It's finally here! Brown Girls Do Ballet's 1st ever calendar is available now in the shop featuring images of professional dancers Addison Ector, Daphne Lee, and Amanda Smith along with several on the rise young ballerinas: Olivia Bell, Leilani Ivery, Najaah Malone, Amelya Rivera, Niya Sheppard, Brooke Terry, Kayla Thomas and Destiny Wimpye. With styling by Danielle Brown of Artisan By Trade and makeup by Zarielle, the calendar is a beautiful 12x12 are dance/art photography gift available just in time for Christmas. The calendar is being sold in limited quantities so get yours fast!
Looking for a gift for your Brown Ballerina? We are so excited to share some of our picks for this holiday season with our 2nd annual Holiday Gift Guide. This year we're going BIGGER, by going smaller. Sounds confusing, right? Not so much. Simply put, this year we've turned our focus on small businesses! As we all know, the small business is the life-blood and engine of the American economy. The small business world is also where some of the greatest innovative minds lie. Hey, the little computer company that some guy named Steve Jobs started was once a small business too. Just saying. Most importantly, the small businesses featured here offer wonderful, creative, and quality products for all to enjoy and the more we give to them, the more they're able to keep giving to us. Check it out below and click the links to shop these great brands!
Keara Wilson is a 20-year-old photographer from Norfolk, VA. Keara is currently pursuing her passion at Corcoran College of Art and Design at George Washington University where she decided to work towards a project called “The Brown Ballerina.”
African-American Ballerinas have broken barriers, gained international acclaim and contributed to ballet. To this day African-American ballerinas are not accepted into the dance culture. Brown Ballerinas are almost invisible, rarely in the spotlight, but Brown Ballerinas do exist. Dispelling the myths about how African –Americans are not equipped to be ballet dancers. “They say the ballerina should be the color of a peeled apple, but we also know that if the apple stays peeled to long, it turns brown, you have to have different shades of apples.” –Joan Myers Brown, Keara Wilson captures what the media leaves out. Beauty, Wealth, Wisdom, Strength, and Sacrifice, Amazingly her lens & vision does not always enable her to see things in color or black and white. Sometimes images are distorted but with her gift she manages to capture the truth and produces ART. Keara hopes to expand her knowledge in visual arts and aims to be a photography professor, art therapist and have a successful photography business.
The exhibition is currently at Corcoran Gallery of Art
500 17th street NW
November 2nd - November 20th
Exhibit Hours 1pm-6pm
By: Brittani Marie
Nearly a year ago, I decided to take a journey of self-discovery and spend time in the first black republic, also known as Haiti.
I suppose my spirit carried me to walk the footsteps of the many legends I’ve long admired. The Catherine Dunhue’s, Zora Neal Hurston’s, Martha Graham’s just to name a few. And while there, I got to teach english at a non-profit and learned about development efforts. It was one of the happiest seasons in my life.
The Ballerina’s Little Black Book was written in Haiti.
Which is why it’s particularly even more heartbreaking to witness this catastrophe only a few months after my departure. To see a country that changed your life suffer brings an insurmountable level of distraught. Yet, I hope by sharing a snippet of my experience on this unique island our media so often misrepresents, you understand how and why you should help sustain what remains of our very first black republic.
Full of beautiful people. It’s forestry, breathtaking mountains and white sand beaches are still mesmerizing even for the locals. I think it’s important the world sees Haiti in it’s entirety so that we don’t become desensitized to the sad imagery that’s polluted our news for nearly a decade. Understand all that was destroyed by the storm.
Hundreds of people dying or displaced from the serene lands that bring them peace in an already unstable country. Haiti’s the type of place where smiles are infectious and the mother making fresh pate corde will give you a proverb to brighten your day. Wisdom is generously shared. The children are untainted by our tech-obsessed world. They taught me how to find solace in the moment. They need our help more than ever.
2. Food is Insanely Expensive in Haiti- though amazingly rich in flavor and cuisine (like New Orleans with a spanish twist.) But on average, I spent nearly $400+ on groceries at the local supermarkets and I don’t have any mouths to feed. Which perhaps explains the level of poverty. This is one reason why the land is so valuable. There is a large percentage of locals who have to produce their own food for consumption and profit.
3. How to Really Help- Give to local Haitian relief organizations rather than large organizations. I will preface this by confirming as an American who lived there, locally run Haitian organizations have the expertise of how their country operates. They understand how to properly allocate resources for long-term use. Here’s a few trustworthy ones that are on the ground responding to crisis.
On October 1st, we celebrated International Coffee Day with the lovely Kenya Ross, Miss Black Caddo Parish in Shreveport, Louisiana! We are so proud that Kenya is actively spreading our mission along with her platform on the road to the Miss Black Louisiana Pageant this November in Baton Rouge. Marcus Mitchell, the owner of Bon Temps Coffee Bar, so graciously allowed us into his beautiful space and proceeds from coffee purchased during our stay were donated to the Brown Girls Do Ballet Scholarship Fund. We cannot thank both Kenya and Marcus enough for their big hearts and to all of the wonderful people who came out to contribute, you made our day! Be sure to check out some of the images shot by Mr. Brandon Fountain below and if you're in Baton Rouge, make sure to support Kenya on November 19th at Independence Park Theatre. you can purchase tickets here.
