Diversifying ABT and other ballet companies

In 2015, Misty Copeland made history when she became the first African American woman to be named principal of American Ballet Theatre. And now others are hoping to follow in her footsteps

- In 2015, Misty Copeland made history when she became the first African American woman to be named principal of American Ballet Theatre. And now others are hoping to follow in her footsteps

Twin brothers Naazir and Shaakir Muhammad were introduced to ballet through a special outreach program at their Flatbush elementary school and have been dancing ever since.

In 2010, they were admitted to the highly selective Jaqueline Kennedy Onassis School at the American Ballet Theatre, which they'll complete this spring. But back when they were just getting started, the Muhammad twins had little support. In fact they forged their mother's signature to enroll in their first ballet class. They ended up training at the Brooklyn Ballet for six years before getting into ABT.

When they started at ABT they quickly noticed they stood out from the other dancers. And as they've risen in the ranks, they've encountered peers who are in awe of how far they made it.

Attitudes are changing in part because of examples like Copeland, who is a mentor to the twins, and because of efforts on the part of ABT and other leading ballet companies to diversify their ranks.

It's called Project Plié, which began in 2013, brings ABT-certified instructors and company dancers to inner-city communities to teach classes and recruit budding talents. They have a partnership with the Boys and Girls Club, and have gotten 13 other ballet companies around the country to implement their own version of Project Plié.

In New York, black male dancers like Jonathan Filbert are following the twins' lead and encouraging others like them to give classical ballet a try. Filbert and the twins say they're encouraged at the direction ballet is taking.

While Project Plié aims to bring more diverse dancers into the fold, it is also looking to change the face of the ballet world in general by bringing in instructors and administrators of all different ethnicities and backgrounds.
 

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