By Nanya Konwea.
Black women rarely come to mind when you think of ballerinas. Most people think they are better off as hip-hop dancers only, and the image of a Caucasian woman will most often than not aptly describe a ballerina; but not so much anymore. Black women are gaining more presence in the places they are rarely thought qualified for, like in classical ballet productions such as Swan Lake. With beautiful beginnings and amazing records, here are 5 ballerinas that are changing stereotypes and allowing other black women dare to dream.
Named first principal black ballerina at the American Theatre, the ballerina made headlines when she ascended into the pantheon of principal dancers at the American Ballet Theater, the first African-American woman ever to do so. But even before her promotion, her fame spread far beyond the gilded walls of the theater. From the raging custody battle that encapsulated her as a teen, to touring with Prince, Misty didn’t glide onto the scene. She leaped. Performing a variety of classical and contemporary roles, one of Misty’s most important roles was performing the title role in Firebird. In December 2014, Misty performed the lead role of “Clara” in American Ballet Theatre’s production of The Nutcracker, also choreographed by Alexei Ratmansky. In the fall of 2014, she made history as the first black woman to perform the lead role of “Odette/Odile” in American Ballet Theatre’s Swan Lake during the company’s inaugural tour to Australia.
Michaela De Prince
From a Sierra Leone orphanage to center stage, Michaela’s story is awe inspiring. Rebels killed her father when she was three years old and her mother died of starvation. As a toddler, she discovered a photograph of a smiling ballerina blown up against the gate of her orphanage. Captivated by the woman’s tutu and pointe shoes, Michaela held on to the photo, and began to dream of a better life. Destiny intervened when an American couple adopted her. After relocating to States, Michaela began training with The Rock School in Pennsylvania. Some ballet instructors deterred her, citing her muscular frame and speckled brown skin as deterrment to her dream to become a ballerina. Michaela pressed on. She rose to fame in 2011 when a film crew chronicled her entry in the prestigious Prix de Lausanne ballet competition for the award-winning documentary First Position.
Photocredit: Michaela De Prince.com
Photocredit: Luis Pons Photography
Precious Adams made headlines in 2011 when she moved to Moscow to study with the Bolshoi Ballet, one of the oldest and foremost ballet institutions in the world. As the sole brown face in the academy, Precious encountered fierce discrimination. Regularly passed over for performances, one teacher even encouraged her to “try to rub the Black off.” Precious persevered, becoming one of the first African-American ballerinas to graduate from the school. Armed with superior technique and classic lines, she has since taken the ballet world by storm. She accepted an invitation to dance with the English National Ballet in London and received two top prizes at the 2014 Prix De Lausanne. The Michigan native has studied ballet in renown institutions throughout the world, including the National Ballet School in Toronto and The Princess Grace Academy in Monte Carlo.
Photocredit: J Reid Photography
Dara Holmes is a mesmerizing dancer with a tragic past. When she was three, she pointed to a picture of a ballerina and said, “Mama, teach me this.” Dara was eager to dance, but formal lessons were out of the question for her cash-strapped family. That is, until five years later when Dara attended an outreach program at the Wilmington School of Ballet. The school’s owner, Elizabeth Hester, took notice of Dara’s innate ability and awarded her a scholarship for as long as she needed. On a November night in 2004, she and her mother were driving to a dance rehearsal when a speeding car struck theirs. Dara broke her collarbone. Her mother was killed. Plagued with feelings sorrow and guilt, Dara poured herself into her craft, treating dance like therapy. She won a scholarship to train with the prestigious Harid Conservatory where she spent three years polishing her skills. After graduation, she earned a spot with The Joffrey Ballet where she has since performed lead roles in Cinderella, Swan Lake, Paquita and Le Corsaire.
Photocredit: J Reid Photography
Katlyn Addison hails from Ontario, Canada. When she was really little, seeing the Nutcracker and seeing the Sugar Plum Fairy come on stage, she told her mom she wanted to do that when she grew up. She danced briefly with The Houston Ballet for joining Ballet West in 2011 after her talent was quickly noticed by Ballet West’s artistic director Adam Sklute. Addison has danced many roles for Ballet West. She even served as an understudy for previous Sugar Plum Fairy ballerinas. Only two other Black ballerinas in major American companies have danced the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy — Lauren Anderson of the Houston Ballet, whom Addison saw perform the role before Anderson retired, and Misty Copeland, currently a principal dancer at American Ballet Theatre. In 2014, she was promoted to demi-soloist. An emerging choreographer, Katlyn’s work The Hunt, a ballet set to percussion, premiered in 2015 with Ballet West. In her spare time, she also models for Elevé dance wear.