How did you start dancing?
I had attended a performing arts elementary school where all of the arts were mandatory, dance, drama, art, and music. At the age of 8, I had auditioned for the School for Creative and Performing Arts which was (in the USA) grade 4-12. I initially wanted to be in drama but my dance audition went better that the acting, so it became my major.
From that young age did you feel an imbalance in the number of white dancers and black dancers represented?
At that age, I never felt an imbalance as far as racial representation because in the performing arts school, there were kids of all colours and races in every class of mine, so I grew up never feeling excluded too much in my ballet classes. There was always someone who looked like me.
What drew you to join Ballet Black?
Prior to joining ballet black, I was in NYC with the Dance Theater of Harlem’s Dancing Through Barriers Ensemble, which was equivalent to a second company, as the time that I had joined in 2004, the main company was on hiatus. After 4 years of dancing there, I had a roommate who had danced with Ballet Black before and told me they were looking for a girl. I auditioned in 2007, flew over in 2008 and the rest is history.
Do you feel the responsibilities of being a role model?
I feel the responsibility more so being in this country, as I’ve had many black female role models in my life being from the states, because there is a lack of representation as far as a black and brown ballerinas. THEY ARE THERE, don’t get me wrong, but being in this country for over 10 years, I have definitely been able to witness the growth in numbers as far as people of colour in ballet companies, which is amazing because there are more and more little ballerinas being produced every day and we ALL need someone to look up to.
What is it like being able to have pointe shoes specifically to match your skin tone?
(Ballet Black have just collaborated with Freed, one of the world’s best pointe shoe makers, to create two band new shades of brown pointe shoe. Previously only ‘pink’ pointe shoes existed, and black dancers had to ‘pancake’ or paint their shoes a darker colour)
Having a shoe made to fit my skin tone is an absolute dream that I never thought would come true. Pancaking has been the way of the dance world for years and to think that colouring my shoes to match my skin (since we don’t wear ballet tights) gives me a different sense of liberation that I can’t quite put into words. I am very pleased, to say the least.
Both your roles in this show, Tilly in The Suit and Titania in Dream are very different, tell us what that is like in performance?
As far as Tilly in The Suit, I have to completely try to clear my brain and start from scratch, meaning, the scene opens at the top of the day waking up, so I have to show her evolution from beginning to end in just 35 minutes. I try to make Tilly as real as possible and in doing that, I am exposing myself as a human to show this raw emotional rollercoaster that she is on. My focus is to make the audience have mixed feeling about her yet empathise with her final decision.
Moving on to A Dream Within A Midsummer Night’s Dream, it’s FUN. Titania is the Queen, so I have to carry myself in a regal way, and then Puck comes and throws a tool in the machine and it all goes crazy in this fairy, make-believe world.
Do you have a favourite part of this programme; The Suit and A Dream Within A Midsummer Night’s Dream?
I don’t necessarily have a favorite part of the program. I love The Suit because of what it’s given me as a dancer and an actor. I am able to tap into emotions which helps me look deeper in to characters when need be. I DO love the fact that I am pretty much onstage for the majority of the time with my company members. It’s something about having them all around me, gives me strength. As far as Dream, I love it from the beginning to the end. It’s just a great, light hearted piece.
Any advice for people who have never seen ballet and why they should come see Ballet Black?
For those who have never seen ballet, I like to think that Ballet Black shows are for everyone. It’s a “come as you are” sort of thing. Our company is relatable, and we love what we do. Tickets are affordable, and we accept everyone as they are, because that’s all that we are asking for.
Ballet Black is at The Lowry on Mon 19 November. Tickets available here.