We had our first giveaway this past weekend!! What a great feeling it was to see so many smiling faces, not only because of the generous donations from so many, but people were happy to come together, to hug one another and share their stories of rebuilding from the flood that devastated Baton Rouge last month. Parents were able to pause while their kids played. There was laughter and genuine joy in the studio!
Dancers (and a few gymnasts too!) were able to get fitted with new dancewear and shoes and kids and moms were able to leave with a bag filled with boutique clothing from Matilda Jane. I left the event energized and ready to do more, but I need your help!
There’s still time for you to make a donation! We will have a second round of donations in a few weeks!
Amazon Wish List: Click Here
Items can also be sent to 1514 Stoneleigh Dr. Baton Rouge, La 70808
Special thanks to major contributors for our first round of donations:
Roxi Victorian/Ballet Victorian for hosting and helping to organize the event
Angelica and Jhayce Smith/Childish Couture Photography
Longwood Performing Arts of Pennsylvania
International Association of Blacks in Dance
Camille Brown, Choreographer
University of California, African American Studies
Pampos Dance and Swimwear
Individual donations from anonymous donors
I sat down to write this post several times, but all of the glamors of being a mom got in the way. A toddler was climbing on glass furniture, a toddler emptying Capri Suns on my freshly cleaned floors, a toddler opening all of his sister’s markers and creating artwork on my new walls. The usual. When I started Brown Girls I remember joking with a friend (Hey Toni) about taking a ballet class but I never found the time. So when my daughter’s ballet teacher announced adult ballet classes, I knew I had to take the leap. I’m excited to be sharing my journey as an adult BBT (Brown Ballerina in Training) for the organization. It gives me the chance to not only learn what my audience goes through, but it gives me the opportunity to see the business from a whole different perspective and remind me of the different ways that I’ve failed my body over the past “29”+ years. This post chronicles the events leading up to my 1st time ever taking a ballet class. I hope to continue to record my journey here on the blog, so check back often and see if I continue.
Hi, I’m TaKiyah. If we haven’t met in person, in 2012 as a photographer, I started shooting ballerinas of color. It’s since morphed into Brown Girls Do Ballet. Now, I get to add one more accomplishment to a list the size of a Post-It note...I’ve started ballet. Last week I nervously walked into my local Capezio store, found who I thought might be the least judgemental associate and had her walk me through everything I’d need for my 1st ballet class. I got fitted for shoes, she found my size in tights (a miracle in itself), and then I bravely wandered into a sea of leotards. In my mind, I’m still the size 4/6 that I was before two kids, but the 1st leotard I tried on quickly told me differently. Have you ever bought a sack of potatoes at the grocery store? You know how they sit in that plastic bag, all lumpy and heavy? That’s my butt in a leotard, a sack of potatoes. I knew right then I had work to do. The 1st part of the job was coming to grips with the fact that I was far from a size 4/6. My lovely sales associate then “suggested” the correct size (I complied even though my butt still resembled that sack of potatoes), made my purchases and left the store feeling empowered and ridiculous as the same time. Isn’t ballet for the young folks? The kids that have been dancing since they were 3? The ones that don’t have so much extra baggage in the back (read rear), and in life? Nevertheless, I was committed to at least trying.
Day 1 of Class:
On the morning of my 1st class, I thought I’d at least try and be mentally prepared by having a light breakfast and doing a little cardio. Honestly, I was thinking how embarrassing it would be to run a ballet organization and be the 1st person to tap out and sit on the floor before class ended.
For lunch, I met my mother who decided we should have Wienerschnitzel chili dogs for lunch. She was gracious enough to have already picked them up. She’s my mother. I had to eat 2. Food is my religion. You can’t offer me two chili dogs at lunch and not expect to me stand at that altar and partake. It was a terrible decision; I have no willpower and yes you can judge me. I documented my chili dog consumption on social media to let young people know that peer pressure is wrong and to hold myself accountable.
I had a light protein snack consisting of almonds, cheese cubes, and turkey. An excellent recovery effort but we all know the damage had already been done.
I got dressed in all of my new gear. I remember buying tights often for my daughter and thinking of how great dance tights seem to be at keeping everything in place. Perhaps even contouring if you will. Tights are what keep Beyonce’ magical too right? As soon as I put those tights on- my legs did this thing where they looked a little amazing. Like my thighs were still touching of course, but they weren’t fighting each other to move like they normally are. Thighs that fight each other in Texas during the summer are not fun.
Class time. Now pay attention because this is where things get a little fuzzy in my memory. Not sure if it was due to hunger, too many chili dogs earlier in the day, or the fact that as much as I go to the gym, that I’m still so out of shape that both my brain and body have caved in on themselves. I seriously thought Melissa (our amazing instructor) would be going easy on us. We’re adults, most of us had never taken a ballet class ever, and it WAS the 1st class day. I was WRONG! I thought I was going to die right on those brand new wood floors! Below are some of the thoughts that occurred during that 1st 60-minute class:
-She said First Position; I know that one, perfect. Ballet...ha….I’ve got this.”
-Wait...1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th,...can we just do one position per class, I can’t keep up with this.
I’m really trying to point my toe, but my toe is insubordinate like my 2-year-old son.
-8 counts, 4 counts, 2 counts. Only counts that I’m good at remembering apparently are Count Chocula, Count Basie, and Count of Monte Cristo. Too many counts to keep up with.
