Black ballerinas are on pointe!

Last week, I had the opportunity to cross something off of my bucket list. I don't have many lofty or extraordinary things on my list; just meaningful experiences that take me back to the few safe places of my childhood. Since I was a little girl, I always wanted to see a Black ballet ensemble perform and I had the opportunity to see The Dance Theatre of Harlem perform in Irving, Texas.

I vividly remember the birthday I received a doll that looked like a Black ballerina.  She had on a pink tutu with cotton candy pink tights and pointe shoes. When you would press her head, her leg would kick up. She immediately became my favorite doll.

I think most little girls at some point dream of being a ballerina. After all, ballerinas are graceful. They are poised and elegant. They wear beautiful costumes and command attention when they take to the stage and if you are lucky enough to be the star, you twirl in the spotlight and command attention.

My mom put me in ballet classes but I was a very sick little girl and couldn't keep up. When I contracted pneumonia at the age of 10 and my left lung collapsed, my ballet career was done. I do recall that there were few little girls who looked like me in the class. When my own daughter entered classes, she was also the only Black girl in her class and quickly lost interest.

I always wanted to expose myself and my daughter to fine and cultural arts so we frequently attended operas, symphony, theatre, ballet and folklore performances. As a single mom, we often had the "worst" seats in the house but we were there. It always saddened me that there were few, if any, people of color in the performances. You can't be what you can't see. How could my own child have aspirations to be on stage when no one that resembles her is on stage?

In Sheri Bailey's stage play "Southern Girls", the character of Wanda Sue has big dreams of being a dancer. Her friends tease her about being a dancer but she proudly  demonstrates that she sneaks to the ballet school and watches the girls dance. She has even mastered several ballet pointe positions as a result. My daughter and I both shared in the casting of this role to great irony since we both had childhood aspirations of being a ballerina.

If you never see anyone that resembles you in a particular occupation or role, where can you draw from to gain the motivation and inspiration to step outside of your comfort zone and aim for the stars? It is critical that people of color have exposure and opportunities to embrace fine arts. An appreciation of the arts helps develop cultural respect and history knowledge. If fine arts is equated to higher society and income, shouldn't we instill an appreciation of fine arts in our children?

When The Dance Theatre of Harlem took to the stage last week, I fought to hold back the tears. I was overcome with joy with finally seeing my own childhood dream come to fruition through someone else and I was extremely happy to see the front row filled with school age children who could see ballerinas who looked like them perform. Now those children have the confidence to put their own dreams "on pointe."


Myself portraying Wanda Sue in the LSUS production of "Southern Girls"

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