When I first started dancing I chose hip hop. Everyone who looked like me did hip hop. No black girls did ballet. Ballet was too soft and feminine for my 10-year-old black self. I chose hip hop because I didn’t know about Misty Copeland till I was 11 years old. When I was 11 years old I saw Misty Copeland on an ad for pointe shoes in Payless. I saw beautiful, black, strong women on an ad for pointe shoes. I saw someone who looked like me being feminine and delicate and graceful. The next year I started ballet, and on days when I felt like I didn’t belong, on days when I looked around the room and saw all of my white friends and my white instructor I thought of Misty Copeland. Of how she must have felt in every audition and class and casting call she went to where she stuck out like a sore thumb because of the colour of her skin. I never thought about how much representation mattered until I look back on the year I danced in a hip hop class when I longed to be in ballet shoes. It’s hard to look around the room and not see a single person that looks like you. But it’s harder for little girls to not see themselves in roles they aspire to be. Representation matters. So next time I am the only black women in an all-white audition or class, or interview or whatever it might be, I will stand a little taller and try a little harder so that, maybe, I’ll get the job or spot or role so the next little girl who looks like me will see herself in me and know that she can be whatever she wants. Today I am 20 years old and when I stand at the barre in my university ballet class I smile at the only other black girl in the class and hope she too is thinking of Misty Copeland.
“This is for the little brown girls.”
― Misty Copeland