black ballerinas

i love dance.  notice i stated “i love dance” and not “i love to dance.”  the thing is, i appreciate and admire the art form of dance above all others, but i also recognize my very limited ability to actually dance.

one halloween, my mother made me the best costume imaginable: pink leotard, white tights, and a homemade pink tutu.  now, at ten-years old and 5’8” tall, i’m sure i looked ridiculous in this getup, but on october 31, 1992, i was surely destined for the new york city ballet.  unfortunately, i’ve never taken a dance class in my life and have not one ounce of natural talent; therefore, my dreams of becoming a professional dancer didn’t last long.  however, i never let go of my fascination with not just ballet, but tap, jazz, african, and modern dance.

before you ask, no, this isn’t a story about shattered childhood dreams.  i’ll save that narrative for a therapist.  instead, i recognize that my love for the arts wasn’t nurtured for reasons beyond my control.  there were extremely limited opportunities for black girls to study dance in polk county, florida in the 80s and early 90s.  in fact, there was only one black student at the dance studio in my small town, largely because working-class black girls like myself couldn’t afford the fees. also, the curriculum lacked any type of cultural relevance.

so what about little black girls who want to be ballerinas in 2012? ballet remains a notoriously lily white and racially prejudicial art form.  groundbreaking black ballerina misty copeland (shown above) speaks about the racism she’s experienced as the first black woman to serve as soloist for the american ballet theatre.  i watched her videos with tears in my eyes.

austin’s china smith and her dance studio ballet afrique are opening ballet to a wider demographic.  her studio mixes ballet and traditional african dance, working to demolish the presiding belief that only white girls from the well-to-do side of town deserve to train as classical dancers.  ballet afrique could very well be training the next tiger woods or venus and serena williams of dance.    check out the video of the adult company’s tribute to four women by nina simone.  bravo to brown skin, natural hair, and thick silhouettes.


One comment

  1. Hey there! It’s Carissa from ballet class. By the way, I love your blog! Secondly, on this subject, I definitely recommend watching the documentary First Position ( It’s available via Netflix streaming. Of the ballerinas featured is Michaela DePrince, a 14-year-old black dancer from Philadelphia. She was adopted by white parents from Sierra Leone at the height of the country’s civil war. She talks about how that experience inspired her to become a ballerina and about the adversity she faces in the world of ballet because of her muscular body type etc. It also features her mother who hand dyes all of her daughter’s ballet undergarments to match the color of her skin because they are usually only available in a light, nude color. I was in tears the entire time. You’ll love it!


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