Karel Shook, Renowned Ballet Master, Dies at 64


Karel Shook, an internationally known ballet master and co-founder of the Dance Theatre of Harlem, has died at his Englewood, N.J., home after a long illness. He was 64.

In the 1950s Shook was one of the few teachers who trained and encouraged blacks in ballet. Among his students were Arthur Mitchell, Alvin Ailey and Geoffrey Holder.

Shook was born in Renton, Wash., and began his career as a child actor in the Seattle Repertory Theatre. At 13, he was awarded a scholarship to the Cornish School of Allied Arts, where he became the protege of founder Nellie Cornish, who encouraged Shook to study ballet.


Shortly thereafter, Shook danced for several seasons with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, appeared in Broadway musicals and later spent one year with the New York City Ballet. In 1952, he joined the faculty of the Katherine Dunham School of Dance. When the school closed, Shook opened his own Studio of Dance Arts, where he taught many of today’s now-famous black dancers and choreographers.

In 1959, Shook became the teacher, and later ballet master, of the Dutch National Ballet. Nine years later, at the urging of former pupil Arthur Mitchell, Shook returned to the United States and became Mitchell’s co-director at the Dance Theatre of Harlem.

Shook was also a choreographer and writer whose works included “Beyond the Mist,” a portfolio of poems, and several ballets staged for opera, films and television. He is survived by his mother, brother and sister.