-She said we could hold on to the barre for extra support. Why am I the only person hugging the barre?
-The lady next to me told me she has only taken a few barre classes but why is she dancing like Misty Copeland?!
-She wants us to do WHAT across the floor? How did I get put in line to go 1st? Jesus, please don’t let me die in front of all of these lovely people.
-There’s no clock in this room. How long has it been? Is it time for a water break yet? I'm sweating to death; I just know it.
-Lift my leg where? Why is this hurting so much?
-YES, Finally a water break! *looks at phone* It’s only been 30 minutes. OMG!!!!
-Holding this Passe’ is about to make me passe’ out.
-Okay, now she wants us to put all of that together. Crap I forgot how to count again!
Class is over. I’m still alive. I did not die. I feel fantastic. I know this is a trick. I know that tomorrow I will need a walker but I’m excited and ready for the next class.
My parents always remind me of just how blessed we are and from a very young age made sure I knew how important it is to give back. We would often volunteer serving food at a local dining room that serves anyone in need in our community a hot, nutritious meal every day of the year. Especially on Easter, doing this has been a tradition since I was old enough to carry plates to tables. We also make brown bag lunches for kids that rely on free lunch at school who miss this service when school is out for summer break. Doing this, lead me to an organization that allows me to teach dance to kids every summer which I absolutely love!! There is nothing better than sharing my love of dance with kids in my community who might not be able to take dance without volunteers like me!
So, when we recently had historic flooding in my hometown of Baton Rouge, I immediately knew that I wanted to give back. So many people were giving to our community in general all of the things people will need to pick up the pieces following the flood- water, Gatorade, labor, cleaning supplies, food, etc. and I know that when things happen to me, as a dancer, I just want to dance. Dance helps me cope, helps me heal and helps me to express my emotions when words just won’t do. I wanted to help get people that love dance like I do back to dance as soon as they possibly can get in the studio, knowing that the last thing they or their parents will be thinking about is buying new dance clothes and shoes when their focus is rebuilding their home. So, I started collecting items from anyone that wanted to give and donating things of my own and my sister as well. Because of my relationship with Brown Girls Do Ballet, the owner of Ballet Victorian in Baton Rouge contacted my mom about partnering with Ballet Victorian for their “Stuff a Dance Bag” Initiative to support dance studios that flooded and their dancers. If you are reading this blog, I know that you love dance as much as I do! I hope that you consider making a donation of any kind! No donation is too big or too small. Thanks so much reading!!
Items can be sent to 1514 Stoneleigh Dr., Baton Rouge, LA 70808. Here is a list of suggested items:
How do you give back in your community? I would love to hear from you!
Thank you so much!
"You can't be what you can't see."-Marian Wright Edelman
That's just what we're hoping to change with "The Ballerina's Little Black Book." From finding the right products to overcoming body-image issues, we've learned our young girls need to hear from ballerinas they can relate to. Help us give books to girls who need it the most!
This publication makes history as the first annual book for ballerinas of color. Our first edition focuses on resilence and purpose. Young girls will also learn how ballet encourages high academic performance and self respect, among countless other testimonials from empowering women of color. With insights from Aesha Ash to Alicia Graf Mack, the publication compiles a wealth of information sure inspire and answer many questions.
Our goal is to giveaway at least 100 books to dance studios, libraries and organizations to keep this treasure circulating for our young girls. We would greatly appreciate a donation, no matter how big or small! Every dollar counts. You can donate by visiting here.
We hope you join us in this journey, by following us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, where we will be posting pictures, videos, and status updates daily during the trip! Thank you for your support!
Sage Evans-Rainey is a young dancer from Baltimore, M.D. She attends Baltimore International Academy where she is a Russian major/French minor and maintains a 4.0 grade point average. She speaks Russian fluently and has been the state grand prize winner at the Russian Olympiada language competition for 5 straight years. This year, she earned national recognition as a 2016 Carson scholar and secured a college scholarship while in the eighth grade. Sage has also been recognized as a presidential scholar with declaration from President Obama; three times. She has officially secured the title of Valedictorian of her graduating class and will be delivering the final speech (in Russian) during the ceremony in June 2016. Sage is also a smart/phenomenal dancer. She has loved dance since the age of 2 and developed a passion for ballet while watching the Angelina Ballerina cartoon as a little girl. She trains at least 20 hours a week at Morton Street Dance Center. Sage also dances on a collegiate dance team where she was accepted by audition and declared the youngest ever (at age 12) ensemble intern at Morgan State University’s Dance Ensemble. She has accepted enrollment into Carver Arts and Technology High School in Towson, MD. Sage’s goals are to become a professional dancer and dance studio owner. She knows that this will take hard work and dedication to her craft.
We Congratulate Sage and wish her an exciting summer at Debbie Allen Dance Academy.
The Brown Girls Do Ballet 2016 Summer Intensive Scholarship Application is Live
The annual Brown Girls Do Ballet Summer Intensive Scholarship is a $500 scholarship given to young dancers ages 9-18 that have been accepted, have registered for a summer intensive program, and exhibit financial need. This scholarship is intended to cover additional costs associated with dance needs (e.g. pointe shoes, leotards, travel expenses, etc.)
