Celebrate Diversity In Ballet

When you hear the word “ballerina”, what image comes to mind? A slender caucasian girl? Actually, everyone can, and should, do ballet! They say variety is the spice of life, so all ethnicities should be welcomed. If you’re a teenager or parent, here’s some advice for leaving your unique mark on the ballet community.

1. Get inspired.

Read books, flip through dance magazines, and watch YouTube videos of famous non-white dancers. American Ballet Theater dancer Misty Copeland is a sterling example of an African American ballerina that paved her way to fame. Michaela DePrince, a survivor of war-torn Sierra Leone, now dances with Dutch National Ballet. Parisa Khobdeh, a Middle Eastern dancer with Paul Taylor Dance Company, had a strong foundation in ballet before she entered the world-class modern dance troupe. All of these dancers overcame racial stereotypes and found success.

2. Work hard.

No one should face discrimination for their ethnic heritage or the color of their skin. Everyone has a place in the classroom and the stage. Unfortunately, if you’re pursuing a professional career, backwards attitudes still exist, and you will have the work twice as hard to prove yourself. Attend class regularly and apply yourself. Volunteer to go first when learning combinations, and ask your teachers how you can improve.

3. Apply for scholarships.

Some professional ballet schools and companies have minority funding programs. If you pursue a professional career, you may qualify for a grant that will pay for your housing and training. Research the internet, cold call for information, and don’t overlook summer intensives. These annual workshops give you the opportunity to improve your technique, build a support system, and you many have the chance to perform in a student production.

4. Be exclusive.

Embrace who you are and join a dance company that features only your ethnicity ie. all black females, or Hispanic culture like Ballet Folklorico. This is a great avenue to gain performance experience and build your resume. Some local start-ups, especially modern ballet, take on a mix of co-ed dancers. If the concept of exclusivity doesn’t appeal to you, then aggressively pursue mainstream performance. Have confidence in your abilities while also learning to accept rejection.

5. Travel.

Experience new people and places. If you’re feeling stuck in a rut, this change of pace will give you a fresh perspective and help you to reassess your current situation. Should you stay near home base? Or would you benefit from dancing in a different area? Keep in mind, American audiences consider ethnic dancers to be edgy, so you may offer an exciting flavor to a local troupe. On the other hand, European companies are so ethnically diverse that you may have greater success abroad whether dancing professionally, or if you’re just looking for more open-minded scenery.

All colors and backgrounds should be encouraged to dance. If everyone was the same, life would be boring! Don’t let fear of being different hold you back from giving your unique contribution to the ballet world.

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image credit: Aldo Tapia
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image credit: Kymberly Janisch
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