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Ritz exhibit tells 40-year history of Harlem Dance Theatre

Exhibit runs from April 15 through July 31

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A piece of New York history goes on display Saturday at the Ritz Theater and Museum in Jacksonville.

The "Dance Theatre of Harlem: 40 Years of Firsts" exhibit showcases the events from its formation in 1969, shortly the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the company's efforts to break race barriers for African-American dancers and to bring positive social change.

"It was impressionable. It was exciting. It was also a great learning curve," former Anjali "Anja-lee" Austin said.

Austin is a Florida native who was a part of the Dance Theatre of Harlem for 13 years.

"It also did works that were theatrical, that were contemporary," Austin said. "We could in one performance be in a pointe (ballet) shoe, be in a character shoe and be barefoot."

The New York-based dance company traveled the world, performing in more than 40 countries. The exhibit showcases the company's history through numerous photographs, set pieces, tour posters, video excepts and 165 original costumes.

The exhibit brought back emotional memories for Savery Morgan, a Jacksonville woman who also danced with the company co-founded by dance pioneer Arthur Mitchell.

Morgan said after more than 40 years, the dance company continues to spread its message.

"It doesn't matter what your background is -- color, creed, skin tone -- if you want to dance, all you have to do is work. The work is the star," Morgan said.

The exhibition will be on display at the Ritz Theater and Museum, 829 N Davis Street, through the end of July.

Museum admission is available at the Ritz box office. For more information, call the Ritz at 904-807-2010 or visit RitzJacksonville.com.