Application period begins May 1, 2016 and closes May 31, 2016. Winner will be notified by June 10, 2016. To apply visit here.
A collection of inspiring interviews and striking photography, from prominent brown ballerinas.
With over 90,000 fans, countless ballerina interviews and more, Brown Girls Do Ballet® has identified the missing strand to diversifying this classical performing art: a resource that speaks to their identity. The Ballerina's Little Black Book compiles a wealth of stories, advice and training information directly from the women who are breaking down barriers. Aspiring ballerinas can read messages from famed dancers like Aesha Ash, Alicia Graf Mack and even a personal message from none other than Misty Copeland.
Filled with wisdom, solutions, and powerful visuals, The Ballerina's Little Black Book is the ultimate handbook for ballerinas of color. Check out the trailer below and get your copy here.
The Tiny Dancer book Club is here! A special Brown Girls Do Ballet club for our younger budding ballerinas that provides the opportunity to explore dance, while building a love of reading with dance themed books. This club is designed especially for young readers ages 4-8! Each month a new book will be announced for the following month. Girls will have time to gather their books and then have the chance to be invited to a virtual book club meeting facilitated by a Brown Girls Do Ballet Ambassador. We are excited just thinking about the cuteness! If you're interested in signing your cutie up check back soon.*list is now closed.
* Edited 5/1/2016 Due to the overwhelming popularity of the The Tiny Dancer Book Club, we have closed the list signup until a later date. Check back soon to be added.
In 2013 award-winning choreographer Jeremy McQueen was dealing with much. Compounding his stress was the feeling of helplessness, having a mother diagnosed with breast cancer while being almost 3,000 miles away. During this time on a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, he saw and fell in love with Georgia O'Keeffe's ‘Black Iris’ painting for the 1st time. Drawn to it's beauty and the dark plum and charcoal colors, the piece stuck with McQueen and he kept it with him in spirit. Fast forward 3 years later, during a major career transition period, haunted by Black Iris and the desire to do something bigger than himself, Jeremy founded the Black Iris Project. “I wanted to create something authentic.”
The Black Iris Project is a ballet collaborative and education vehicle which creates new, relevant classical ballet works that celebrate diversity and black history. Based in New York City, the project hosts a team of predominantly minority artists capable of delivering cross-discipline and wholly original works. Championing individuality, the collaborative harnesses the black community’s inherent creative spirit to encourage and inspire youth of color to pursue art, movement and music as an expressive outlet and a means for collective healing. In it’s inaugural year, The Black Iris Project has been awarded funding from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, New Music USA and CUNY Dance Initiative.
The Black Iris Project will hold its premiere performances on July 27-28, 2016 in New York City, and is also preparing for it's performance as part of the Ballet Across America series at the Kennedy Center Opera House in April 2017. To stay up to date and read more about the Black Iris Project, please visit www.blackirisproject.com
Poised perfection, the following 5 dancers have been on our radar. We have watched them dance and grow and we could not be more proud of their hard work and accomplishments. These young Brown Ballerinas are dedicated dancers who are both intelligent and talented, just 2 of the reasons that they are this year's'5 to Watch'.
Alexandra "Sasha" Manuel
Alexandra “Sasha” Manuel, age 12, trains at the Indiana Ballet Conservatory (IBC) with Founding Artistic Director, Alyona Yakovleva-Randall. She has been at IBC since she was 8 years old andis coached by Sergey Sergiev for Contemporary. Sasha started IBC’s Professional Training Program this year and her teachers also include Hailey Agran, Tatiana Pali and Alexei Moskalenko. She takes technique, pointe, character, contemporary, modern, jazz, and repertoire. Prior to IBC, Sasha trained with Anne Wilcox at Ballet de Volle in Rockville, Maryland.
This January, Sasha earned 1st place in classical and 2nd place in Contemporary at the World Ballet Art Competition Grand Prix in Toronto, Canada. In February, she earned 3rd place in Classical and Top 12in the Pre-competitive Division at the Chicago regionals of Youth America Grand Prix. She was invited to compete in the YAGP Finals in NYC. In 2015, she earned 3rd place in Contemporary and Top 12 in Classical and was also invited to competed in the YAGP Finals.
Sasha has danced the role of Masha (Clara) in the last two productions of Indiana Ballet Conservatory’s Nutcracker. She is fluent in French and models for Motionwear. Through Indianapolis City Ballet’s Master Class program, she has had theprivilege to take classes with such ballet greats as Franco deVita, Gillian Murphy, Guillaume Cote, Darci Kistler and Amanda McKerrow. Sasha also participated in the International Indianapolis Ballet Competition hosted by Indianapolis City Ballet. This summer, Sasha will be attending the Indiana Ballet Conservatory’s 5 week Summer Intensive.
