Women's Activism NYC

Gayle Mckinney Griffith

1949 - 2023

By: Teri Graham | Date Added:

When Gayle McKinney-Griffith was an aspiring ballerina auditioning for Juilliard in the late 1960s, her excitement was tempered by a daunting realization. “When you walk into a room and you’re the only Black person there,” she later said, “you right away develop this persona that is protective but also standing strong. You’re used to thinking two things at once, yes, I’m the only Black person here and yes, let’s do this." Gayle was born in Harlem, N.Y., Aug. 26, 1949, to Harold and Millicent McKinney. The family relocated to Quaker Hill, in 1955 after Harold took a job with Electric Boat. Gayle attended Waterford Public Schools and graduated from Waterford High School in 1967. Gayle began dancing at a young age. She attended Carnegie Hall's Showtime for Children in New York, and Froman's Professional Ballet School in Connecticut. In high school, Gayle was the dance club president and received the Connecticut College Dance Scholarship to study with professional dancers. After graduation, Gayle attended The Juilliard School where she pursued a degree in ballet before leaving to become a founding member and first ballet mistress of Arthur Mitchell's Dance Theatre of Harlem. During her time with Dance Theatre, Gayle performed for audiences including the Queen Mother, Mick Jagger and Stevie Wonder. Gayle was invited by Lewis Johnson to work on the skeleton crew for "The Wiz," performing with and training Michael Jackson, Nipsey Russel and Diana Ross. In 1979, Gayle was invited by Theatre des Westens to perform in "Showboat" in Berlin, Germany, where she would spend the next three decades. She also served as a faculty member at Indiana University South Bend, where she helped create the dance department. Gayle shared her immense talent and love of dance with young performers around the world. "Miss Gayle" was a beloved instructor to the dancers at Connecticut College, the Dance Extension in Waterford, and Ballet Studio Marlen and John F. Kennedy Schule in Berlin. During the COVID pandemic, Gayle reconnected with Dance Theatre of Harlem dancers, forming the 152nd Street Black Ballet Legacy. Together they committed to reclaiming their narrative and sharing their tremendous accomplishments with the world. Despite her illustrious dance career, family was Gayle's first priority. In 2007, Gayle returned to Quaker Hill from Germany, spending over a decade caring for her parents. In her final months, Gayle received beautiful care from her daughter Khadija, and relished the many visits from family and friends. She died of cancer at 74 at her home.

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