We interviewed Rachel Pelly, a dancer at Inland Pacific Ballet about her experience of being a black ballet dancer.
Q: How long have you been doing ballet, and at what age did you become aware of the lack of diversity in ballet?
A: I started dance when I was four and I did competitive dance until I was about seven, and then I stopped dancing. At the age of eleven, I started ballet, but I had forgotten everything, so it was like starting from scratch. So technically eleven.
Q: Who are some people you look up to in the dance world and who have their inspired you?
A: Honestly, anyone who has made it in a professional career because I am a black dancer, so when I see other black dancers in a company, I know the struggles they faced getting there. Francesca Hayworth also inspires me, she’s so beautiful. There’s so many black dancers who don’t get talked about, like Hayworth, and I think that’s really important to do because not every professional resonates with every black dancer. The more diverse the ballet world becomes, the more aspiring ballet dancers are likely to find an inspirational person that looks like them.
You’re the only African-American dancer in your studio’s advanced training division. How has that experience been for you?
A: I’ve been dancing since I was eleven, so I’m just kinda used to it. I’m also biracial, so usually biracial people don’t really where to place ourselves socially and racially. Since I’m half white, I always feel like that side of me is represented since there are white dancers too; but it’s more of the black side that is missing.
I’ve also noticed that I see a lot of younger students who are black, but then they always quiet. They get to around 12 years old and think oh I can’t do this. Interviewer: And do you think this problem of black dancers not continuing their training can be accredited to the lack of diversity in ballet? Rachel: I do. You don’t see people that look like you on stage, so you’re constantly thinking “what am I doing here?”
Q: What do you hope the ballet world looks like 5 years from now? Are there anything specific things you would like to see change?
A: (In a conversation about flesh color tights made for brown and black dancers.) Rachel: I’ve never worn skin color tights before. Interviewer: Right. And I think that goes back to the the studio’s norms being based off of what a majority of their students look like. Rachel: Exactly, because in ballet they want everyone to look very uniform- corps de ballet. Also having to find things like nude leotards and having to put foundation on them because they are all really pale. Five years from now, I’d like to see all companies that cater to the ballet world - from pointe shoe brands to make-up and garments - to make a more conscious effort of the variety products they provide for the increasingly diverse ballet world!