Jasmine started at an early age of 3 1/2 and has been dancing at the Westlake School for the Performing Arts in Daly City, CA where she is currently a student in the Professional Ballet Division. She has trained in a variety of dance styles including jazz, tap, lyrical, contemporary and classical ballet. Jasmine's exceptional technical skill at age 9 was commended with the Hope Award at the Youth America Grand Prix, San Francisco Semi-Finals. Winning top awards (1st if not 2nd) in both classical and contemporary in YAGP, she has consistently qualified as a New York Finalist since 2011. Having bagged the Gold Medal in the introductory category at World Ballet Competition in 2012, she was also voted as her dance school's 2012 Outstanding Junior Student, awarded the New York City Dance Alliance 2013 National Outstanding Dancer and featured in Dance Spirit Magazine's April 2014 "You Should Know" feature, spotlighting upcoming young dancers. Other awards worth mentioning are 1st place overall Teen Division and Miss Teen Spotlight, San Jose and Silver Medal, Preparatory Category, 2015 World Ballet Competition and just recently, Daly City Mayor's Youth of the Year. Jasmine is currently touring and assisting the faculty of New York City Dance Alliance for the second time as its National Outstanding Dancer. In addition to receiving several summer intensive scholarships from Gelsey Kirkland Ballet Academy, Boston Ballet, Next Generation Ballet and American Ballet Theater, Jasmine was also invited to perform in the Young Medalists Gala of the 2013 Miami International Ballet Festival and had the privilege to represent WSPA last year in the Homecoming Gala of Ballet Philippines 45th Anniversary in Manila.
Jasmine has danced the roles of Sugar Plum Fairy, Doll, Clara, Chinese Lead, Butterfly, Merliton at her school's production of The Nutcracker. Jasmine is a firm believer of perseverance and hard work and that " You will only get out of a dance class what you bring in to it ". Jasmine wants to someday work for a professional dance company.
Eliana Vaha'i Feao
At just 14 years old, Eliana Vaha'i Fe'ao has graduated high school with highest honors, completed her first semester of college, danced for royalty, graced magazine covers, and made history performing a variation from Sleeping Beauty in the Kingdom of Tonga at the Coronation Ball last summer. Her passion for honoring her culture and for being a positive voice for young indigenous women has catapulted this pre-professional ballet student into iconic role model status throughout the South Pacific and beyond.
A competitive gymnast from a young age, it was only after an injury forced her to retire from the sport at age 11 that Eliana began her ballet training in Salt Lake City, Utah. Her natural strength, flexibility, and capacity for ballet quickly gained attention and at the urging of her teachers, she auditioned for and was accepted to Ballet West Academy which she credits with instilling her with high expectations of herself as a dancer and artist.
In addition to Ballet West, Eliana has trained with UNCSA and the Jillana School, and was selected as part of the inaugural class of American Ballet Theatre's William J. Gillespie School in Orange County, California. She is currently a freshman in college, double majoring in dance and cultural anthropology and is writing an inspirational book for young girls, to benefit international girls' rights organizations and dance scholarships for children of color.
"I've never been in class with someone like me," says Eliana. "I've never seen a company member like me or shared the barre with someone like me. Ballet isn't exactly overflowing with Tongan girls. Someone has to open that door and show that its possible. I guess right now that person is me. If one little girl can look at me and see herself, see her own potential, that's worth the world to me. That's everything."
Eliana hopes to be the first Tongan prima ballerina and to start the first ballet school and company in Tonga, and to establish a sister school and company in the United States that celebrates and reflects a diversity of dance cultures woven into the legacy of classical ballet. She finds inspiration in brown ballerinas like Michaela DePrince, Ingrid Silva, Katlyn Addsison, Allison Stroming, Christina Johnson, and Misty Copeland and loves to connect with dancers around the world who are also passionate about greater diversity in the world of classical ballet.
Marja’ Soleil Miller, Age 12, started dancing at age 3 at a local ballet studio and continued taking ballet, tap, jazz, and lyrical. At the age of 5 showing great initiative, Marja became a teacher’s aid with special needs children class, and loved taking these classes due to seeing their faces glow and how happy they were when on stage, at the time of recital.
Although Marja loved all the styles of dance, ballet spoke to her heart. “Whenever I dance ballet I feel free and so graceful and all the stress comes off of my shoulders. I show my emotions through dancing and although there are a lot of sacrifices with ballet it has pushed me to becoming a better dancer and young lady.”
After taking a year off while trying to find another studio, Marja found Carolina Dance Conservatory in Simpsonville, South Carolina. She is currently under the training of Amy DeShong, Svetlana Ponomar, and Hennadii Bespechnyiy and began competition with her CDC family in 2013. Under their direction, she was given the opportunity to dance a solo piece variation of La Esmeralda at the YAGP competition in Atlanta, Georgia in 2015, placing top 3 and invited to dance in New York. Marja currently attends intensives at her home studio but also hopes to attend the Joffrey Ballet, School of Rock or Atlanta Ballet Intensives. Her dream is to one day meet Misty Copeland and Michaela de Prince. “I appreciate the opportunity of being a mentor, an inspiration to other Brown Girls, and to show the world we are a force to be reckoned with.”
McLaine Meachem, 15, hails from Fort Worth, Texas and was born a ballet dancer. Her mom believes this adamantly, as well as her obstetrician, because of all of the movement while her mom was carrying her! McLaine has been officially dancing since the age of two when she started classes at a small local dance studio. Even though her classes were in the evening she would be up and dressed for ballet that morning and watch the clock - all day.
Unfortunately, due to some health problems her father suffered, McLaine had to stop taking dance classes, but that did not stop her. McLaine watched anything about ballet she could find on the family computer and her family rented videos of dance from the library so McLaine could use the television's reflection as a mirror and teach herself. McLaine continued dancing in her family's den and with nothing but the training she gave herself, she auditioned and was accepted into 4th grade at Fort Worth Academy of Fine Arts. McLaine was finally able to take real ballet classes again and she has not looked back!
