I've been to a lot of dance classes in my life. I started when I was 4 or 5 and continued dancing until I finished college. I was neve...

'Firebird' - Plus More! - Read and Rise


I've been to a lot of dance classes in my life. I started when I was 4 or 5 and continued dancing until I finished college. I was never super serious about it, it was just something I enjoyed doing. Being able to express music through movement just seemed so natural and beautiful. I tried tap, ballet, jazz, lyrical, and acrobatics. So many different pairs of shoes, so many costumes, and stage performances. I even once performed in a mall dressed as a Christmas tree! The door was always open to whatever I wanted to try, and I never realized other children may not have had that same opportunity. 

So I'm here today to highlight some inspiring dancers who remind us that the grace and beauty that ballerinas exude has NOTHING to do with the color of their skin.

Misty Copeland was born in the same year as I was, but did not begin studying ballet until she was 13 years old. However, she exceled and by the time I began college, she had joined the American Ballet Theatre's Studio Company. In 2007, she became the company's second African American soloist, in 2014 made history as the first black woman to perform the title role in "Swan Lake," and in 2015 became the studio's first African American principal dancer. It was a long hard road, but she persevered! To honor Misty Copeland, our featured story is one she wrote herself to inspired other young dancers. 

Featured story: "Firebird" by Misty Copeland

Activity: Try out a some ballet! Here I have two videos for you. The first is a 5 minute beginner ballet for kids and the second is a 15 minute barre workout for beginners. 

Now I will leave you a list of further resources and videos if you want to continue learning about black ballet dancers!

Janet Collins was born in 1917 and studied classical ballet, modern, and ethnic dance. She auditioned for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo but declined an offer to join when she learned she would have to lighten her skin and disguise that she was black. Instead, she went on to dance on Broadway and become the first African American prima ballerina with the Metropolitan Opera in 1952.

Alvin Ailey was born in 1931 and, after being introduced to ballet by the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and the Katherine Dunham Dance Company, began training with Lester Horton. Horton was the founder of on the first racially-integrated dance companies in the United States. In 1953, after Horton's death, Alvin became director of the Lester Horton Dance Theater and founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 1958.

Raven Wilkinson was born in 1935 and fell in love with ballet early in life. Raven first auditioned with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in 1954 and was rejected. She auditioned two more times, and on the third try was finally accepted! However, she often had to wear white makeup to conceal her race and ran into trouble while performing in the racially-segregated South after it was discovered that there was a black woman in the ballet company. After that, Raven was not allowed to perform in southern cities for her own safety.

Aesha Ash was born in 1977 and has danced with the New York City Ballet, the Béjart Ballet, and the Alozno King LINES Ballet. She was also Zoe Saldano's dance double in the film Center Stage. In 2011, Aesha founded the Swan Dream Project to encourage African American children to take ballet. She was photographed in full ballet attire all around Rochester, New York in order to raise funds for other projects which promoted diversity in ballet. The Swan Dream Project has a summer camp in Rochester and an after-school program in San José, California. in 2020, Aesha became the first female African American faculty member at the School of American Ballet.

In 2019, 11 year old Charlotte Nebres made history as the first African American Marie in the New York City Ballet's "The Nutcracker." (In case you were confused about the lead character's name being Marie and not Clara like I was, I discovered that the ballet developed from TWO versions of the story: one in which the main character is called Clara, and one in which she's called Marie.)