Grace, beauty, strength. Three words that aptly describe a bunhead. Traditionally an art form devoid of color, progress is being made in the ballet world but black ballerinas are still a rare breed, especially in leading roles. But fear not, we have a list of 10 amazing black ballerinas making waves, breaking barriers and working to change the face of ballet for The Culture.
Misty Copeland is likely the one you’ve heard the most about and with good reason. Misty has broken boundaries that seemed impossible for a ballet dancer of any color. Copeland has managed to be one of the few African-American ballerinas to be appointed as a soloist and then in 2015, she took it to the next level and became the first African-American female principal dancer in the America Ballet Theater’s 75-year history. She has gone on to do commercials, be featured in a Drake video, garner major endorsements, become a best-selling authored has a starring role in the upcoming Disney blockbuster The Nutcracker and the Four Realms. Despite her late start in dance, her unlikely body type, and the color of her skin she has worked her way up to become THE ballerina prototype.
A graceful queen from Queens, Olivia started studying at the Dance Theater of Harlem perfecting her craft and currently she is the only African-American female dancer with the New York City Ballet, considered by many to be the penultimate dance company in America, making her a truly elite dancer. She is the fifth Black woman to ever dance with the company, and the first since 2003. And in 2018 she became the face of Puma’s latest active wear campaign
Michaela has gone from humble beginnings to breaking boundaries for black women in dance. She was born in Sierra Leone and then adopted by an American family. She was featured in the 2011 ballet documentary First Position and wrote the book Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina. She is the only dancer of African origin in the Dutch National Ballet where she is not just a dancer, she’s the soloist. You may also recognize her as the performer in the “Hope” sequence of Beyoncé’s Lemonade visual.
Paige is one of the most well trained and accomplished dancers in the world with a resume too long to post. So here’s the abridged version: In 2012 she graduated Cum Laude from the Ailey/Fordham BFA program in Dance. In 2014 & 2015 she performed in the highly acclaimed finale for Dance For Life Chicago. Paige appeared in Beyoncé’s “Bow Down” tour opener and has been featured in Essence, Dance Magazine, and Lucky and Revolution Dancewear ads and is the featured dancer in the 2016 Intel “Experience Amazing” commercial. She is also a founding member of Visceral Dance Chicago.
Dara is a mesmerizing dancer who has overcome tragedy to become one of the top ballerinas in the world. In 2004, she was in a car accident in which tragically, her mother was killed. 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 and been nominated for a 3Arts Award.
Nicole’s journey from New York to the world stage is a testament to perseverance and the power of social media. When she was offered a year-long traineeship to the Bolshoi Ballet Academy with a $16,000 tuition price tag she set up a Go Fund Me page and sent a heartfelt email to her idol, Misty Copeland. Misty posted Nicole’s email to her Facebook page and donations began rolling in including a large donation from Questlove of the Roots. After completing her training at the Bolshoi she landed a spot with the Hong Kong Ballet. She is the recipient of an Alvin Ailey Fellowship and was named a Grishko USA Rising Star. She has performed many of the classics including Don Quixote and Sleeping Beauty.
Ingrid Silva was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. At the age of 8, she began her ballet training at Dançando Para Não Dançar, a social project in the Mangueira slum. She worked her way up to an apprenticeship with Grupo Corpo, one of the most prestigious Brazilian dance companies. She soon moved to New York and joined the Dance Theatre of Harlem and is currently on her 5th season with the company. Silva has also served as a cultural ambassador for the U.S. and has participated in community outreach initiatives in Jamaica, Israel, and Honduras. She was also featured in the movie Maré, Nossa História de Amor. She has been featured in Vogue and Glamour Brazil and is also an Activia Global Ambassador.
Born in Ontario, Canada, Katlyn has danced with The Houston Ballet and Ballet West where she is now a soloist. She is the third black ballerina in history to play the Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker, after Lauren Anderson of the Houston Ballet and Misty Copeland of the American Ballet Theatre. She was named one of Huffington Post’s “26 Black Female Choreographers and Dancers You Should Know.” Not simply a dancer, Katlyn is also anemerging choreographer. Her work, The Hunt, a ballet set to percussion, premiered in 2015. And in her limited spare time, she also models for Elevé dancewear.
Alison was born in Brazil and adopted at four months old and moved to New York. Her talents were noticed young. In 2010, Alison won the title “Miss New York’s Outstanding Teen” and won Overall Talent at Miss America’s Outstanding Teen. She has toured across the country dancing and also performed as a soloist with recording artist Sarah McLachlan in her Hope Rising Concert. She is now with the Dance Theatre of Harlem and starred in her first national ad campaign with Tumi Luggage. Alison also travels teaching master classes, providing coaching and choreography to help the next generation.
Awa started as a standout student at the Paris Opera Ballet School who’s natural ability and talent could not be ignored. She ended up winning a prestigious and highly coveted apprenticeship with the Paris Opera Ballet Company. The oldest ballet company in the world by the way. Awa is the first woman of African descent to join and her star is rising very quickly.
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Written by @TalentedMrFord