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When I was about 4-5 years old I was taken to a dance class in my neighborhood. I honestly can’t recall what happened that day but by the end of the class I know I never wanted to go back again.
Fast forward years later when I moved to New York, I was often asked if I was a dancer. Maybe it was because of my posture (which I got from walking on a 10cm beam in artistic gymnastics). I honestly thought people were joking around; after all, I looked nothing like the girls I had seen all my life on the cover of Martine et Les Petit Rats de l’Opera, or even the girls from Dirty Dancing.
My legs were muscular a bit like one of my idols, Surya Bonali, but oh boy! do I remember how people used to talk about hers.
“Bonaly constantly faced negativity from judges as she did not fit into their norm. Being black did not correlate with their idea of being graceful as characterized by the white feminine body. This clearly demonstrates that the dominant white culture determines who is and is not allowed to be exceptional and that definitions of what is acceptable behavior can change based on who is performing it “(Jackson, 1999).
The way I perceived myself through the eyes of society prevented me from even considering classical dance as an option. I still loved to dance and even created a couple routines for school. In the early ’90s, American Hip Hop pertained to the French media and I thought, maybe I could try that – this may be more “for people like me”.
It took many years and growth to overcome these stereotypes and feel comfortable showing my legs! But I felt a bit cheated I was never encouraged to pursue the practice of dance.
Of course, dancers such as Debbie Allen and later Misty Copeland paved the way for a newer generation of classical dancers, and dance companies such as Alvin American Dance Theater pioneered Black Excellence, but I never saw them as a kid.
That is specifically the reason why I was inspired to create a series of Groovy Afro Dancers: Just because #RepresentationMatters – and I hope that young and not so younger girls will recognize themselves in them!
*Jackson, R. L. (1999). White space, white privilege: Mapping discursive inquiry into the self. Quarterly Journal of Speech, 85(1), 38-54. DOI: 10.1080/00335639909384240