Skip to main content

FunTimes Magazine

A Tribute To A Black Dance Icon

Feb 29, 2024 12:00PM ● By Karen Warrington

Simply said she was my dance teacher! She was Miss Sydney as we lovingly called her. She was Sydney Gibson King, a ballerina and the founder of the Sydney School of Dance who recently died at the age of 104.

King was foundational to the development and training of Black dancers in racially segregated Philadelphia in the 1940s and 50s and she continued to train and mentor Black children at her dancing school for six decades. She repeatedly said she wanted to help develop Black ballerinas but also she was committed to helping her students find their way to success in whatever career they chose.

Born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1919, her family moved to the U.S. when she was six. Soon after the family settled in Southwest Philadelphia she was introduced to what would be her life’s passion. Celebrated dancer Essie Marie Dorsey, born in 1893, lived in the same neighborhood as King and had opened a dance studio in her home. She was going door to door recruiting young students offering dance lessons for 50 cents a class. Dorsey, a premiere dancer, is described as, “deserving a place in Black history as a pioneer spirit for the advancement of Black dance in American ballet.”


Sydney’s mother enrolled her at Dorsey’s school where she took classes with fellow students Marion Cuyjet and John Hines. Joan Myers also studied at the Dorsey school when it relocated to Broad and South Sts. Of course, King, Cuyjet Hines, and Brown would all become dance luminaries.

While a student at West Philadelphia High School King was accepted into the school’s All-White dance club because she had been trained by Dorsey to dance en pointe.


Her dance studies at the Dorsey school continued and in 1946 King and Cuyjet opened a dance school at 711 S. Broad St. that attracted students from all sections of the city. Within two years the partnership had dissolved and Cuyjet opened a school in Center City while King remained in South Philadelphia. Despite the split, the two dance schools collaborated to produce sophisticated ballet performances at the annual Philadelphia Cotillion Society gala headed up by Dr. Eugene Waymon Jones.

King was a much beloved and nurturing dance teacher and in 1961 when she had to move her school from South Philly to West Philly her students followed. Her students were often invited to perform at major social events including international folk festivals, sorority events, and cabarets held in various ballrooms throughout the city. Over the years Sydney students’ children and their grandchildren were enrolled in the ballet, tap, interpretive, acrobatics and later hip-hop classes taught at the school.

 Karen Warrington has had a decades long career as a broadcast journalist, communications professional, performing artist, and documentary filmmaker. She has traveled extensively throughout Africa, the Caribbean, Europe, and Asia. She is committed to being a voice for the African Diaspora. 

Read more from Karen Warrington:

AUs Ambassadors Ball Honors Leaders Working to Empower African Diaspora

AU’s Ambassadors Ball Honors Leaders Working to Empower African Diaspora

Hosted by Hilda Suka-Mafudze, the African Union Permanent Representative to the United States, the event honored Ambassador Susan Rice, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, singer Angelique Kidjo and... Read More » 


Barbara Bullock Fearless Vision at Woodmere Art Museum

Barbara Bullock: Fearless Vision at Woodmere Art Museum

The exhibition influences seekers to recapture darting flashes of energy tucked away in their consciousness and to reach beyond cultural borders. Read More » 


pImage Courtesy of Chocolate Ballerina Companyp

The Nutcracker Dipped in Chocolate, a New Holiday Tradition?

As 2021 rushes to its end, and we are caught up in the energy of the holiday season, many of our thoughts are focused on traditions passed on for generations. Christmas has a whole set of... Read More »