1936 - Present
Inducted in 1997
Edward Villella is generally regarded as America's most celebrated male dancer. During his career with the New York City Ballet, his supreme artistry–marked by grace, athleticism and virility–helped popularize the role of men in dance. The great choreographer George Balanchine used him to create role after magnificent role, including perhaps his most famous in the cast of Balanchine's 1929 masterpiece, The Prodigal Son.
Villella was born in the Bayside neighborhood of Queens, New York, in 1936. At age 10, he enrolled in the School of American Ballet. But at the urging of his father, in college (the New York Maritime Academy), Villella pursued a degree in marine transportation while also lettering in baseball and becoming a championship welterweight boxer. His love of dance, however, never waned, and while in college he also became a member of the New York City Ballet.
After graduating in 1959, he rejoined the School of American Ballet, and soon was well on his way toward becoming the leading male star in American dance. As a favorite of Balanchine's, he won fame with lead roles in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Tarantella, Jewels and Prodigal Son.
Villella went on to become the first male American dancer to appear with the Royal Danish Ballet and the first American in history–male or female–to be invited to dance an encore at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. He danced for four sitting presidents, including a performance at the inauguration of John F. Kennedy.
By the late 1960s, Villella had become a familiar figure in television productions, with rave reviews for performances in Brigadoon, The Nutcracker and even the Ed Sullivan Show. In the early 1970s, he appeared as himself in an episode of The Odd Couple, starring Tony Randall and Jack Klugman.
In a performance for President Gerald Ford at the White House in 1975, Villella suffered an injury that ended his career as a performer. Throughout his retirement from the stage, Villella has led an energetic and creative career as artistic director to ballet companies in New Jersey, Oklahoma and elsewhere. In 1986 he became founding director for the Miami City Ballet and since then has guided the company to worldwide acclaim. He still serves as the ballet's artistic director and executive officer.
In recognition of his lifetime achievements in the arts, in 1997 President Bill Clinton awarded Villella a National Medal of Arts. In 2009, he was inducted into the National Museum of Dance C.V. Whitney Hall of Fame. His autobiography, Prodigal Son: Dancing for Balanchine in a World of Pain and Magic, was reissued by the University of Pittsburgh Press in 1998. Villella's wife, Linda, is director of the Miami City Ballet School.