Movers & Shapers Podcast: Leslie Anderson-Braswell

By November 3, 2015Podcast

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Release Date: November 3, 2015

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Leslie Anderson-Braswell’s love for dance began at the three years of age, continued through early childhood at Pittsburgh’s Kingsley House, with Mr. Miller (Jack), and becoming her love, destiny and ultimate life’s journey at the age of twelve when she joined the children cast of the newly forming Pittsburgh Ballet Theater, under the direction of choreographer Nicholas Petrov in 1969. In 1971, Leslie became one of the youngest members of the corps de ballet, training under renowned ballet masters / choreographers such as Edward Caton, Vitale Fokine, Leonide Massine, Fredrick Franklin, and many others, dancing in a variety of renowned classical ballets for three seasons. During the summer of 1972, Leslie was encouraged by teachers / resident principal dancers of the Pittsburgh Ballet Theater, Kenneth Johnson and Patricia Kleckovic. to spend the summer at Arthur Mitchell’s newly forming Dance Theater of Harlem in New York, which she did, and immediately, her goal was to one day return as a dancer for Arthur Mitchell’s African-American ballet company. In 1973, Leslie auditioned for John Cranko, director and choreographer extraordinaire of the Stuttgart Ballet, and was accepted into the exclusive pre-professional Stuttgart Ballet School, in Stuttgart, West Germany. While in Stuttgart, Leslie performed with the Stuttgart State Opera, in addition to the assigned roles with the Stuttgart Ballet School and Company. In 1975, Leslie auditioned, and was invited to join the Geneva Ballet, in Geneva Switzerland, by artistic director Patricia Neary, former principal dancer with the New York City Ballet; however, Leslie longed to return to the United States to work with Arthur Mitchell, the first Black principal dancer of George Balanchine’s, New York City Ballet, who is founder and director of the internationally acclaimed Dance Theater of Harlem in New York City. With Ms. Neary’s assistance, the audition was arranged, and Leslie was asked to join Dance Theater of Harlem in 1975. Prior to arriving in New York, Leslie underwent foot surgery, at home in Pittsburgh, for an injury that occurred in Stuttgart. Upon returning to New York as a member of The Dance Theater of Harlem, Leslie performed, touring extensively throughout America and Europe. Unfortunately, the results of the previous surgery were unfavorable, which led Leslie to make a decision to leave Dance Theater of Harlem, and professional ballet, much earlier than anticipated. Leslie returned home, beginning the most amazing journey of her life; teaching, imparting the wealth of knowledge and experience accumulated through the magnificent opportunities she experienced early in her life, to a multitude of exceptionally talented students that, she feels very blessed, have crossed her path.

In 1979, Leslie was the first dance teacher hired by Dr. Harry Clark, founding principal, and Dr. Marilyn Barnett, first Dance Department Chair to teach ballet at the newly forming, Pittsburgh High School for the Creative and Performing Arts, originally located in Homewood, the neighborhood where she grew up. Currently, CAPA 6-12, is located prominently in downtown Pittsburgh’s growing cultural district, Leslie and has been a member of the Dance Department faculty for 36 years, where she has inspired a generations of aspiring dancers. In 1980, Leslie was selected to serve as the second artistic director of the well established, professional performing group in the Black tradition of dance, Pittsburgh Black Theater Dance Ensemble, by artistic director/ founder, the late Bob Johnson, a position she held until the company folded in 1983. Equally prominent teaching credits include Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera Academy of Musical Theater, where Leslie taught for 16 years with Buddy Thompson, with whom she shares a kinship and bond, nurtured in the early years of the high school, to inspire excellence and greatness in every serious student of dance that crossed their paths, which is a shared on-going commitment. As a result of working together at the Academy, many former students have reached the pinnacle of success in their artistic careers; they include McArthur Genius Recipient, choreographer/ dance artist Kyle Abraham, “Kinky Boots” star and Tony Award Recipient, Billy Porter, Jason McDole, former dance artist with the David Parson and Lar Lubovitch dance companies, Quela Clancy, principal dancer and instructor with Lula Washington Dance Company, Brandon Cowles, former dance artist with the Merce Cunningham Company, Erin Carlisle-Norton, choreographer/ founder/ artistic director, The Moving Architects, Sarrah Strimmel, Broadway dancer/ actress/ singer, Courtney Mazza-Lopez, Broadway dancer/ actress/ singer, Lauren Morelli, Orange is the New Black, writer, to mention a few.

