Edward Villella, a dancer/choreographer, has been recognized as the greatest male ballet dancer ever produced in America.

Edward Villella Headshot

Edward Villella

Adelphi University will confer an Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree to Edward Villella, a renowned ballet dancer, founder of the Miami City Ballet and currently a board member of the School of American Ballet, the official school of the New York City Ballet. Mr. Villella will receive the degree at Adelphi’s 118th Commencement on Monday, May 19, 2014, at 10:00 a.m. in the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, 1255 Hempstead Turnpike, Uniondale, NY.

Edward Villella, a dancer/choreographer, has been recognized as the greatest male ballet dancer ever produced in America, and his primacy hasn’t been challenged since his dancing career came to a premature end.

Born in Bayside, New York, he entered the School of American Ballet (SAB) at age 10, but interrupted his training to complete academic studies at the New York Maritime Academy, where he obtained a Bachelor of Science in Marine Transportation, lettered in baseball and was a championship boxer. He returned to the SAB and, in 1957, joined the New York City Ballet where he was quickly promoted to Soloist in 1958 and to Principal Dancer in 1960. Mr. Villella was the original male lead in many important ballets in the New York City Ballet repertoire, among them Tarantella, the “Rubies” section of Jewels, Symphony in Three Movements and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Perhaps his most famous role was in the 1960 revival of Balanchine’s 1929 masterpiece, Prodigal Son.

Along the way, he showed the world that a brash kid out of Bayside and the Maritime College could turn into a major artist and, in doing so, changed the way men danced in America as well as the way male dancers were perceived.

Mr. Villella has received nearly every important honor given to artists in the United States. He was appointed by President Johnson to the President’s National Council on the Arts. In 1997, he was the recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors and also the National Medal of Arts by President Clinton. In 1999, The Dance Heritage Coalition named him as one of the first 100 of America’s “Irreplaceable Dance Treasures” and, in 2009, he was awarded a fellowship to the Academy of Arts and Sciences. In May of 2013 he joined the ranks of George Balanchine, Martha Graham, Arthur Mitchell and Suzanne Farrell when he accepted the Award for Distinguished Service in the Arts from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. The honor was presented by Meryl Streep at a ceremony in New York City. In July, he will chair the International Jury for the 2014 USA International Ballet Competition.

Mr. Villella is the first American male dancer to perform with the Royal Danish Ballet, and the only American ever to be asked to dance an encore at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. He danced for President Kennedy’s inauguration and for presidents Johnson, Nixon and Ford. He was producer and director for the PBS series, Dance in America, and, in 1975, he won an Emmy Award for the CBS Television production of Harlequin.

In 1986, Mr. Villella founded the Miami City Ballet, which has garnered international acclaim, and was the Faculty Chair for the Miami City Ballet School. He left in September 2012 and has returned to New York.

For more information and the full day’s program, please contact Adelphi’s Commencement Office at (516) 877-4695 or visit

For further information, please contact:

Todd Wilson
Strategic Communications Director 
p – 516.237.8634
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