American ballerina Debra Austin to hold ballet residency at TCU in April

Debra Austin

American ballerina Debra Austin will participate in a ballet residency at Texas Christian University April 14-18.

TCU said Austin will visit the campus as the Cecil H. and Ida Green Honors Chair in a residency in partnership with the TCU School for Classical & Contemporary Dance (SCCDance).

Austin will lead students, faculty, and community members through a curated program during the five-day residency featuring master classes, community events, a special Q&A that is free and open to the public, as well as cross-departmental collaborations and workshops.

Beginning her career as a ballerina in the New York City Ballet, Austin was handpicked by George Balanchine at just 16 years old, becoming the first African American woman in the company. After she spent nine years touring the world with New York City Ballet, she moved to Switzerland and joined the Zurich Ballet. Austin returned to the United States in 1982 and spent more than 10 years as Principal Dancer at Pennsylvania Ballet. During her tenure, Austin made history as the first African American ballerina to become Principal Dancer at a major American ballet company. Austin now serves as Ballet Master for Carolina Ballet where she has been for the past 18 years.

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Austin’s history offers a unique perspective on this conversation and her performance career encompasses an extensive range of classical, neo-classical, and contemporary ballet repertoire. Austin’s residency is made possible by the Cecil H. and Ida Green Honors Chair program at TCU, which brings scholars and artists of national and international stature to the campus for short residencies. Austin was chosen for this invitation for her exemplary career and her dedication to passing her experiences to the next generations of dancers.

School for Classical & Contemporary Dance Assistant Professor Keith Saunders worked with Austin at Dance Theatre of Harlem before coming to TCU. When asked about the importance of Austin’s presence at TCU, Saunders said, “It’s a tremendous opportunity for our students, the SCCDance, and the dance community of this region to interact in multiple ways with a ballerina of the highest rank. I know from first-hand experience that Ms. Austin is a passionate teacher and advocate for ballet who loves to share her knowledge and experience with anyone eager to learn.”

According to Director of the School for Classical & Contemporary Dance Elizabeth Gillaspy, TCU became the first school in the nation to offer a BFA in Ballet in 1949. Austin’s visit is a continuation of and an enhancement to the rich history of dance at TCU, she said. “Central to the mission of this Green Honors Chair program are the multiple opportunities for direct impact for our students and our field through the interactions with a guest of Ms. Austin’s stature. We are thrilled to bring her to TCU.”

Event Details:

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Dance Residency featuring Debra Austin | April 14-18, 2019

Texas Christian University Erma Lowe Hall building | 3000 S. University Dr.


Timeline & Residency Events:

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● Sunday, April 14 | 3:30-5:00 p.m.

○ Intermediate/Advanced Ballet Class for area ballet students (Ages 15 to professional). Must have teacher recommendation and RSVP. Limited to 30 participants. Open for observers.


● Sunday, April 14 | 5:15-6:30 p.m.

○ Conversations on Dance with Debra Austin. Moderated by Keith Saunders.