Successful black ballerinas like ultra-famous American Ballet Theatre Principal Misty Copeland and “war orphan” Michaela DePrince have many pioneering predecessors to thank. Here are brief biographies of just a few:
Raven Wilkinson was one of the first African-American ballerinas allowed to join a ballet company. During the 1950s, she danced with the Ballets Russes under the condition that she pose as a white woman by painting her face. After two years of increasing racial discrimination, including threats in the South, she left Ballets Russes and eventually landed a spot in the Dutch National Ballet.
Janet Collins broke boundaries by being the first African American to grace the stage with the Metropolitan Ballet. She faced some of the same racial controversies as Raven Wilkinson with Ballets Russes before she found her home at the Metropolitan Opera.
Lauren Anderson was the first African American Principal dancer of the Houston Ballet. She proved that there was a place for African Americans in classical ballet.
Aesha Ash broke boundaries in 1996 as an African American member of New York City Ballet. She has also drawn a lot of commercial attention to the African American ballet world.
Paunika Jones studied at the Ailey School and the Dance Theatre of Harlem School’s Summer Intensive Programs. She was invited to join DTH’s Dancing Through Barriers Ensemble in 1996, where she remained for two years until she was accepted into the professional company in 1998 as an apprentice and ascended through the ranks to become a Principal Dancer in 2004.
Francine Sheffield studied at New Jersey Ballet. She has performed with choreographers such as H.T. Chen, Wendy Perron, Amy Pivar, Marlies Yearby and Baraka De Soleil. She was a company member of Urban Bush Women under the leadership of Jawole Willa Jo Zollar for six years, where she traveled and performed all over the world.