McLaine started getting intense ballet training outside of school at Ballet Center of Fort Worth at the age of 10. When she was old enough, McLaine auditioned with Ballet Frontier of Texas and was accepted as a company trainee at 12. She has been Junior Company member with Ballet Frontier of Texas for 2 years and has attended intensives at her local studio as well as Dallas Black Dance Theatre. She has also been accepted into intensives at Dance Theatre of Harlem, Texas Ballet Theater and Joffrey.
McLaine has danced in four Nutcracker productions. Her dances include Bon Bon, Snow, Spanish dance and the Chinese dance."My goal as a black ballet dancer is to show the young girls of the world, not just black, but of all races, that if they do not have the ideal ballerina body it does not mean that they can't be a dancer. With dedication and talent, anything's possible." It is McLaine's dream to one day be in a professional ballet company.
On a recent visit to New Orleans we couldn't help but to reach out to Nikki Hefko, Artistic Director of the New Orleans School of Ballet. She graciously invited us in and we felt at home with the sweet dancers there. Check out the interview with Nikki and the images below!
"Born in Mobile, Alabama, Nikki Hefko began her dance training at Mobile Ballet and moved to New Orleans to attend Loyola University from which she graduated with high honors earning Bachelor and Master degrees in Literature and Education. She continued her dance training at Loyola Ballet, Ballet Hysell, and the New Orleans Ballet Ensemble becoming a frequent performer on the New Orleans concert dance scene.
Later, as a member of the Dance Theatre of Harlem, under the direction of Arthur Mitchell, Nikki danced in some of the world’s greatest theaters, such as Lincoln Center, The Kennedy Center, and the Sadler’s Wells Theatre. She toured the states and abroad dancing a full repertoire of classical, neo-classical, and contemporary ballets by George Balanchine, Michael Smuin, and John Taras. In 2006, she performed at the White House, captured in the PBS
Special, In Performance at the White House, honoring the life and career of Arthur Mitchell. Additionally, Nikki danced with Les Grands Ballet Canadiens, The Metropolitan Opera and other companies as a freelance dancer. During her time in New York, Nikki branched out into the world of theatre and experimental dance performing with Kinetic Dance Theatre and Caridad Martinez and Dancers at the La Mama Experimental Theatre.
Nikki’s choreography has been performed at various New York City venues, at the Louisiana Dance Festival in Baton Rouge, LA, and most recently at The Contemporary Arts Center. In 2012, she was selected by Harlem Stage to present her acclaimed work, myself when i am real, to the music of Charles Mingus. In 2013, paired with composer Patricia Giannattasio, she choreographed Dance Theatre of Harlem company members for Music and Motion, Original Dance and Music, CUNY Composers' Alliance. Created by Grammy nominated composer Tania Leon, Music and Motion paired choreographers and composers to collaborate and create work performed by professional dancers and The American Modern Ensemble. This year, Nikki is excited to join New Orleans' Marigny Opera Ballet as a choreographer and company teacher for the 2015-16 season.
An American Ballet Theater® Certified Teacher in levels Pre-Primary through 7 of the ABT® National Teacher Training Curriculum, Nikki is owner and director of The New Orleans School of Ballet. She was Summer Intensive Director and faculty member at Dance Theatre of Harlem School, faculty member, company teacher and Summer Intensive Director at Brooklyn Ballet, ballet instructor at The Joffrey Ballet School. Frequently, she travels as a guest instructor nation wide. source
BG: At what point did you realize it was your passion?
NH: I fell in love with dance gradually. When I was first in Ms. Hall's classes, I'd try to skip out so that I could watch Saturday morning cartoons. But, as I learned more, I became more focused. Later, when I was about 9 or 10, I realized I wasn't that bad of a dancer but, I still like to skip classes. My Mama gave me a reprimand after she grew tired of my, shall we say, laziness? If I did not go to ballet class today, I was not going back. Well, I thought about that for about 2 seconds and quickly changed into my practice clothes. The idea that I would not have ballet classes was not very appealing to me. When I was about 12, I realized that ballet technique was very difficult and I might never dance the way I danced in my dreams. By then, though, it was too late, I was hooked. Later, when I graduated college, I decided I was done with dance and stopped dancing for about 2 years, to be a "regular person". That time in my life, without dance, was a very dark period in my life. As soon as I started dancing again, I felt whole again. Soon after, I made the decision to pursue a professional dance career. I moved to New York City and danced with Dance Theatre of Harlem, the Metropolitan Opera and freelanced with several companies as well. Further dance background (professional level, etc)
BG: What influences did ballet have on your childhood?
NH: Ballet completely shaped my childhood. Left to my own devices, I'm given to flights of fancy, oodles and oodles of daydreaming. Ballet gave me discipline. It taught me to appreciate attention to detail and specificity. Most importantly, though, it gave me access to wonderful music and the appreciation of music, art, costumes, theatre.
BG: How do you believe the dance world has shaped you as a woman?
NH: Navigating through the dance world as a young girl/woman can be difficult. The competition is steep and there is always someone better, stronger, etc. If you want to survive, you have to learn to love and appreciate all of your qualities, strengths and weaknesses. You learn all about perseverance and develop a thick skin.
