SAB Trailblazer – Betty Nichols

Betty Nichols
Ballet Society Collection, NYCB Archives

Betty Nichols, a groundbreaking alumna from SAB’s early years, was by all accounts the first Black student to seek enrollment at SAB. In a 1983 interview with Ballet Review, she recalled entering the school on April 17, 1944:

“I knocked on the door and presented myself. I thought there was considerable surprise, but the door was opened and that was it.”

She went on to perform with Ballet Society, the immediate precursor to New York City Ballet, and witnessed the creation of The Four Temperaments in SAB’s studios. Of that time, Ms. Nichols told Ballet Review, “The whole period was astounding. We had the chance to watch rehearsal, watch the creation. We had direct contact with these people. It was not a big major company. It was like a family.”

Ms. Nichols embarked on what she referred to as a “cultural vacation” to Europe in 1949 and ended up staying, dancing with Merce Cunningham and Roland Petit, acting in theater, and in 1951 marrying Jacques Schibler.

Ms. Nichols passed away in 2010, but her barrier-breaking story continues to inspire and remind us of all the work we still need to do to combat inequality and exclusivity within our organization and industry.

Read the full interview from Ballet Review to learn more about Betty Nichols and her truly extraordinary life.