Ballet has long been a dance form both built up and stifled by tradition. The precision of the positions; the exactness of the corps de ballet; the uniformity of appearance. But what happens when that structure that has existed for centuries excludes entire groups of people, simply because of the skin with which they were born? When that desire for "perfection" is prioritized over equality and fairness for all? This is the reality faced by Black dancers and dancers of color all around the world.
Dance Theatre of Harlem was founded by Arthur Mitchell and Karel Shook in 1969 at the height of the civil rights movement; it is a sanctuary for diversity and celebrates dancers of color. Currently, our country is experiencing another civil rights movement, in which Black Lives Matter protests, demonstrations, and marches for equality have swept the streets of every city.
So what will change this time?
How will the dance world, in particular, move forward and away from what has widely been viewed as "acceptable" by its predominantly white leadership?
How will ballet companies, usually deep-rooted in biased tradition, intentionally begin to incorporate more diversity within their organizations?
We sat down with four professional, Black dancers from companies across the country, to discuss their experiences growing up in the ballet world, their thoughts on what must change, and their messages to young, aspiring Black and Brown dancers, everywhere. Hear from:
- Amanda Smith, Company Member, Dance Theatre of Harlem
- Ricardo Dyer, Company Member, Smuin Ballet
- Eileen Frazer, Company Member, Ballet Memphis
Derek Brockington, Company Member, Dance Theatre of Harlem