Brown Girls Do Ballet: 9 Ways to Support Your Little Ballerina
Words: mater mea
Got a future Misty Copeland on your hands? Help your child reach their dreams of being a ballerina with these tips.
Does your child dream of being a prima ballerina or principal dancer? Though it used to be harder to find role models, nowadays budding Black ballerinas and ballerinos can look up to ceiling-crashing icons like Misty Copeland, Michaela DePrince, and Gabe Stone Shayer.
But the world of classical ballet has a lot of catching up to do when it comes to representations of Black and brown dancers. While companies like Alvin Ailey and the Dance Theater of Harlem exist, the dance form still prioritizes uniformity and Eurocentric ideals of beauty—think flat chests, thin frames, and pale skin—which makes it hard for Black ballet dancers (and their mothers) to feel seen.
When her then 3-year-old daughter expressed interest in taking ballet classes, TaKiyah soon discovered firsthand the lack of imagery showcasing ballerinas of color. What started as a photo project to capture ballerinas of color in her hometown has since become the "premier information source for ballerinas of color."
Brown Girls Do Ballet's Instagram page is a source of inspiration and knowledge for aspiring ballerinas.
"To young girls who are 10 or 11 years old...those images of women who look just like them doing exactly what they want to do is powerful," TaKiyah says. "It makes them feel motivated... It's empowering. It lets you know as a little girl in Memphis, Tennessee that one day the possibility is there, it's open to you."
But as we've learned from Misty and Michaela's stories, black ballerinas face unique challenges. We rounded up a few resources for parents wanting to help their young dancers focus on doing what they love.
• Get financial support: Part of the reason ballet lacks diversity is because of the cost. For parents whose children are serious about becoming professional dancers, there's a hefty cost associated with that dream: According to a report by FiveThirtyEight, ballet classes can cost up to $120,000 over the course of 15 years.
Some companies have diversity and inclusion programs that offer scholarships, and the Boys & Girls Clubs of America famously gives ballet lessons. (It's how Misty Copeland got her start!) Check out the American Ballet Theater's Project Plié to learn of other initiatives around the nation.
• Read up on ballet: If you're not familiar with the dance world at large and classical ballet specifically, you may want to take some time to educate yourself on the community your child will be entering. The Atlanta Ballet has a glossary of ballet terms and positions to get you started.
• Join a ballet dance forum: Ballet Talk for Dancers is a popular online forum where parents can share articles, ask questions, and get support. And if your dancer is older, they can check out this ballet forum on Reddit and share their triumphs and struggles with fellow dancers.
We've all heard the phrase "You can't be it if you can't see it." So help your dancer be who they want to be with the following:
• Read books about Black ballerinas: There's Beautiful Ballerina, a children's book of poetry featuring photos of dancers from the Dance Theater of Harlem; Firebird (for your younger reader/ballerina) and the memoir Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina by Misty Copeland; Dancing in the Wings by Debbie Allen; Sugar Plum Ballerinas by Whoopi Goldberg; The Ballerina's Little Black Book by Brittani Marie; and Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina by Michaela DePrince.
And while this book's protagonist isn't Black, The Only Boy in Ballet Class may be helpful for your aspiring ballet dancer.
• Find role models: Misty and Michaela are fantastic, but there are other Black ballet dancers out there for your kids to look up to. There's Ingrid Silva, Alison Stroming, and Courtney Lavine—and Black ballerinas like Judith Jamison, Raven Wilkinson, and Lauren Anderson paved the way for all of them.
• Look at performances starring Black ballet performers: YouTube is full of performances for your dancers to emulate around the house. Just type in "black ballerinas" and you'll find hundreds of videos showing dancers of all ages en pointe or leaping across the stage. Take some time to show them performances by companies like the Alvin Ailey Dance Company and the Dance Theater of Harlem, or their role models.
Finding Skin-Toned Dancewear
Dancers and moms alike have shared the difficulties of finding skin-toned dancewear and the annoyances that come with having to dye pointe shoes, leotards, and tutus themselves. While some Target stores carry brown Danskin tights, it's still a speciality request to find dancewear for Black ballerinas. Here's how you can address that.
• Learn how to customize dancewear: Ingrid Silva posted a video that explains how she gets her pointe shoes brown: She uses a sponge and liquid foundation in her skin tone, a technique known as "pancaking." Bloggers in the dance community have written posts on how to dye pointe shoes and how to dye tutus and leotards.
• Find brands that sell true-nude dancewear: Ballerinas of color have being pushing for companies to make dancewear in a variety of shades outside of pink, beige, and white. Some companies are listening, and some have popped up to meet this need—like Mahogany Blues, which sells fleshtone leotards.
If you need shoes, you can try Blendz Apparel (ballet shoes, as well as tights), Gaynor Minden (pointe shoes), and Danskin Freestyle (ballet slippers). And for tights, there's Nubian Skin, Nude Barre, Ballet Cafe Naturals, and Shades of Dance.
Now that you have a good idea of how you can support your ballerina, you both can enjoy this beautiful pastime together. (Just make sure you tag us in pictures from ballet class!)