Mystery surrounds murder of Jacksonville native and ballet dancer found shot after wreck

Popular Dallas choreographer murdered

DALLAS - Darrell Cleveland graced the stages of the Dallas Black Dance Theatre for nine seasons.

He enthralled audiences with his ballet moves and athletic dancing style.

The murder of the 45-year-old Sunday morning in downtown Dallas sent shockwaves through the North Texas dance community. Police say they have no leads in the case.

He lost control of his car shortly before 3 a.m. Sunday at Ervay and Cadiz streets. His car came to rest against a parking meter. A homeless man who saw the crash flagged down a police officer, who discovered that Cleveland had been shot in the hip.

“Darrell was very into his work,” said Lisa Slagle, director of the Ballet Academy of Texas in Coppell. “That was his life. … He was a kind and very much respected individual in the community I can't imagine who would hurt him.”

Cleveland came to work for the Dallas Black Dance Theatre in 1989. The Jacksonville native had just finished college and was getting started in his professional career.

“We look for more than just the artistic talent,” said founder Ann Williams. “We look for those that I would say has their head on straight and that he was.”

Cleveland traveled all across the world with the company to places like South Africa, London and Italy.

He and Williams became close friends and stayed in regular contact. She called herself his Dallas mother.

Recently, he was named a finalist for a position as a dance professor at a Louisiana college.

Over the years, Cleveland became an accomplished choreographer. His choreography credits include work for the Dallas Summer Musicals and Texas Lottery commercials. He’d also worked with renowned artists including En Vogue and Toni Braxton. He taught in dance schools and universities all across North Texas and beyond.

“He was so good and everybody sought after him,” said Williams, who became emotional as she talked about him. “The places that he taught he was there forever because he was such a great teacher.”

Williams said Cleveland’s mother is making plans to come to Dallas to make funeral arrangements for her only child.

Many of his former students and fellow instructors took to Facebook to express their sorrow about his death.

“So extremely sad to find out that this amazing soul has left us too early,” wrote Victoria Faith Dolph, a local ballet instructor. “Darrell Cleveland was the kindest person, beautiful inside and out. A phenomenal dancer. I'm just sick and in shock.”

Another fellow dance instructor, Lindsay Daniel, wrote that the world “lost a beautiful soul.”

“I am heartbroken and without words,” she wrote.

His picture still adorns the wall os Slagle’s academy, where he taught for 15 years. He’d taken a two-year hiatus while he completed his master’s degree at Texas Women’s University.

Cleveland performed in Nutcracker performances the academy put on in 2006, 2007 and 2008. He also choreographed for her academy.

“You can always tell when something's really good when you're sitting in the audience and it gets really quiet and people are mesmerized,” Slagle said. “And that was what happened when his work was on the stage.”

Slagle says he had a charisma that can’t be taught.

“You either got that or you don’t,” Slagle said.

He was an energetic teacher who expected hard work from his students.

“He challenged his dancer,” she said. “He’d always say, ‘Alright, let’s do it just one more time,’ and they would just be exhausted when they came out of his classes, but exhilarated at the same time.”

He’d planned to return to teach for Slagle next month. She got the signed contract in the mail Monday.

Anyone with information about the shooting is asked to call 214-671-0524.

© 2017 WFAA-TV


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