When you imagine a ballerina, chances are you're visualizing a tall, waif-like woman in a pink tutu and a tiara. Her porcelain skin is only one shade lighter than the blonde hair she has pulled back in a sleek, gentle bun. Her body is lifted, balancing on the very tips of her pointe shoes. She has a pleasant, somewhat pensive, look brushed across her delicate white face.
The Dance Theatre Of Harlem seeks to change that. The dancers at their company are graceful, talented and well trained — but they look a bit different than that quintessential ballerina you imagined.
"There's this conversation about race in dance and there's this stigma 'they just won't blend in in your sea of swans,'" Janelle Figgins, a dancer, told Mashable. "That's not always an acceptable aesthetic for ballet."
Arthur Mitchell and Karel Shook founded the Dance Theater Of Harlem in 1969, shortly after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The website explains that their institution was "Nurtured by the optimism and idealism of the Civil Rights Era," and began in a garage on 152nd Street in Harlem.
The Dance Theater Of Harlem has since become a beacon of hope for dancers of color across the world, and exists as evidence of progress.
Chyrstyn Fentroy, a dancer who identifies as half black and half white, finds gratification in knowing that her success is well deserved.
"People are successful because they work hard," she told Mashable. "It doesn't matter what color your skin is."