As a teen performing in Chicago’s Nutcracker Suite, I was asked to “powder down” my skin in order to portray the role of a snowflake. The impact of being told that I looked like ”slush” deeply impacted me. It made me question my place in the world of ballet as black woman. Today, I present work that mirrors my own, black experiences. I reclaim ballet by infusing it with movement steeped in black culture thereby availing opportunities for black dancers to contemporize and tell our stories. I see challenges black dancers face pursuing careers in the white world of ballet and while successful pioneering black women are showing the world how their unique strengths enriches the art-form, concert ballet remains slow in its inclusion of diverse bodies. This study examines how my recent choreographic work, Counterpoint, a collaborative multimedia project with visual artist, Patrick Hammie and cross-generational Black ballerinas, employs ballet to address social inequity and launch conversations around visibility, invisibility, viability, and accessibility of dance and visual art-forms to diverse communities. The title is a play on the Ballet term Pointe, a position on the tips of the toes. Its literal meaning is salient because by offering a work that image the cultural dignity and experiences of black women, and by joining these two worlds, dance and visual art, we seek to apply the visual conventions of glorification, beauty, grace, history, and movement to bodies more often discussed through the narrow lens historically elitist societies allots for them.
I have been dancing since the age of seven studying ballet, tap and gymnastics. Ballet was my passion and my opportunity to experience a world outside of my backyard, a world with diverse people and experiences that deeply shaped my the person I am today as well as the artist and activist I have become as I've moved into this next phase of my caree as a scholar, teacher and mature performer. I have had the pleasur of performing in amazing venues in historic places for some of the most iconic people in the world. As a former principal dancer with the Dance Theatre of Harlem and original cast member of Broadway's The Lion King, Aida and Carousel, I was able to push my technical and artistic skills to the fullest. I value the multiplicity of dance styles my career afforded me and use it as inspiration to encourage my students to be open to value of diverse dance saesthetics as well as diverse bodies dancing in those spaces. I'm most grateful and passionate about using my research as a platform to promote social justice. I have worked with organizations to speak out against domestic abuse, racism and the proliferation of violence against African American men and ageism.