Collins, Janet (1917–2003) By Lewin, Yaël
Magical on stage, elusive off stage, Janet Collins was an enigmatic and complex presence in twentieth-century dance. As the first full-time African American ballerina at the Metropolitan Opera in 1951, she broke the color barrier and generated international headlines—no small feat in an era when racial tension and discrimination continued to prevail. This celebrated achievement placed her in the pantheon of pioneering African Americans and became the triumph for which she was most remembered. Yet Collins also succeeded as a unique concert dance soloist and choreographer, fusing disparate techniques and influences in her creations—an approach that was in keeping with modernist experimentations and set her apart from many of her dancing peers. As a result of these dual identities, she serves as a pivotal figure in the lineage of African American cultural history, and as one of the distinguished women of her generation who helped propel the evolution of American dance.