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Copeland spearheads charge for more Black dancers

DEMETRIA IRWIN | 9/26/2013, 12:36 p.m.
Misty Copeland

Stick-thin white women with perfect up-dos are not the only ones who are talented ballerinas. Project Plié, an initiative of the prestigious American Ballet Theatre (ABT), seeks to bring more people of color into the roles of dancers and instructors of classical ballet.

The program—which partners with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, Payless Shoes and several ballet companies around the country—features scholarships, intense recruitment efforts and teacher training.

“In launching Project Plié, American Ballet Theatre aims to take an important step toward helping the classical ballet profession better reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of our country’s population,” said Rachel S. Moore, CEO of American Ballet Theatre. “This initiative can assist ballet students from diverse backgrounds in reaching their full potential by providing them with the support and active engagement of teachers, mentors and current professional dancers.”

“The percentage of classical Black ballet dancers around the world is sadly minimal, which is quite embarrassing,” said principal guest Royal Ballet artist Carlos Acosta when asked about the abysmal number of ballet dancers of color in a Guardian article. “In most companies, when a talented Black dancer is chosen as a member, they don’t know how to cast them properly. Still, there is this mentality, especially with directors, that a Black ballerina in the middle of a flock of white swans would somehow alter the harmony.”

Project Plié aims to change that. By giving out a total of 40 scholarships and activating the 1,100 ABT-certified teachers around the country, the program hopes to reach countless talented people.

Misty Copeland, an African-American soloist with ABT, is one of the advisors for the project. She was Prince’s principal dancer for his “Welcome 2 America” tour, and she has a book in the wings and a Nelson George-directed documentary in the works. Copeland was 13 years old when she started taking ballet classes—ancient for the ballet world, as most ballet dancers start classes as toddlers.

But Copeland, with her curvier and shorter physique, found that the sheer force of her talent and her own tenacity paved a way for her to be the top-notch, acclaimed ballerina that she is today. Project Plié is a nationwide project for dancers and teachers alike. For more information about Project Plié, go to www.abt.org/projectplie.