African-Americans were historically excluded from the aesthetic and cultural mores of classical ballet. And although times are slowly changing, the ballet studio often still looks very white.
That's why companies that actively seek out and celebrate diversity among their dancers are as important now as ever. Dance Theatre of Harlem (DTH) was founded in 1969 with the very purpose of engaging blacks, both as dancers and dance patrons. Last Saturday, DTH held auditions for its 2016 summer intensive program at the studios of Augusta Ballet School/Dance Augusta. The opportunity for intensive training at one of the country's most respected companies drew children 8 and older from as far as Greensboro, NC.
Regardless of whether or not she was accepted into the program, 13-year old Milan Carter was grateful for the opportunity to interact with DTH, “a company that’s been at the forefront of African-American arts for so long.” As a black ballerina, Milan said, “Having a company of beautiful, diverse dancers saying, ‘you can do this, you can become this,’ is empowering.”
Also in January, International Association of Blacks in Dance (IABD) held the first-ever ballet audition exclusively for women of color. Fifteen ballet organizations sent representatives, including DTH’s Virginia Johnson. In addition to the audition, they discussed why there remains a need for such an event in 2016. “I know that this is a conversation that has been going on for decades, but there really does seem to be something different now… where maybe there really is an opportunity to make lasting change, ”Dance USA’s Amy Fitterer remarked. Read more.
Chanelle Turnbull (16), Avilon Tate (13), Dasia Amos (13) and the DTH summer intensive audition at Augusta Ballet School - Photo credits: Marin Rose and Lakendrick Kelly