Sharing the struggles and celebrating the triumphs of being African American in the ballet world and beyond.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The start of a journey

I have thought about doing a blog for some time now. I knew what I wanted the concept of the blog to be, but could never quite figure out how and where to start. In the end I decided I would just dive in head first.

It seems as though that throughout my career people have been curious to know what I experienced as a black woman in ballet. If it wasn't the reporters, that seem to show up every other Black History Month, it was inquisitive students or mothers wanting to know what they are getting themselves or there child into. Often times, from my mouth to print, information would become misconstrued ( either because something was taken out of context or my full response was not printed). I wanted a place where I could answer questions and share my own story unedited.

This blog is intended for individuals who struggle with being a minority in the dance world ( especially the ballet world). I want to be able to share my experience with you, and the little knowledge that I learned along the way. Although, it is important to remember that each has his own journey and no two stories are the same, we can share our experiences to find the strength to persevere.

The title of the blog sprouted from this article in the New York Times, that raised the question of why there are so few women of color in ballet.


  1. Great idea! I actually would love to speak with you about the blog I recently launched about dancers of color. Darrell Moultrie said you'd be great to reach out to.

  2. Thank you! I have been asked to do a blog for quite some time and I finally decided to give it a go. Also, I would love to chat with you about your blog. Just let me know how you would like to communicate and feel free to advertise your blog here as well. I want this to be a creative outlet for dancers of color to express and to share.

  3. I just wanted to say thank you so much for blogging about your real life experience as a dancer of color. I am also an african american dancer who has had a difficult experience in this "dance world." I am hopefully that in time there will be more dancer of color dancing(especially ballet), with the same respect and same opportunities. Looking forward to reading more of your personal journey. I was wondering if you could explain your personal reasons on why you desired to become a ballerina as oppose to a modern dancer or contemporary, etc,etc?

  4. You are very welcome and it is my pleasure! I am so sorry to hear that you have had a difficult experience, but I too am hopeful that things will change.

    Why I chose ballet over other forms of dance, is a question I am frequently asked. There are a few reasons. I didn't start dancing with a love of ballet. Actually I was not a big fan when I initially started. Later, I began seeing how few women of color there were in the ballet world, and had even been warned that it would be difficult for me. At one time I was actually directed to pursue other forms of dance. I saw ballet as a challenge that I wanted to take on. I wanted to prove that there was a place for women of color in the ballet world.

    Leslie, thank you for asking this question and please feel free to share your own personal experience(if you are comfortable of course). I would like this to be a forum where dancers can share their struggles and uplift one another, while they continue on their individual journey.

  5. Hello Aesha, as a current dance student and ballet fan I am excited that you started a blog. What are some of the areas you excelled at in ballet and what others did you have to work harder for? For example, petite allegro, adagio, etc. Also lately at a audition I was told that my quadriceps were overdeveloped, do you know of anything that could help me slim them down? My ankles also sickle naturally and I am flat-footed, do you know any exercises to help stretch and wing my feet. I know these are a lot of questions but as an aspiring dancer and future educator, I want to be able help others who have my body issues and foot structure. Thanks!!!

  6. Hello Jennifer,

    First, I would like to thank you for your questions as I think there are many others who may have the same concerns.

    I don't really feel like there was anything that I excelled at in ballet. I started taking ballet seriously much later than most. This left me behind in my technique. I didn't have a natural facility for ballet, and not starting to zero in on my weaknesses early on left me with issues that should have already been tackled. I guess there is always something that one does which may come a little better than things but I truly felt that none of it came easy for me. Starting from the beginning of class until the finish, I had to work like a dog.

    I too struggled with overdeveloped quads. I think many dancers do. I didn't really understand how to correct it until the end of my career. As I went through my Pilates certification and started understanding my body at a deeper level, I began to realize that the way I was working was all wrong. For myself personally, too much work in the quadriceps attributed to my tight hip flexors. I was doing way too much gripping and tensing in my work. Trying to force my technique. I understand how all of the work should come from your core while the limbs have freedom of movement on a much deeper level now. So I began to strengthen my core more as well as work on strengthening my hamstrings and gluts, which were a bit weaker than they should have been. Also, remember to work with length. To achieve this it helps to think of everything as indefinite. When you are just standing in first position, imagine the soles of your feet melting through the floor, pulling away from your hips while your upper body continues to grow upwards. In all your work think of this "taffy like" stretching, all while keeping your hip flexors open and free from gripping. A tendu doesn't end at the tips of your toes, but continues on an indefinite plane. Think about feeling the backs of you legs more as well as the smaller more fine tuned muscles.

    As far as your feet are concerned. There are lots of wonderful exercises that you can do with the Theraband the help your sickled issue. It will also take a lot of concentration and retraining your body while you work, but it can be done. There are also many wonderful Pilates exercises to help with your flat feet.

    Below are a few links to some helpful exercises:

    While you do these, make sure you focus on maintaining correct alignment.

    I hope you have found this information helpful.

    Good luck!