Ballet Lessons: Pioneers Doris Jones and Claire Haywood Opened Doors

My love of ballet started as a young child in the 1970s when I took ballet classes for a couple of years at the Jones-Haywood Dance School on Delafield Place in Washington D.C. (formerly the Jones-Haywood School of Ballet.) This is a picture of me with my big brother after a ballet recital.

I have always been an amateur dancer; I just love music and movement, and I enjoy dancing for fun -- even when my arms and legs aren’t necessarily in the right place.

After my son finished high school in 2015 and prepared to head off to college, I was looking for things to do and signed up for an adult ballet class led by a dancer and choreographer named Tikiri Shapiro (pictured on left with me in the middle and Lori Smyth on the right). In addition to teaching us ballet, Tikiri led us in giving performances at local events. This wonderful experience brought back a flood of memories of my mother taking me to Jones-Haywood for ballet class on Saturday mornings. I remember getting dressed up for recitals, and I will forever be grateful to my mother for exposing me to the performing arts.

The other thing happening in 2015 was that Misty Copeland was appointed the first African American female principal dancer with the American Ballet Theater. I was as excited about the announcement as everyone else -- and intrigued. I began researching the history of African Americans in ballet and knew I wanted to write a picture book about a black ballerina in history. And that’s how I discovered Janet Collins, the first black prima ballerina with the Metropolitan Opera in 1951 and the subject of my next picture book Brave Ballerina: The Story of Janet Collins (Holt, January 2019.)

As part of my dance research, here’s what I found most fascinating about Jones-Haywood Dance School:

  • Born in 1913, Doris Jones (pictured on right) grew up in Massachusetts and couldn’t get into ballet schools. Because of racial segregation, ballet schools and formal training weren’t open to African Americans when she was growing up. Jones had never seen a black ballet dancer. Though she couldn’t take ballet class, some studios let her watch and observe. Jones later was quoted as saying: “I never want that door shut again in the face of any black youngster.” She first set up a studio in her parents’ home and taught others, and then she opened a school in Boston in 1933.

  • Claire Haywood (pictured on left) was one of Jones' student. Haywood, who had been a student, collaborated with Jones to move to Washington D.C. and open the Jones-Haywood School of Ballet in 1941. Their goal was to give black children a place to learn classical ballet.

  • Sandra Fortune-Green carries on the legacy of Jones and Haywood. Claire Haywood passed away in 1978. And after Jones passed away in 2006, Sandra Fortune-Green, a former student and a distinguished classical ballerina, became artistic director of the Jones-Haywood Dance School.

  • The Jones-Haywood Dance School is a landmark. The school, still located on Delafield Place, is a Washington D.C. landmark and a popular stop on the city's African American Heritage Trail.

To learn more, visit

Author Michelle Meadows blogs about reading, writing, and publishing children’s books. Subscribe to receive Michelle’s email newsletter/blog posts, and get a chance to win signed books through giveaways.

#dance #ballet #JanetCollins #JonesHaywoodDanceSchool #AfricanAmericanhistory #picturebookbiography

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