Growing up in Washington D.C., I was fortunate to see professional ballerinas perform on stage at the Kennedy Center. I have my mother to thank. I remember the excitement I felt seeing ballerinas with brown skin – princesses who looked like me!
Historically, classical ballet has emphasized uniformity, especially in the corps de ballet – the group of company members who dance together. Beauty has been portrayed as dancing in sync with the same hair, same skin color, same body type, and same look. Like many, I believe ballet is an elegant art form that has room for all kinds of different, beautiful looks.
To increase racial and ethnic diversity in classical ballet, the American Ballet Theater (ABT) launched Project Plié in 2013. This initiative is so exciting because it aims to create a pipeline for dancers of color to join professional ballet companies. Rachel Moore, ABT’s chief executive officer, summed it up this way in a National Public Radio interview: “An American ballet company should look like America...”
Here are 5 things I find fascinating:
1. ABT conducts ballet classes in Boys & Girls Clubs across the country. Project Plié has reached 3,500 kids in 79 Boys & Girls Clubs in 35 cities.
2. Misty Copeland was the inspiration for Project Plié. Misty took her first ballet class on a basketball court at a Boys & Girls Club in San Pedro, California. ABT wants to find and support other talented dancers like Misty.
3. Misty drops in to visit with the children. It’s so important for children to see role models who look like them. It can mean the difference between a child pursuing a dream or not. Misty knows this well, and she has often talked about how she cried when she first saw Raven Wilkinson in the documentary film Ballet Russes (Zeitgeist Films, 2005). Raven, who became Misty Copeland’s mentor, was the first black ballerina with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in 1955.
4. Project Plié is a multi-pronged effort. In addition to bringing ballet classes to students, ABT creates new opportunities for teachers and interns who work in administration. The whole effort involves forging partnerships with professional companies throughout the country, including The Washington Ballet, Ballet Memphis, and Nashville Ballet. A network of ballet companies working together on diversity and inclusion is powerful.
5. Project Plié is changing children’s lives. It is wonderful to hear children in the program talk about the impact. They love having the opportunity to dance, and this project gives them hope that they can be anything or do anything. All children deserve that.
My favorite quote from the Project Plié initiative: “Talent has no ethnicity and no skin color, but it needs to be discovered and nurtured.” Yes!
For more information, visit Project Plié on the Web.
Author Michelle Meadows blogs about reading, writing, and publishing children’s books. Subscribe to receive Michelle’s email newsletter/blog posts, and get a chance to win signed books through giveaways.