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

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Embracing our individualities

I remember the excitement surrounding this Vogue issue, and being in Italy when it hit the stands. I remember going through each page so carefully and wondering why there was only a section in the middle of the magazine dedicated to black models. I guess I was expecting every page, from beginning to end, to be about black beauty.  Well this was not the case, but nevertheless I was happy there was at least an awareness that black beauty needed to be acknowledged. It made me think of a time when I was a young dancer in New York City Ballet and I had arrived at the point where I was so tired of seeing images of beauty other than my own. I wanted to feel beautiful and celebrated for who I was an African American woman. I wanted to feel free to celebrate my identity, not suffocated by the restricted view of beauty that was fed to me since childhood. A view that put a premium on alabaster skin, long straight hair, fine features and stick thin physiques. I wanted to wear my hair natural and embrace my own, unique identity. I remember being very angry at times at the images being forced upon me, images which I felt boxed me in and closed me off. I knew this wasn't a healthy attitude and anger seems to contaminate every good endeavor. It was then that I truly understood the need for some to take a trip back to their ancestral homes, where they yearn to find unity and belonging. I too wanted a reminder of why I should hold my head high and not be ashamed of my differences. So I trained harder and focused harder. I wanted beauty and strength to resonate through every ounce of me.


As the Nutcracker season is behind us now, I remember reading a review from a random audience member of one Nutcracker performance. In that particular show I danced the solo of Arabian. For this character, the women all wear a long gold scarf on there heads and some sort of body jewelry. It's individual but most place rhinestones on their foreheads and maybe one their belly. I remember this individual making a reference to me looking like "Little Kim," with my blonde wig and flashy jewelry. At the time I was so disturbed by this comment. I didn't want to focus on such an ignorant comment, but it was hard not to. Why did I have to be referred to as "Little Kim" when I wore the same thing as everyone else?  I even thought about not adding the traditional rhinestones for the next show. In the end, I continued doing what I normally did and just brushed it off. Not too long after that, I received a not from a very young dancer telling me I was their favorite Arabian. I was probably not her only favorite but it was the a small reminder that I was appreciated. I did so badly want to write this woman and explain to her that I wasn't wearing anything different from the others, but what would be the gain? There are some things that just aren't worth it, and in the end all you can do is smile.

It most certainly is no easy battle, trying to feel beautiful in a world where the image of beauty has always been so monolithic. It definitely takes a certain will and determination to overcome such adversities, but we are resilient. So as we keep breaking the molds and pushing barriers, I look forward to opening more magazines, turning on the television and most certainly looking at more ballet rosters and finding many women of color holding their own and feeling beautiful.


While browsing online I came across this website, which seemed relevant to this discussion. I loved what the creators have to say about their product, and now that I am a mother myself, this is how I want my daughter to see the world. A diverse and beautiful canvas.