Leah Simpson is a brown ballerina and proud owner of the Monet School of Ballet located in Jacksonville, Florida. We learned of Leah's story in the very beginnings of the Brown Girls Do Ballet Project and have been keeping up with her ever since. We are so excited to share her story with the world and we hope she inspires you the way that she's inspired us and each young dancer she meets. Check out the interview below:
Q: When did you begin taking dance lessons and when did you realize it was your passion?
A: I began dancing at the age of three. It was always a prominent component of my life, but I didn't discover my devout passion for ballet until the age of 13.
Q: What influences did ballet have on your childhood?
A: Ballet taught me the importance and beauty of etiquette, poise, respect, gracefulness, and much more.
Q: Our project focuses on highlighting unrepresented minorities in Ballet. Why do you think minorities are not well involved in this performing art? What are some of the challenges you may have faced as a "brown ballerina"?
A: Some minorities do not have a significant presence in the ballet world due to the lack of representation of people of color in prominent companies and media outlets. I've also noticed that many people are not open to the idea of taking ballet; it takes a certain type of person to pursue ballet. The main challenge I faced as a young girl of color was that I did not fit the stereotypical aesthetic of a ballet dancer. I had a large bust and I was very muscular. I was told that modern would be more suitable, but I was dedicated to pursuing ballet! I believed that anything was possible. My motto was to go for it without fear! You can do anything you set your mind to.
Q: How do you believe the dance world has shaped you as a young woman/girl? What learning experiences can young girls gain from exposure to Ballet?
A: Dance has given me strength, dedication, discipline, and great work ethic. Now that I am the owner of Monet School of Ballet I tell my students that ballet is the foundation of all forms of dance. Ballet is truly where my passion lies. I believe that it can change someone's character, and also teaches them discipline; which needed to be successful in ballet and life. Ultimately, it can change a life.
Q: Can you share with us some advice for parents and young girls alike who are interested in pursuing Ballet?
A: Parents who are considering enrolling their child into a ballet class should know that every single class matters. Be consistent, support your child, and remember behind every dedicated dancer are a dedicated parents and teachers.
Q: What led you to forming the Monet School of Ballet?
A: During my senior year, I incurred a tibia stress fracture. I had the opportunity to study Ballet Pedagogy at The Hartt School, on scholarship, but I was unable to attend due to my reoccurring injury. So, I decided to move back to Florida where I found a Doctor who told me that I would not be able to dance at the level of intensity and surgery was not recommended. Ultimately, it was my choice. After much thought, prayer, and guidance from my mom, I decided that I would not study dance. It was a difficult and painful decision to make because ballet was my life. I did not know what else to do. It was a difficult road, but now I am at peace. I miss training and performing, but everything happens for a reason. I couldn't see it then, but I can see it now. After some time, I decided to open my own ballet school. I went to speak with the Dance Director of my performing arts middle school and then the Monet School of Ballet was born!Q: What are some of the challenges you might be facing running Monet School of Ballet and how can the public help?
A: What I've noticed since opening my ballet school is that some parents are not able to pay for ballet lessons. Fortunately, I have been able to provide free ballet lessons to single moms, and I currently have three scholarship students. I feel that all children should have equal opportunities to participate in arts programs, no matter what their parent’s financial circumstances are. My mission is to give back to my community, with hopes to receive donations to our scholarship fund to help those in need. I want all of the students who walk through my doors to know that this is their second home.You can learn more about Leah Simpson and her program by visiting her website www.monetballet.com and her facebook: www.facebook.com/Monetballet