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Exploring Dance Collections at the Schomburg Center: Conducting Research

This research guide aims to give researchers an introduction to some of the dance collections that are housed across multiple departments within the Schomburg Center for Research in Black culture

Getting Started

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when starting a new research project:

  1. Identify formats of sources
    1. ​​The Schomburg Center is organized by format. Each of the 5 divisions offers a different research experience based on the medium that is housed there. 
    2. The Manuscripts, Archives, and Rare Books Division holds unpublished personal and institutional papers, and rare printed material. This means that you will find paper materials such as letters, newspaper clippings, passports, and other personal documents.
    3. This does not mean that other types of material is not available, only that you will need to go to another division to find things like photographs, sound recordings, artwork, or published books.
  2. Check for digitized material
    1.  Some of our collection items have been digitized and made available to you remotely. 
    2. This means, that you can view parts of collections, or in some cases, whole collections, from wherever it is that you enjoy using the internet.
  3. Start your searching
    1. There are a few tools available to help you identify materials to request to view.  Please see our five search platforms below.

Online Searching Tools


  • Identify a few subject areas that may prove helpful (e.g., Black Arts Movement, Labor, or Religion)
  • Identify collections listed under significant subject headings and search for them in the NYPL Catalog or the Archives Portal for more information.
  • Read the description to decide if you want to see the finding aid.

The New York Public Library Research Catalog allows you to do basic and advanced searches.

  • For basic searches you can narrow your search by:
    • Keyword
    • Author
    • Title
    • Subject
    • Location: Schomburg Center
  • The advanced search function allows you to do all of the above, but also narrow your search by:
    • Format (i.e., book, map, audio)
    • Specific Research Division (i.e., Schomburg Manuscripts and Archives)
    • Language
    • Year
    • Location: Schomburg Manuscripts and Archives

Advanced Searching tips:

  • Create a list of terms to use, and try different combinations of 2-3 terms to broaden and narrow your search results.

  • Use Boolean terms such as: AND, OR, NOT when searching to produce results using multiple terms.

  • Use Quotation marks (" ") for exact phrases and names.

  • Try local spellings of names for people, places or events.

To visit the Archives and Manuscripts Portal, visit

By searching for the title of the collection here, you will learn:

  • Where within NYPL the collection is housed

  • Citation information

  • Number of boxes or containers in the collection

  • Links to the NYPL digital collections

  • Subject headings to find additional collections and items

  • Access to the finding aid, if it has been published online.

Click on the tab that reads “Detailed Description” to locate the container list of the finding aid.  If that tab is unavailable, email us at to ask for the complete finding aid.

Use the “modify search” feature to narrow the location of collections. You can narrow to the Schomburg Center, or to specific divisions.

The New York Public Library Digital Collections contains 896,001 items and counting. While that is a small fraction of the Library's overall holdings, it is representative of the diversity of our vast collections—from books to videos, maps to manuscripts, illustrations to photos, and more.

Start with a search or begin browsing by itemcollection, or division. For a more extensive user guide and primer, see "NYPL Digital Collections Platform: An Introduction."

You can browse just the items that have no known U.S. copyright restrictions. When searching, select the "Search only public domain items" option to filter your results to items with no known U.S. copyright restrictions. On the Browse page, you can easily turn this filter on and off with the “Show Only Public Domain” button in the upper left corner of the page.

The Schomburg Center Web Archive Collections include websites, online audio and video, blogs, and other media, organized around specific topics, events, or movements, as well as the Schomburg Center’s own web pages. Collections are developed and curated around certain topics relating to the Schomburg Center and Black culture. Depending on collection guidelines and the nature of individual websites, websites may be archived at regularly scheduled intervals, such as semi-annual or quarterly. Development of the Schomburg Center’s web archiving program is made possible with generous support from Community Webs, funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Internet Archive, and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation; and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s generous support for the #SchomburgSyllabus project under the Scholarly Communications grant structure. The #SchomburgSyllabus project aims to document 21st century global Black life by continuing the development of the #Syllabus web archive collection and connecting today’s digital creations with the Schomburg Center’s historical collections. For more information visit: Founded in 1925 and named a National Historic Landmark in 2017, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture is one of the world’s leading cultural institutions devoted to the preservation, research, interpretation, and exhibition of materials focused on African American, African Diasporan, and African experiences.
Start by browsing our collections or sites or by searching the text of archived webpages. You can narrow your search results by collection name, subject, creator, publisher, date, format or coverage. 

The #SchomburgSyllabus archives Black-authored and Black-related online educational resources to document Black studies, movements, and experiences in the 21st century. In connecting these web-archived resources to the Schomburg Center’s own unique materials, the project honors and recognizes the source and strength of Black self-education practices, collective study, and librarianship. The #SchomburgSyllabus is curated by Schomburg Center staff and organized into 27 themes to foster a greater understanding of the Black experience. 

Members of dancer/chorographer Antony Tudor's Philadelphia's Dance Class

Two dancers rehearsing a dance move on the roof of Philadelphia downtown building

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Photographs and Prints Division, The New York Public Library. "Dancers John Jones (left) and Concetta De Prospero, performing on rooftop, when they were members of choreographer Antony Tudor's dance class at the Ballet Guild, Philadelphia, ca. 1954

Publicity portrait of unidentified tap dance trio

promo photo of 3 Men from an un-named tap trio. posing in costume

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Photographs and Prints Division, The New York Public Library. "Publicity portrait of unidentified tap dance trio" The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1850 - 1995.

Relevant Subject Terms

Subject headings are classifications that can lead you to additional resources on your topic. These terms can be searched for within the NYPL Catalog or the Archives Portal.

Dance, and dancing in general, is heavily rooted in one's cultural background. This can make for all different types of styles and variations of dance, as well as a multitude of names for the same dance. There are many different reasons to dance (birthday celebrations, cultural traditions, sacred ceremonies, etc.) which in turn results in a number of subject headings and/or key words that will give you varied results. Some of the key words/subject you might want to use while searching for materials related to dance are: 

  • Dance
  • Dancer 
  • Dance Troupe 
  • Ballet troupe/company
  • Performing Arts 
  • African-American Dance 
  • Black Dance/Dancing
  • Ballet Dance/Dancing
  • Modern Dance/Dancing
  • Tap Dance/Dancing 
  • Jazz Dance/Dancing 
  • Broadway
  • African Dance 
  • Choreography 
  • Choreographer
  • Lyrical Dance 
  • Musical Variety 
  • Dance in Motion Pictures
  • Negro Dance/Dancing 
  • Minstrel Show 
  • Vaudeville 

There are also some key figures of dance that have had a hand in shaping the last 50-75 years of the contemporary dance world including: 

  • Alvin Ailey 
  • Katherine Dunham 
  • Ada Bricktop Smith 
  • Pearl Primus
  • Geoffrey Holder 

You can also search dance collections by typing in a specific country/culture/ethnicity and adding "dance" to the search. Some search terms you might want to try are:

  • Haitian Dance
  • African Dance
  • Afrikan Dance
  • Dance - European
  • Dance - African
  • Dance - West African