When you observe the ballet industry you see something striking. There is a genuine shortage of black ballerinas at the elite level. So why is it happening? And what can be done to remedy the situation?
The first thing to say is that when children are looking for hobbies to practice and dreams to fulfil, they will typically idolise a successful person that they can relate to. At such a young age this can often come down to who you feel looks and acts like you, as this will allow you to visualise yourself in their shoes one day.
Put another way, it’s not that black children dislike ballet in any way, it’s that they are less likely to be inspired by role models they can relate to than other equally enthusiastic and gifted children. This is where the problem lies because the issue of under-representation soon becomes a self fulfilling prophecy.
There are however always exceptions. Children who are helped, supported, and expertly coached so that they can make their dreams come true. When a star breaks through from a different background as a result of years of hard work and practice it has a positive impact on the entirety of the next generation. They no longer have to justify their dreams or to compromise on the effort they can give because someone has already shown the way and blazed a trail.
(Image of Misty Copeland)
Positive role models for young ballerinas are there when you immerse yourself in the industry. Misty Copeland has recently been made the principal ballerina at the prestigious American Ballet Theatre. Now a whole generation of aspiring youngsters can see her showcase the mastery of her art on some of the grandest stages in the world. Michaela Deprince is another role model whose work with the Dutch National Ballet is making great strides in addressing under-representation by changing attitudes.
(Image of Michaela Deprince)
And changing attitudes is what the issue is all about. My dream is for Nia Ballerina to play her part in opening up this incredibly fulfilling activity to millions of children around the world so that one day they too may dazzle us with their talent.