Russell, Paul Lawrence (1947–1991)

By: Kharen Monsho

Type: Biography

Published: June 1, 1995

Updated: January 19, 2021

Paul Russell, African-American dancer, son of Dorse Edgar and Eddie Mae (London) Russell, was born on March 2, 1947, in Mineola, Texas. He attended Pasadena City College (1965–66) and UCLA (1967–68) and then trained in New York City at the School of American Ballet and the Dance Theater of Harlem. From 1968 to 1971 he was a principal dancer with the Hartford Ballet and in 1971 also taught dance at Syracuse University. In 1971 he joined the Dance Theater of Harlem, where he stayed until 1977, when he joined the Scottish National Ballet in Glasgow. In 1977 he also studied with Natalya Dudinskaya, director of the Kirov Ballet in Leningrad. He returned to Glascow, stayed until 1980 and then joined the San Francisco Ballet. Russell injured his hip in 1986. After the injury he began to choreograph and in 1988 became artistic director of the American Festival Ballet in Boise, Idaho. He was considered a dancer of commanding stage presence and was known for his steadfast and sensitive partnering and virtuoso renditions of the grand pas de deux from Don Quixote and Le Corsaire. Among his best-known roles was that of the insouciant lead Harlem jive dancer, dressed in a red loincloth and derby, in Louis Johnson's Forces of Rhythm. Russell is also thought to be the first black to dance Siegfried in a full-length performance of Swan Lake. He was known also as a speaker and participated in lectures and demonstrations to introduce black artists to White audiences. Russell also taught ballet, primarily at the schools of Dance Theater of Harlem and San Francisco Ballet. During his dancing career he appeared on television in the "Monte Carlo Show" and in the film A Piece of the Action. He died of AIDS on February 15, 1991.

New York Times, February 19, 1991. Who's Who in America, 1990–91.

  • Peoples
  • African Americans
  • Performing Arts

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Kharen Monsho, “Russell, Paul Lawrence,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 26, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

June 1, 1995
January 19, 2021

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