Dancer, Actor, Trailblazer

Dancer, Actor, Trailblazer

Written on 01/09/2021

Sono Osato, the Japanese-American ballet dancer who created the role of Ivy Smith in the 1944 Broadway premiere of On the Town was born in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1919 to a French-Canadian mother and Japanese father, Osato began her professional career at the age of 14, when she auditioned for and was hired to join the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in 1934. She made history not only as the company’s youngest dancer, but also as the first American, and the first dancer of Japanese descent to join the internationally renowned troupe.

Her historic achievements, however, were not enough to shield Osato from discrimination and racial adversity, even within the performing arts. After her father was sent to a Japanese internment camp at the outbreak of World War II, Osato was encouraged to change her name; she assumed her mother’s maiden name, performing as Sono Fitzpatrick with the American Ballet Theater. Because of her Japanese heritage, the federal government barred the American-born dancer from touring with the American Ballet Theater.

She subsequently co-starred with Frank Sinatra in the 1947 film musical The Kissing Bandit and returned to Broadway twice more, taking on acting roles in the 1948 Jerome Moross musical Willie the Weeper and a 1951 revival of Ibsen’s Peer Gynt. Osato retired from performing shortly thereafter, dedicating much of her life to her family

Osato’s memoir, Distant Dances, was published in 1980. A longtime champion of Career Transition for Dancers, Osato established the Sono Osato Scholarship Program for Graduate Studies in 2006 and was honored in 2008 with the Career Transition for Dancers Award for Outstanding Contributions to the World of Dance.


"I never achieved great fame – no heights of incredible glory. But any strong endeavor that gives you a sense of joy is the greatest thing in life."

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