Throughout the years, Leslie has been a guest teacher for many schools, dance organizations and professional dance companies throughout Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan. Leslie has served as a guest master class teacher for the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, Philadanco Dance Company, International Association of Blacks in Dance Conference, Dance Masters of America (PA Chapter), Checchetti Ballet Council (PA Chapter), Lee’s School of Dance, Roger’s School of Dance, Dance Arts Academy. Leslie served as principal ballet teacher and consultant for the former August Wilson Dance Ensemble in Pittsburgh, PA., for founder and artistic director, Greer A. Reed, whom Leslie has proudly mentored throughout her successful journey and career in dance. Greer A. Reed’s AWDE was named, “25 to Watch in 2012” by Dance Magazine. August, of 2012, during the 5th annual, RDI, Reed Dance Intensive, Founder/ Director, gave the 1st annual award, named in honor of Leslie, The Brazzy Award, for her lifetime achievement in providing outstanding excellence in dance education and mentorship. Since 2012, the award has been given annually, presented during the concluding performance to two outstanding dance artist from the Pittsburgh area, selected by a panel of judges, headed by Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Dance Critic, Jane Vranish. Likewise, Leslie has been available for successful former student, Ayisha Morgan-Lee Smith, MAM, founder and director of HDAT, Hill Dance Academy Theater, a successful, innovative arts education institution, located in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, PA. Through the years Leslie has been available for HDAT workshops, conferences, master classes and the annual HDAT Summer Intensive. Recently, Ayisha Morgan-Lee Smith and the HDAT organization honored Leslie with their 2015 Bold Vision Shona Sharif Award, for outstanding artistic excellence, at their 10th Anniversary, Diamond Gala Celebration. Leslie, Ayisha and HDAT were commended with an official letter from Charon Battles, of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, whom is a dear friend and someone that Leslie looked up to, as the only soloist, Black ballerina, in the Pittsburgh Ballet Theater. Charon commended Leslie as a Pittsburgh legend in dance for the life-long love,commitment and promotion of the art of dance. Leslie is eternally grateful for Charon’s acknowledgement of her work.

Life long mentor and consultant, the late Jeraldyne Blunden, Founder/ Director of Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, constantly encouraged and urged Leslie to continually grow and share the wealth of accumulated knowledge. As a result, throughout the years, Leslie has been commissioned for choreographic works for a variety of organizations, dance companies, dance schools and individuals. Leslie received a choreography fellowship from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, National Association of Regional Ballet Choreographic Development Workshop/ Phyllis Lamhut, Director, and the Ann Vachon Choreographic Development Workshop. Leslie was commissioned for choreography for the AWDE/ Pittsburgh Symphony Collaboration, and in the past has choreographed for several northeastern performing arts groups, as well as an episode of Mister Roger’s Neighborhood. She was also a recipient of a choreography fellowships from the Heinz Endowment, the Greater Columbus Arts Council and the Ohio Council on the Arts. In 1986 Leslie was awarded an Outstanding Distinguished Teacher Award, for 1st place female dance award recipient, Janeen Elliott, of the Young Arts Scholarship Program, presented at the White House by President Ronald Reagan. She was honored with an Outstanding Woman of America Award in 1982, and, Outstanding Artist Award from the Pittsburgh’s Greater Legacy Council, in celebration of African-American Artists.


Kingsley House

Pittsburgh Ballet TheaterNicolas Petrov

Natalia Makaravo

Point Park College

Charon Battles

Jon Cranko

Ruth Page

Joyce Cuoco

Maxine Sherman

Dance Theatre of Harlem

Arthur Mitchell

Janet Collins

Stephanie Dabney 

Keith Saunders

Greer Reed

Misty Copeland

Podcast produced by: The Moving Architects
Interviewer: Erin Carlisle Norton
Intro Music: “Singing Distance” by Elijah Aaron

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