Recently several members of the Los Angeles chapter of Mocha Girls Read had the good fortune to watch Misty Copeland and Stella Abrera perform in the American Ballet Theater’s (ABT) production of “The Firebird.” Last year Copeland and Abrera made history as the first African-American woman and first Filipino-American woman, respectively, to be promoted to the rank of principal dancer, the highest rank within ABT.
For many years ballerinas of color were often invisible and rarely spoken of. That is changing both in the real world, with dancers like Copeland and Abrera taking center stage, and in the world of books. This post aims to highlight a few nonfiction and fiction books featuring dancers of color.
In Life in Motion, the history-making ballerina Misty Copeland describes her early life, in and outside the dance studio. In addition to her personal story, Copeland provides a glimpse of what it takes to be a dancer – the daily regimen of class and rehearsals, injuries, even the politics of the ballet world.
Brown Girls Do Ballet began as a personal photography project by TaKiyah Wallace to highlight girls of Hispanic, African, Asian, East Indian, and Native American ancestry in ballet programs. Now a philanthropic start-up organization, Brown Girls Do Ballet aims to promote diversity in the arts. Realizing that brown girls need a resource that spoke directly to them, Brown Girls Do Ballet created The Ballerina’s Little Black Book, a collection of interviews, advice for aspiring dancers, and stunning photography of brown girls doing ballet.
Twenty-one-year-old Michaela Prince spent her early years in an orphanage in Sierra Leone. At age four she was adopted by Americans Elaine and Charles DePrince. Her dancing talent began attracting international attention after her appearance in the documentary First Position. In Taking Flight Michaela and her mother discuss the dancer’s journey from a West African orphanage to becoming the rising stars in the world of ballet.
Cultural historian and dance critic Brenda Dixon Gottschild explores race and color in American dance. She discusses the various way the black dancing body is perceived and the implications of those perceptions for dancers and choreographers.
Seventeen-year-old Theo is an aspiring ballerina with a lot on her mind. She is one of the few African-Americans in the mostly lily white world of ballet in her smallish Chicago suburb. Her best friend has just returned home after being abducted. Theo struggles to keep up her happy facade amid all the changes in her life, but she is starting to lose control.
Black Swan meets Pretty Little Liars, that seems to be how everyone who’s read it describes this book. Featuring a diverse cast of characters, Tiny Pretty Things follows three top students at an exclusive ballet school in Manhattan.
As a black, bisexual ballet dancer, Etta doesn’t neatly fit into any of the boxes or categories prescribed by her small Nebraska town. That is until she meets Bianca, the straight, White, Christian, and seriously sick girl in her therapy group.
Mocha Girl Tiffani
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