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Joan Myers Brown Philadanco papers


Held at: African American Museum in Philadelphia [Contact Us]701 Arch St., Philadelphia, PA, 19106

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the African American Museum in Philadelphia. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Overview and metadata sections

The Philadelphia Dance Company, more commonly known as Philadanco, was founded in 1970 by Joan Myers Brown. It was originally intended to provide quality dance instruction to minority dancers in Philadelphia. At first the Company performed at local community events and schools in the area. Today, the Company has built a strong international reputation for itself, performing throughout the United States, Canada and the Caribbean. It offers workshops, master classes and a children's summer program. Former Philadanco dancers such as Denise Chase, Deborah Manning, David St. Charles, Kevin Brown and Gary Deloatch have gone on to perform with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre. Other dancers have performed with such companies as the Dance Theatre of Harlem and such Broadway shows as The Wiz and Timbuktu. In 1982, Philadanco moved to its own building at 9 North Preston Street. During the 1980s, Philadanco published its own newsletter, Philadanco News.

Ms. Brown is the Artistic/Executive Director and Founder of the Philadelphia Dance Company (Philadanco). In 1960, she founded the Philadelphia School of Dance and Arts. Joan Myers Brown was born in Philadelphia and attended West Philadelphia High School. Ms. Brown is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania's arts management program. Her teachers included Katherine Dunham, William Amour, Ziggy Johnson, Marie Bryant, Stanley Brown, Thomas Madras and Lois Smith. In 1960 she founded the Philadelphia School of Dance and Arts and in 1970 she founded Philadelphia Dance Company (Philadanco), for which she serves as Artistic/Executive Director.

In a 1981 interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer, Ms. Brown stated that her desire to found a Black ballet company grew out of her experiences as a young dancer. "When you're a teenager, that's when you create your dreams. And that's what I wanted to do. But I walked up and down Chestnut Street trying to enroll in a ballet school, and was told over and over, I'm sorry, we can't take you because you're black."

Joan wounded up studying with Syvilla Fort and Karel Shook at the Katherine Dunham School in New York and with Anthony Tudor, who for a while left New York to teach in Philadelphia. He put Joan in a production of Les Sylphides, which caused quite a stir. But Tudor went back to New York and Joan found that she had to turn elsewhere to continue dancing. She toured as a jazz dancer with Cab Calloway, Sammy Davis, Jr. and Pearl Bailey, then for six years was the lead dancer and choreographer with Smart Affairs, Larry Steele's Atlantic City revue. That's when she decided to return to Philadelphia and start her own school.

Ms. Brown has received many awards, including the United Negro College Fund Award, 1990; the Stella Moore Award, 1990; the National Endowment for the Arts Choreographic Fellowship, 1979; the Essence Woman Award, Hazlett Award, the Cotillion Society Ballet Award; Governor's Recognition Citation; B.U.A. Award and recognition from the West Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce and the National Council of Negro Women. She has served on many boards and panels affiliated with the arts including the Philadelphia Dance Alliance, the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, and the Pennsylvania State Arts Council. In 1985 the City of Philadelphia honored Ms. Brown with a resolution.

Under Ms. Brown's leadership, Philadanco has received funding from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the William Penn Foundation and the National Choreographers Plan.

The Philadanco Collection has documentation of the dance company from its inception in 1970 up to 1991. There is also material relating to the career of the founder of the company, Joan Myers Brown. The correspondence is basically incoming and concerns business matters with the exception of a letter to Ms. Brown from her niece. The correspondence has an uneven span from 1951 to 1991. The clippings and photos bear testimony to Ms. Brown's remarkable career.

The advertisements and season booklets carry much valuable biographical information about the Company's dancers. This material dates mainly from the 1980s. The newspaper clippings or reviews, however, span over 20 years including the foundation of the Company. During the 1980s, Philadanco began publishing its own newsletter. The Company traveled to Bermuda in 1986 and 1992, and there are programs and reviews of that booking. Mainly, reviews and programs are for performances in the Philadelphia and Delaware Valley area. There are a number of undated clippings as well as miscellaneous publications which carried advertisements or stories about Philadanco. There is an obituary of Danny Sloan, founder of the Danny Sloan Dance Company.

Finally, there is an album of photographs of the Philadanco Company. Some photos are identified by name of dancers, choreographer and year, but most are not. Some were apparently publicity photos while others appear to be performance pictures. All photographs are in black and white.

Gift of Joan Myers Brown, 1992 (AAMP.1992.017).

Summary descriptive information on this collection was compiled in 2012-2014 as part of a project conducted by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania to make better known and more accessible the largely hidden collections of small, primarily volunteer run repositories in the Philadelphia area. The Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories (HCI-PSAR) was funded by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

This is a preliminary finding aid. No physical processing, rehousing, reorganizing, or folder listing was accomplished during the HCI-PSAR project.

In some cases, more detailed inventories or finding aids may be available on-site at the repository where this collection is held; please contact African American Museum in Philadelphia directly for more information.

African American Museum in Philadelphia
Finding Aid Author
Finding aid prepared by Eric Ledell Smith, encoded by staff of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories
This preliminary finding aid was created as part of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories. The HCI-PSAR project was made possible by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Access Restrictions

Contact African American Museum in Philadelphia for information about accessing this collection.

Collection Inventory

Correspondence, incoming, 1951-1991.
Box 1
Clippings, 1981-1990.
Box 1
Scrapbook, circa 1950s.
Box 1
Cotillion programs, 1950-1951.
Box 1
Sydney School of Dance, 1951.
Box 1
Box 1
Christmas Cotillion Program, 1957.
Box 1
Moravian College Yearbook, 1979.
Box 1
City Philadelphia Resolution, 1985.
Box 1
Philadanco Advertisements, Season Books.
Box 2
Philadanco Clippings, 1970-1986.
Box 3
Philadanco Clippings, 1987-1991.
Box 4
"Philadanco News", 1982-1986.
Box 5
Philadanco Programs, 1976-1991.
Box 5
Obituary -- Danny Sloan.
Box 5
Publications (Philadelphia Dance Alliance; The Buffer; Dance/USA News; Talking Drums; This Week in Bermuda; Women's Way Newsletter; Spectrum; and Talent Expo).
Box 5
Philadanco Photographs.
Box 6
Oversize Posters (2).
Map Drawer 5

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