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Karel Shook (1920 - 1985) - Co-Founder


Karel Shook  (1920 - 1985)Co-Founder, Dance Theatre of Harlem


Karel Shook is recognized internationally as one of the most influential and productive ballet teachers of our time. Born in Renton, Wash., he began his career as a child actor at the Seattle Repertory Theater. At the age of 13, he was awarded a scholarship to the Cornish School of Allied Arts and became the special protégé of its founder, Nellie Cornish, who encouraged him to study ballet. He was, for several seasons, a member of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. He also appeared in Broadway musicals and spent one year with the New York City Ballet. In 1952, he joined the faculty of the Katherine Dunham School as director of the ballet department. When the Dunham School closed, he established his own school, the Studio of Dance Arts — where he taught most of the leading black dancers and choreographers of today. In 1957, he joined the faculty of the June Taylor School. In the fall of 1959, at the invitation of Sonia Gaskell, he became first teacher and ballet master of the Dutch National Ballet, a post he held for nine years. In 1968, he returned to the States to become Arthur Mitchell’s co-director of the Dance Theatre of Harlem.

Besides his unusual gifts as a teacher, Shook was also a choreographer and writer. While in the Netherlands, he choreographed 24 works for stage, opera, film and television, among which were the highly successful Jazz Nocturne, The Tales of Hoffman, Rigoletto, I Capuletti ed i Montecchi, Alceste, an opera-ballet for television, and Da Capo, out of which came an hour-long television documentary on the making of a ballet. For the Dance Theatre of Harlem, he has restaged two pas de deux: Don Quixote and Le Corsaire, a Dance Theatre of Harlem crowd pleaser and signature work throughout the years. While in Holland, he wrote many articles on dance. In addition, a portfolio of his poems, “Beyond the Mist,” with lithographs by the celebrated painter, Sam Middleton, was published in a limited edition by ARTA, The Hague, in 1968. Shook is the author of the book Elements of Classical Ballet Technique, published by Dance Horizons (1978) and “New York, London, and Dancers as Ambassadors” in Unified World (is this a book or magazine?) (1978).

Shook had numerous, highly developed talents as a musician, sculptor, accomplished chef, gardener and linguist. However, he regarded himself first and foremost as a ballet teacher. Outside of New York City and Amsterdam, he taught for extended periods in Stockholm, Paris, Rome, Venice, Barcelona, Seville, Bordeaux, Monte Carlo, Brussels, Frankfurt, Cologne, St. Thomas, Wichita and Tonawanda, New York, where he was artistic advisor to Maris Battaglia’s American Academy of Ballet.