, looking for ways to bring them up and give them a home for dance."

Myers said, "I sort of feel that my place on this earth is to make dreams and opportunities for youngsters who really want to do what they love to do.
I think our ballet companies have to start looking like America."

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