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

Wednesday, June 1, 2011



As a young girl,  who I choose to look up to was definitely affected by the morals and values my parents put into place at a young age.  I wonder now, as I see it becoming the norm that women exploit themselves, from magazines to videos, who are the role models for young women and girls today.  My childhood “idols” were strongly influenced by the values instilled by my parents. However, with women’s self-exploitation prevalent throughout popular culture, from videos to magazines, I wonder who young women are looking up to today, and what cues are they receiving from their heroes.

I recall offering to teach ballet at a community center some time ago. I worked with only a small group of children, but I was struck by the lack of interest many of them had with ballet. They were completely aloof regarding all things classical--it seemed only my pointe shoes could grab their attention. However, my class was more than just ballet instruction, I wanted to impart the lesson that ballet could teach them how to comport themselves with dignity and grace through its discipline, impeccable form and decorum. I wanted to show them that they did not have to be overly sexualized to be beautiful.This was the lesson my mother taught me, which was reinforced through ballet.  After an evening of implementing this lesson in my small class, I was heartbroken to see these young ladies, not old enough to drive, emulating the lewd and suggestive dances of video vixens while waiting for their rides home. Unfortunately, this behavior is commonplace, and endorsed by the silence of adults. I left the program feeling hopeless and unproductive—besides, I had only a couple of days to work with them, while the destructive lyrics and images pumped from their radios, televisions and computers worked on them everyday.  How could lessons regarding dignity, discipline and grace compete with a 24 hour cycle of glamorized exploitation set to enticing baselines and special effects?

As I see more and more young women emulating what they see represented in the media, I often wonder what happened to admiring women of substance. Why is it acceptable for many of our young women to behave like divas and dress like sex objects? We should stand as a community of parents, neighbors and people of good conscience to resist this wave of vulgarity pawning itself off as entertainment.  We should stop teaching young women through our silence and indifference that it’s acceptable to exploit your beauty and be seen as a sexual object. Our daughters, sisters and nieces are more than “eye candy” or half-naked video props, they are princesses who should understand their value and worth.


I look forward to having more opportunity to offer the benefits of my classical training to more and more young women and girls. I do believe that it is possible to capture their attention and win their appreciation. It will definitely take a little more work and creativity to undo their media induced trance, but it can be done!


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  2. Thanks for this Aesha.

  3. Random question. What's the typeface used for your title?

  4. Aesha,

    I came across your blog several weeks ago and have enjoyed reading your thoughts about dance.

    I saw a horrific example of this trend over the weekend at an arts festival in Michigan. Tiny girls around 5-6 years old strutted and shimmied around a stage to "Love Shack", while the audience whistled and cheered. I thought I was going to be sick! I don't know what was more heart-breaking: that their dance teachers thought this was appropriate for young girls, that the dance teachers were able to pass off the constant shaking and gyrating as dance, or that the audience (parents included) encouraged it.

    Thankfully, I saw another dance school perform that day. They proved that one can dance to modern songs without being overly sexual. They actually danced steps and their choreography was age-appropriate. They were a joy to watch and the sick feeling in my stomach slowly went away.

    Anyhow, I just want to encourage you in your efforts. These young girls may not see the benefit of your lessons right away, but there is a good chance they will remember when they tire of the empty pleasures they are currently indulging in.


  5. Cecilia,

    I too have had my days of competitions, where jazz walking and strutting around the stage seemed all the norm. However, my mother always made sure it didn't go too far. It seems what we are witnessing today is taken to a very different level. As a society, I do feel that we are softening our standards as to what is and is not acceptable. Whenever given the opportunity, I will continue to teach our young women and girls that there are other qualities to look up to and admire.

    Thank you for your encouragement!


  6. @Anonymous random question - I believe the typeface is Georgia, Italic Type.