What is the first thing that pops into your mind when you think about ballet? I immediately think of pink tutus, leotards and ballet slippers. What also comes to mind is the traditional look of a slender, flexible, Caucasian woman. I remember my first exposure to ballet was around the age of ten when I went on a class trip to see The Nutcracker. What is most glaring to me is that I do not remember any people of color in the performance. Being Puerto Rican and having a nephew who has recently taken up ballet and who is attending a ballet technical school, I was spurred to do some research on the topic.
The ballet to me has always seemed reserved for the privileged. The ballet is all fur coats and orchestra seating. The idea of being in the ballet was never in the mix as a youngster. Being raised in the projects, exposure to the arts is few and far between. Everyone from the neighbor “hood” idolizes the ball players and rappers and ballet is considered as something abstract. When I found out my nephew tried out for a ballet school and was accepted, I was skeptical. It did didn’t seem to be something that we belonged in.
I learned that historically people of color are not well represented in ballet. The first ballet was performed in the 15th century, yet Joseph Rickard performed the first Negro ballet in 1947. On the first day of school, my fears were substantiated when we were greeted with a line around the block of skinny white girls dressed in full ballet attire. We were overwhelmed and I think we both felt as if we did not fit in.
I think I was far more nervous than my nephew was, but once inside, the atmosphere was much different. As one comes off the elevator you are greeted by a photograph of Alvin Ailey and the exuberance of his leap is captivating. The ambience was welcoming as we saw a diverse group of children reporting for school. Ballet Tech is a public school that specializes in dance and is rich in diversity. They scour New York City public schools for talented children. The founder and artistic director Eliot Feld, estimated that they auditioned over 25,000 children and my nephew was one of the talented few to be selected.
I admire my nephew’s bravery and he is my hero. He stepped out of his comfort zone and jumped headfirst into a new venture. Little does he know that he is part of movement that is breaking barriers. Along with Ballet Tech, the American Ballet Theater is taking an initiative to incorporate youth from diverse backgrounds as stated by CEO of the American Ballet Theater Rachel S. Moore, “In launching Project Plié, American Ballet Theater aims to take an important step toward helping the classical ballet profession better reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of our country’s population.”
This opportunity has infused him with the confidence that anything is possible. He has taken to ballet and moves with the fluidity of a seasoned veteran. He has matured leaps and bounds and much has to be attributed to his immersion in the arts. I remember the overwhelming feeling I felt when I first saw him perform. While race will always be considered, within the limits of ballet he is just one of them. Ballet Tech is helping change the stereotypes and like Alvin Ailey once said, “I am trying to show the world that we are all human beings and that color is not important. What is important is the quality of our work”.
1. “Bringing Color To Ballet.” Pointe Magazine. 01 05 2008:
n. page. Web. 15 Feb. 2014.
2. Dunning, Jennifer. Alving Ailey: A Life in Dance. 1st ed.
Cambridge: De Capo Press, 1996. 468. eBook.
3. Wilson, Kimberly. “American Ballet Theater Launches
Project Plié to Attract Minorities to Ballet.” Black Enterprise. 18 09 2013: n. page. Print. http://www.blackenterprise.com/lifestyle/american-ballet-theater-launches-initiative-to-bring-color-to-ballet
About the Author,
Nelson is a writer who is his own worst enemy. His writing process consists of doodling; daydreaming and perfecting his trash can jump shot. His realist fiction can be described as morose enough to rouse the dead. Still pursuing his bachelors, his goals are to graduate from John Jay College, attain his master’s degree in education and mold young minds. He hails from the birthplace of Hip Hop and aspires to inspire. He will have his first story published soon and that is one more than Rush Limbaugh should be legally allowed to.