Posted by : Halima Khait Thursday, November 06, 2014

On the list of things I'm passionate about, race relations and dance rise to the top. So, it's no surprise that both of these areas played an integral role in shaping who I am today. And having done ballet for most of my life, it doesn't surprise me that the two intersect. See, ballet is infamous for being one of the least diverse dance forms.  I have my share of stories about this, but even though you all have let me know that you really like my dance stories, I'm only going to tell you the two that truly burned themselves into my memory.

The first happened when I was about 10 years old. American Girl had finally released an African American doll, Addy, and I had been begging my mom for her for months. Christmas morning came and so did Addy. And my mom even outdid herself by getting me my own cowrie shell necklace that matched the one Addy's great-grandmother brought from Africa. I was happy to have Addy, but also understood how special it would be as an African American to have something like a necklace to tie me to my roots. So, I wore my cowrie shell necklace with pride every day of Christmas break. But during the pliƩ combination of my first ballet class after break, the teacher spotted my necklace and in front of the whole class told me to "take that crap off my neck." I was so embarrassed and confused. My mom had me wear jewelry almost from the time I was born, so I regularly wore necklaces to class without being directed to remove them. The only difference was this one was an African style and therefore "crap," not worthy of being worn or seen by those in a ballet studio.

The second instance came as I was entering my teen years and my body [finally] started developing. I was doing an exercise facing the barre when a different instructor came up behind me, placed either of her index fingers on each of my butt cheeks, poked both and matter of factly said, "Your butt is getting fluffy." You can only imagine the body image problems I developed after not only having to deal with my changing body, but also being concerned that my butt was getting too large for ballet.

There are a couple of occurences I credit with giving me the confidence I needed to continue dancing through these and other horror stories. The first, of course, was my time spent studying with the Dance Theater of Harlem. But that's to be expected when you're studying with dancers with similar body types and experiences. More undexpectedly and therefore probably most helpful in boosting my self-esteem was a class I took the Kirov Academy of Ballet. After class, the instructor told me and my mom that I had the perfect body for Russian ballet!! I was blown away. Russian ballet is not only difficult, but also the standard for ballet. And I was perfect for it.

Even now, out of a ballet class of about 30 students, I'm the only African American dancer present. I handle it by remembering two things: the first is what my mom told me when I was younger, to be seen as an equal, I have to be the best. And the second, that I am perfect for this.

~ With ♥ from Halima

Can you remember a time when you were discouraged from pursuing a passion? How did you handle the situation?


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