Some of the biggest names in American dance — Paul Taylor, Arthur Mitchell, and Trisha Brown, to name three — have been honored in the past with lifetime-achievement Bessie Awards. And now Philadanco founder Joan Myers Brown is poised to join those elite few.

The organizers of the Bessies, formally known as the New York Dance and Performance Awards, announced Tuesday that Brown will receive the 2019 Bessie Award for Lifetime Achievement in Dance in October for her choreographic influence on black dance in America.

“[Brown’s] work has inspired dancers and educated audiences in ways that have enriched and strengthened dance in our country and we look forward to celebrating [her] accomplishments,” said Lucy Sexton, executive director of the New York Dance and Performance Awards, in a statement.

Sixty years ago, hoping to give black children dance opportunities that were unavailable to her, Brown opened the Philadelphia School of Dance Arts. Ten years later, she founded Philadanco as a company for her students to perform professionally.

Her organization is now one of the finest black dance companies in the U.S. and among the top arts organizations in Philadelphia.

President Barack Obama talks with Joan Myers Brown in the East Room of the White House before presenting her with the 2012 National Medal of Arts.
AP
President Barack Obama talks with Joan Myers Brown in the East Room of the White House before presenting her with the 2012 National Medal of Arts.

Brown has won countless awards, including three honorary doctorates, a Master of African American Choreography medal from the Kennedy Center, and the 2012 National Medal of Arts, a commanding piece of hardware on a purple ribbon given by President Barack Obama at the White House.

She is considered something of a mother to generations of black dancers, and was honored at her West Philadelphia studio earlier this year by dancers from Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and Dance Theatre of Harlem, who were both in town performing.

Brown will receive her Bessie at a ceremony Oct. 14 at New York University’s Skirball Center for the Performing Arts.

October also kicks off a Philadanco anniversary celebration that will include appearances by former Philadanco dancers as well as by Leslie Odom Jr., the original Aaron Burr in Broadway’s Hamilton, who studied dance with Brown. In December, Philadelphia audiences will see the return of Xmas Philes, a delightful holiday piece first choreographed for Philadanco in 2000.