BG: What learning experiences can young girls gain from exposure to Ballet?
NH: Ballet, like all art, is transformative because it elevates us and makes us better human beings. Through art, we see the possibility of our best selves. We better understand manners, how we should treat each other, and ourselves as well.
BG: Can you share with us some advice for parents and young girls alike who are interested in pursuing Ballet?
NH: If you really want to pursue ballet, you must dedicate yourself to the training. You should find a teacher/school that you trust and follow their program. There is no skipping ballet class to study for an exam. Don't get me wrong, you have to study (I and all of my dancer friends were excellent students by the way!), but you have to fit it all in. Also, you must not question your teachers program or motives. If half of the students in your class are getting their pointe shoes but you aren't, know that there is a reason. Which you probably already know! Work on yourself and furthering your training, don't compare yourself to others and what they are doing and what you aren't. That said, make sure you are in a school with teachers that care about you as a person, not only a body and in a school with instructors with the credentials and expertise to get you to the level you would like to attain.
BG: Great Advice! Tell us about New Orleans School of Ballet. Any long term goals?
NH: I've just been in the studio business since August 2015. This is a new role for me, but I find it is a good fit so far! The main focus of the studio will always be ballet, because I was a ballet dancer. However, dancers need a well-rounded training. So, I'm adding new classes and Master Classes. This year we are adding a Boys Tumbling & Movement, because boys dance too, after all! We have a new Contemporary Jazz Class and a Master Class Series with classes in Musical Theatre, Contemporary, HipHop and more!
BG: Thank you so much Nikki for inviting us and sharing your wisdom, we are looking forward to watching New Orleans School of Ballet grow!
A special feature written by Nicka Smith of ns2photography.
It’s a blustery, lonely looking Sunday morning in downtown Memphis. The streets are almost empty, save the thousands at the convention center to audition for the hit reality TV series, The Voice, or those there to play or cheer for volleyball. Extracurriculars are indeed booming in the Bluff City, known worldwide for its love of the arts, in particular music. But the holiest day of the week isn’t reserved for just good and bad song choices or spikes and sets, it’s also a day filled with grand jete’s, Negro spirituals, arabesques, hearty laughs, and more importantly, pointe shoes.
Rise, the yearly winter performance of Collage dance Collective, was indeed that - an artistic ascension of neo and seasoned dancers donning the stage of the Cannon Center for the Performing Arts the tune of smiles, admiration, and excitement from their audience. The sounds of Robert Glasper to classical music to the rousing and powerful orations of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. during his last fateful speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” were perfectly chosen, and relevant, albeit foreshadowing. There is indeed a movement - both literal and figurative - among us.
Collage dance Collective was founded in 2006 in New York City by Kevin Thomas, it’s artistic director, and Marcellus D. Harper, it’s executive director. A year later the company made Memphis it’s home, perhaps to the bewilderment of some. Why would anyone leave the dance mecca NYC and head below the Mason Dixon line to the home of two other words starting with the letter B that weren’t ballet, blues and BBQ? As company member Daphne Lee alluded, the bigger question was “Why not?”
Artistic endeavors are usually depicted in their final state, but what happens behind the scenes to get the final product to the audience? Avant Pointe seeks to tell the photographic story of what happens before and behind the curtain during Collage’s performance of Rise on January 24, 2016. It’s a production of more than pointe shoe dye, costumes, and makeup. It’s the performance before the performance. - Nicka Smith
Check out the full gallery of images here.
28 Days of Dance: The Remix
Brown Girls Do Ballet partners with Howard University for a 28 day virtual photo exhibition to be released February 1, 2016.
This Black History Month, Brown Girls Do Ballet™ unveils an exhibit at your fingertips by taking fans behind the scenes of one of the most prominent and historically rich institutions of all times: Howard University. 28 Days of Dance featuring Howard University, showcases students through a virtual exhibition highlighting its Department of Theatre and Dance Arts programs, founded by Dr. Sherrill Berryman Johnson in 1991. Each day of February, art enthusiasts and dancers can partake in an exclusive look at the dancers of Howard University.
About Brown Girls Do Ballet
Brown Girls Do Ballet™, a philanthropic organization often featured for its noteworthy Instagram movement, began in 2013 as a personal photography project by TaKiyah Wallace in an effort to highlight girls ofHispanic, African, Asian, East Indian, and Native American descent in Ballet programs. Since then, the organization now works to sponsor aspiring ballerinas through scholarship funding, Ambassador/Mentorship Programs, and resources for ballet training. The mission of Brown Girls Do Ballet™ is to help increase participation of minorities in ballet programs.
About Howard University's Department of Theatre Arts
Founded by Dr. Sherrill Berryman Johnson, the Howard University Dance Arts program is the pioneering Historically Black College/University (HBCU) to offer a BFA degree in Dance Arts. The Department of Theatre Arts offers the Dance Arts major with a focus of identifying courses for students with professional goals asperformers, educators, critics, historians, or seeking minors in interdisciplinary study within the dance field. The curriculum is based on the foundation of Maryrose Reeves Allen of the Department of Physical Education in the College of Liberal Arts. Since 1991, the program has developed as a training component for the Theatre Arts Department in the Division of Fine Arts.
