Black ballet dancers have been a part of the classical art form for centuries, but due to its long history of racial bias and exclusion, the number of Black ballet dancers today is still relatively small. Though there have been many efforts to increase diversity in the ballet world, it’s an uphill battle that still has a long way to go.
The history of black ballet can be traced back to the early 1700s when African-born slaves performed in English ballets. This was the first time black people had been allowed on stage as professional performers. Later on, in 1832, the first African-American company was formed in Philadelphia and by 1845, there were several all-black companies touring across America.
In the 20th century, Black ballet dancers began to gain recognition for their talents and skill levels and were able to join predominantly white companies such as American Ballet Theater (ABT) and The Joffrey Ballet. The most famous Black dancer from this period was Arthur Mitchell who became the first African-American principal dancer at ABT when he joined in 1955.
Today, though progress has been made towards increasing diversity in ballet, there are still far fewer Black dancers than whites. According to a study by Dance/USA, only 9 percent of professional dancers are Black or Latino, compared with 82 percent being white. This is largely due to unequal access to resources and opportunities for Black dancers, as well as racism and discrimination within the field.
As awareness of this disparity grows, organizations like Dance Theatre of Harlem (DTH) and The Harlem School of the Arts have emerged with initiatives that aim to provide more opportunities for young Black dancers who may not otherwise have access to traditional training programs or performance opportunities.
Additionally, other organizations like Ballet Beyond Borders are providing scholarships specifically for black students wishing to pursue a career in dance. These initiatives provide invaluable support not only financially but also emotionally and physically – helping young aspiring dancers feel more comfortable pursuing their dreams without fear of discrimination or lack of support from their peers or community.
Ultimately, it will take time for there to be a significant shift in representation among professional ballet companies worldwide. But with increased awareness and access to resources for aspiring Black ballerinas as well as more inclusive hiring practices from major companies like ABT and The Royal Ballet, we can hope that one day soon we will see much greater parity between white and black representation both onstage and offstage within the world of classical ballet.
It is evident that although progress has been made towards increasing racial diversity within classical dance over past centuries, there is still much work left to be done if we want all aspiring black ballerinas around the world have equal access opportunities regardless of color or background within this field.