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Meet The Artists

Biography

Leonard Gibson

Negro Workshop Dance Group / Bamboula / Len Gibson Dance Ensemble

(1926- )

Leonard Gibson is one of Canada's most versatile dancers. With a career spanning over six decades, he is also one of the country's longest working professional artists. Originally self-taught by watching the films of Gene Kelly and Sammy Davis Jr., Gibson began to perform professionally at the age of five as a tap dance phenomenon in Vancouver. Before the age of ten, he appeared on stage with touring groups, including The Eddie Cantor Show and Blackstone the Magician.

Gibson later studied ballet with Vancouver teacher Mara McBirney. In 1947, he joined the American choreographer and dancer Katherine Dunham and her company on stage as a last-minute replacement when the group performed in Vancouver. Afterwards, Dunham offered Gibson a scholarship to attend her school in New York. When he returned to Vancouver, he formed his own group, the Negro Workshop Dance Group, and received standing ovations for his performances in 1949 at the provincial dance festivals in his own choreographic works, The Thief and Abstraction.

The British Columbia Ballet Company, which was created by McBirney and Heino Heiden, performed Gibson's Gershwin Preludes (a.k.a. Les Preludes ) at the last Canadian Ballet Festival in 1953. The following year, Gibson choreographed and appeared in Bamboula, the first Canadian Broadcasting Corporation musical variety television series produced in Vancouver. It was one of the first programs to feature an interracial cast of dancers. Also, in the 1950s, Gibson performed in several of Vancouver's Theatre Under the Stars productions such as Kiss Me Kate and Finian's Rainbow.

During the 1960s, Gibson pursued international opportunities, working with the British Broadcasting Corporation and appearing in nightclubs. He returned to Canada in the 1970s and opened his own studio in Toronto. In the 1990s, Gibson travelled to Africa to study traditional African dance styles. His 1992 production, Juke Joint: 100 Years of Black Dance in the New World, which was performed by the Len Gibson Dance Ensemble, celebrated the dances of the African diaspora.

Among his many awards, in 2000, the Black Business and Professional Association presented Gibson with the prestigious Harry Jerome Award for Lifetime Achievement.

Learn more:

Lindgren, Allana. “Bamboula Turns 50.” Dance Collection Danse Magazine 58 (Fall 2004): 14-18.

---. “Leonard Gibson: A Portrait.” Dance Collection Danse Magazine 58 (Fall 2004): 19-21.