To see the full gallery, visit www.28daysofdance.com
At just 14, Eliana Vaha'i Fe'ao is making her mark on the ballet world while honoring her Tongan heritage in a big way! We were so excited when she agreed to chat with us! Check out our interview with Eliana Vaha'i Fe'ao below:
BGDB: When did you begin taking dance lessons? At what point did you realize it was your passion?
EVF: I took my first real ballet class when I was 11 after I injured my elbows and had to leave Gymnastics. I picked it up quickly but it took time for me to fall in love with it. It wasn’t until my first time performing the Nutcracker with Ballet West that I started to really fall in love. There’s just something about being on stage for a huge audience and bringing a ballet to life!
BGDB: What influences did ballet have on your childhood?
EVF: My parents both grew up in poverty and things like ballet just weren’t part of their childhood. My mom wanted me to have more exposure to the arts then she’d had. I watched my first Nutcracker in San Diego when I was 2 years old. I loved watching ballets, but I never thought seriously about being a ballerina because as long as I could remember I had been a gymnast, training to compete for Tonga in the Olympics one day.
BGDB: How do you honor your culture in pursuing ballet/dance?
EVF: The Kingdom of Tonga is a small island nation with a proud tradition of exploration. I see what I'm doing as one of the first Tongan ballet dancers as an exploration. When I first started dancing I never thought that I was a pioneer, that I would make history, or become a role model. That’s the power of ballet though! This summer I was invited to perform the first classical ballet variation danced in Tonga as part of the coronation. You can’t imagine how thrilling, humbling, and terrifying that was! It’s amazing at my age and while still training as a ballet dancer to have these opportunities and to be in a position to influence others. I get messages from Tongan kids around the world who are now starting ballet classes for the first time. I tell them to always remember who they are and where they come from – to not try and fit in but to stand out and be proud of our heritage and who we are. Tongans are brown skinned, muscular people. We don’t fit the image most people have when they think of ballet. So what! Let’s change the image. Let’s be so good that they can’t ignore us!
BGDB: How do you believe the dance world has shaped you as a young woman?
What learning experiences can young girls gain from exposure to Ballet? Do you believe that ballet can change lives, if so how?
EVF: Ballet absolutely changed my life! I lived a real life fairy tale this summer. I danced for royalty at a coronation ball, attended royal feasts, and saw things I thought were only in story books. I am fortunate to have fans and supporters who send me their love and support every day. I have a chance to help and inspire other girls like me and to be a good example for Pasifika youth. Ballet made that happen! Ballet is so much more then what happens on stage! I wish every young girl – and boy – could take at least a year of ballet classes, even if they don’t want to be professionals. Our world is so fast paced and overwhelmed with technology. Taking just an hour away from that to go somewhere artistic, pure, and beautiful like the world of ballet can change everything by offering a new perspective and connection to something greater then ourselves.
BGDB: Can you share with us some advice for parents and young girls alike who are interested in pursuing Ballet?
EVF: My family’s not rich. In fact, we've struggled a lot this last year when my father, who is a disabled Marine Corps veteran, couldn’t continue working. My parents used up their savings to keep me in ballet. My mom sold her clothing to pay for my pointe shoes. I was at the barre in class with girls talking about their European vacations while I was wondering if we were going to be evicted that day and hoping my pointe shoes wouldn’t break down before my mom could find a way to get new ones. I see the miracles my mom pulls off every day to keep me training – all while caring for my special needs brother and my father. To the last second I didn’t think we were going to make it to the coronation in Tonga this summer but she barked up every tree in the forest to make it happen. If you’re serious about wanting a career as a ballet dancer, don’t let any obstacles stand in your way. Maybe your obstacles aren’t financial – maybe they’re physical or mental – the point is don’t let anything stop you. Be realistic about what it takes and whether you’re willing to pay the price and once you decide to go for it don’t stop until you get there. When you doubt or get tired, think of the next generation of little brown girls who's dance journeys will be made that much better because of what you are doing today!
BGDB: What are your long term goals in the dance world?
EVF: My long term goal is to be the prima of a big company and to dance the major ballets! But just as important to me is to bring ballet to the Kingdom of Tonga and to make it more accessible here in America. Performing in Tonga this summer opened my eyes to a lot of things. Dance is a massive and ancient part of Tongan culture and yet there is not a single dance studio in the country! I am proud that traditional Tongan dance will always be very important in our culture but there are many kids who are passionate about other dance styles as well who have to gather on the street or wherever they can to teach themselves. I realized it wasn’t that different for the kids in Tonga then it had been for my parents growing up here. There are too many children with no more access to ballet in the United States then those kids in Tonga have. Ballet may have started out as a dance for the elite but it can’t stay that way and survive. Dance companies and schools need to do a far better job of reaching beyond the barriers that keep ballet exclusive and make greater efforts to be inclusive and reflect the diversity of the world around us. That’s my true passion!
We just wanted to leave a brief note on this first day of 2016 to simply say THANK YOU! Thank you to every dancer, to every parent, studio owner, business, and brand that has believed in our mission of opening doors to dancers of color. We are so grateful for every email, card, and word of encouragement that we've received over the past few years. 2016 will be our biggest year yet, and we feel very confident about the work knowing that we have such a great support system behind us. Welcome to 2016 and the new and improved Brown Girls Do Ballet! -TaKiyah and Brittani