- Written By 10Melanin Team
10 Black Ballet Companies
Traditionally ballet is associated with white ballerinas, mainly due to its European origins, but this doesn't and shouldn't mean that Black people can't be great ballerinas. The association that ballet is just for upper class white people has had a long lasting effect in the dance industry. According to The Guardian, the Central School of Ballet, one of the most prestigious ballet schools in the England, has only 4 Black dancers in a student body of 110. This lack of representation inevitably leads to discrimination, which is often the main catalyst for inspiring Black dancers to create their own companies. These companies provide a welcoming environments and safe space for Black ballerinas so they can thrive in a white dominated genre of dance. It's important that the world knows Black ballerinas do in-fact exist.
10. Ballet In Color
Ballet in color is the newest company in this list, but that doesn't stop it from having big ambitions. Founded in March 2020 by Kyra Bonta, currently a high school senior, who has trained with various ballet schools in Portland and been dancing since she was 4 years old. Due to never having had an African American ballet teacher or mentor in all her years of dancing, led her to create Ballet In Color where she aims to mentor and encourage young Black ballerinas. Providing one-on-one ballet classes to African American girls aged 5-12, while being a nonprofit organisation is a tall challenge, but one that will benefit Black children in the Portland area for years to come. Promoting not only physical strength and agility but ballet helps develop self-confidence, self-expression, and love for movement.
9. Ballet Nouveau
The Ballet Nouveau School is a ballet-based conservatory based in Baltimore, dedicated to providing the highest quality ballet training to the next generation of creative minds and pre-professionals. It's an American Ballet Theatre certified school offering the official ballet curriculum for ages 2-22. The school aims to ignite the love of ballet into all its students while offering both a recreational program and pre-professional conservatory for dancers who see ballet in their future career. Founded in 2016, Ballet Nouveau is entering it’s premiere season under the direction of Artistic Director & Founder Kristen S. Stevenson.
8. Ballet After Dark
Ballet After Dark was founded to provide free therapy in the form of dance to help women (and those who identify as women) heal from trauma they have experienced. The 9 month curriculum uses ballet fundamentals, athletic conditioning and motivating mantras to empower women, along with workshops from guest speakers and mental health professionals that help the critical healing process. Tyde-Courtney Edwards is a classically trained ballet dancer who founded the program after she experienced her own trauma, it took her time to reconnect with dancing but found it to be crucial to surviving PTSD, and so she wanted to share this experience to help others. A documentary style short film called Ballet After Dark has been made about the company which was produced by Queen Latifah.
7. Collage Dance Collective
Founded in NYC but now located in Memphis, Collage Dance Collective presents a diverse range of choreography that matches its dancers. The company is made up of a school that offers an outreach program to make help dancing accessible, a the dance group with 9 successful seasons in Memphis, that tours national and international and a 8-week festival called Dance On Board. The ideology behind the CDC is that participation in the arts can help to enrich communities and is critical to developing a better economic and social environment. Focusing on making ballet training accessible, increasing diversity on the stage and encouraging POC to participate in ballet themed events.
6. Complexions Contemporary Ballet
Complexions Contemporary Ballet was founded by dancer Desmond Richardson and his then life partner Choreographer Dwight Rhoden during gay pride weekend in 1994, although the two have now broken up, they still maintain a good working relationship. Due to its founders, the company has never shied away from being proud to include and celebrate both LGBTQ+ and BIPOC dancers. Apart from being known for its inclusivity, complexions has always used a mixture of groundbreaking methods, styles and cultures to reinvent dance itself. Now an iconic and well known dance company, complexions has toured 5-continents, over 20-countries, and performed to over 20-million television viewers and to well over 300,000 people in live audiences.
5. The Hiplet Ballerinas
The New York Times
Black people have been bringing their own flavour to all kind of disciplines for generations, and Hiplet proves that ballet is no different. Hiplet is a fusion between, you've guessed it, hip hop and ballet. This cause quite a stir amongst the ballet community on how safe it is, but whether these people are just be haters or could have a "pointe", the girls maintain that they love this unique style of ballet and enjoy doing it. Hiplet originates from the Chicago Multi-Cultural Dance Centre and founded by a dancer named Homer Hans Bryant, who has been developing the technique since the early 90s. However, it's only when a video of his dancers went viral in 2016 that he began to gain global recognition and have since been able to tour worldwide.
4. Alonzo King LINES Ballet
Alonzo King LINES Ballet is a contemporary ballet company that has been pushing boundaries in dance since 1982. It is led by the unique and artistic vision of Alonzo King, a dancer and choreographer who trained with the Harlem Dance theatre, before creating his own company. Not only is Alonzo King LINES Ballet diverse but it stands out as one of the most artistic and experimental companies, by using multi-disciplinary collaborations with composers, musicians and visual artists to create performances that aim to change the way we perceive ballet. It draws audiences of 50,000 plus every year, through tours that travel worldwide which include sets that are far from the ones you traditional see on stage.
3. Ballet Black
Ballet Black is a ballet company that celebrates dancers of Black and Asian descent and they have become a vital asset to making ballet more diverse in Britain. Founded almost 2 decades ago in 2001 by Cassa Pancho MBE, they have changed the landscape of classical ballet through performances, outreach programmes and a Junior School. Along with the dancers themselves they are proud of the diverse audiences they attract whenever there's a performance, creating a safe space for black and brown, art and theatre lovers, across the country. To also help advocate a wider societal change in the industry they often collaborate with companies, this includes working to create the first UK made pointe shoes for Black, Brown and Asian dancers.
2. Leap Of Dance Academy
Born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria, Daniel Owoseni Ajala is the founder and creative director of the Leap of Dance Academy, which provides ballet classes for young dancers. His school gained worldwide attention through posting videos of his students dancing on instagram, with humble backdrops of the local area. The school is located in Badagry, a coastal town about six hours from Lagos and was created about three years ago. After watching save the last dance at the age of 13 and with no access to ballet schools, Ajala taught himself ballet through youtube tutorials. 10 years later, and Ajala was good enough to hold his own with the best in the country and began teaching in Lagos. His dreams of going international were quickly ruined through experiencing discrimination from European schools to being African. So instead he decided to use his talent to help transform the lives of others by providing an accessible ballet school for kids who might of never had the chance to learn to ballet otherwise.
1. Dance Theatre Of Harlem
Founded by Arthur Mitchell and Karel Shook in 1969, right at the height of the civil rights movement, the Dance Theatre of Harlem helped Mitchell become the first African-American principal male dancer with a major ballet company. During times of unrest, is where art is often born and it is said that Mitchell's impulse to start the company was spurred on by the assassination of Martin Luther King. Now one of the most influential ballet companies in the US, the Dance Theatre of Harlem Company tours nationally and internationally, presenting a diverse vision of ballet with its 17-member, multi-ethnic company. They also use performances, community engagement and arts education to promote a message of empowerment - that arts for all.