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Last Tuesday, looking for photos to post on social media for #TutuTuesday, I came across the image of a mini dancer who, in her proud mother’s post, asked if she danced as well as Misty Copeland.
And yes, that girl, little Ava Elyse Johnson, six, is black – just like Misty Copeland. Which, unfortunately, is still out of the ordinary when it comes to ballet. Maybe that’s why the photo caught my eye – a little black girl looking at a great ballerina, also black. And all the talk about representativeness (which we often talk about on here on the blog) again made sense.
I spoke to her mother, Chrysanthe, and she agreed to tell me a little bit about how Ava fell in love with dancing, and whether the slightly more colorful stages had any influence on that. To give a context, Ava and her family are from the United States, live in Philadelphia and have strong ties to the church – in the USA, as well as in some churches here in Brazil, it is common to have art workshops for the community. Many talents are revealed precisely in choirs or dance groups.
“We realized since Ava was very young that she was a born dancer. She started to show potential to be a dancer and athlete since she was two years old. If you spend more than five minutes with her you will see her walking and turning on the tip of her foot. Never with the sole on the floor (laughs). I felt obliged to enroll her in a ballet school as soon as she reached the minimum age ”, she said.
The choice of this dance school was very meticulous, according to Chrysanthé. She said that since the family spends much of their time in environments where they are a minority, it was important for her that Ava could develop artistically with children who looked like her. The chosen one was Philadanco !, a gym with a very interesting ethnic diversity and which also has a company. It is worth taking a look at the site!
Of course, parenting also has a direct impact on parenting, and in Ava’s case, that was very positive. Chrysanthé said she danced when she was younger, although not classical ballet (she danced to Afro-Caribbean rhythms) and commented that the athletics gene ran wild in the family. That is, it was a matter of time for Ava to be interested in some activity.
But the interest of parents in the artistic formation of their children does not stop there: it is important that you have models to introduce yourself to the little ones. And this is a little more complicated, especially when we talk about representativeness.
The child wants to identify with his idols. In ballet, more specifically, until recently, there were no black dancers and dancers with leading roles in major international companies. And now, with a new generation of stars, like Misty Copeland, Michaela DePrince, Precious Adams, and the Brazilian Ingrid Silva and Alison Stroming, this is starting to change.
“I think these dancers are making it easier for us. They are inspiring young dancers, like my daughter, to be who they are even when the world tries to deny them that. And they are breaking barriers in a way that is difficult for them and so many other black dancers to go unnoticed by the American commercial media and the ballet world ”.
Of course, this representation is still very small, that there is racism in companies and that the disproportion between blacks and whites in ballet is still gigantic. But it is already bearing fruit – like Ava, for example. Still, I asked Crysanthé what we can do to speed up this process.
“We have to continue exposing our children to these artists and talking about them at the dinner table, consuming their products, saving money for live performances whenever possible… We cannot break down barriers if we limit ourselves to doing what society associates with race and genre. We are capable of much more and it is important that our children see this ”.