Be strong, be fearless, be beautiful. And believe that anything is possible when you have the right people there to support you.
I think, as a child, there weren't dreams. I can't recall as a child having some ultimate dream and thinking that it was possible.
There are muscles that we have in our feet that most human beings don't even know that we have. The strength that we have is so detailed.
It's weird for minorities even just to buy tickets to the ballet. We feel like it's not a part of our lives and we're not a part of that world.
It's hard to change someone's ideas when they might not even really consciously know that they're being racist, or have racist ideas, just because ballet has been this way for hundreds of years.
I know that I'm talented, and I know that I'm not in American Ballet Theater because I'm black -- I'm here because I'm a gifted dancer.
I have the opportunity, which most people don't experience nearly as much, of being in front of a mirror up to 10 hours a day. Staring at your body, you really get to know every little detail of how to make yourself look your best.
I traced the marley floor with my pointe shoes, and imagine myself on the stage, not as a member of the corps, but as a principal dancer. It felt right. It felt like a promise. Some day, somehow, it was going to happen for me.
I'm definitely influenced by the music. We dance to music, and you have to listen to it and phrase your dancing and movement in a certain way to compliment the music. We have to work hand in hand, the dancer and the music.
'The Company' was interesting. I didn't love it, although it might be compelling to someone who isn't a dancer. There wasn't a lot of dialogue, and you were just kind of observing the creative process of choreography and in class.
I knew that I just didn't have it in me to give up, even if I sometimes felt like a fool for continuing to believe.
All you can do is be your best self. I'm representing more than just me. I think everyone should be like that.
How difficult it is to exist, that we are athlete and artist. We have injuries. People don't see the hard side of being a ballerina. They just see this beautiful and effortless thing, and they assume it's easy and cute. I hate when people say it's cute!
I know there are a lot of eyes on me now from young girls, and it makes me so proud. The only Black woman examples aren't Rihanna and Beyoncé. It makes me proud that I am a classical ballerina and they can look at me and see another way to succeed. That is setting a new standard.
Maybe I'm seeing myself in a different way than the people in the audience see me, 'cause to me, I think I look like a ballerina and I feel like a ballerina. But maybe I'm not seeing what other people are seeing.
I don't want to be anything else other than a ballerina. I love what I do outside of my work, but at the end of the day, I have to sacrifice.
A lot of people think, Oh I'm going to eat whatever I want and then go to the gym. And I've definitely been one of those people and it just doesn't give me the results that I need to have the physique of a ballerina.
I had no idea what I was walking into, and the years and years of hard work it would take. I felt like an outsider and like it was never going to happen. But even if I would have known, I think I still would have done it. Dancers are perfectionists, and that's what keeps us going and growing.
Every time I step onto the stage, it's not only proving to the audience that I'm capable but to myself.
Ballet is number one, everything else is scheduled in the small windows when I'm not in the studio taking class, rehearsing, on stage or on tour.
I do think Under Armour is setting a new example for what a ballerina is, and that you can be feminine and an athlete and represent what a woman is at the same time.
Just to get into a company like ABT is a dream come true, but to have all of these opportunities on top of it, I don't think it will hit me until I'm 70. I'll be like, Oh, my god, remember that amazing life you had? It's an incredible honor to be a part of something like ABT.
My first ballet class was on a basketball court. I'm in my gym clothes and my socks trying to do this thing called ballet.
I think that the ideal physique and look of a ballerina is always changing with different eras. And it's continuing to change.
You're always working to improve, and you're always being critiqued on your next performance. It's not about what you've done. There's always room to grow.
I'm a classical ballet dancer, and at the end of the day I want to be with American Ballet Theater, performing classical ballets.
My career came together very quickly. I only trained for four years before I became a professional, so I didn't have a lot of time to sit back and be inspired before I took my first ballet class.
My body is very different from most of the dancers I dance with. My hair is different than most I dance with. But I didn't let that stop me. Black girls rock and can be ballerinas.
When I was younger, my feet would hurt a lot, but you build up calluses and strength and you don't feel as much pain there.
I think that I'm so fortunate to have found classical ballet. It completely changed my life and it shaped the person that I am today, on and off the stage.
Different mentors throughout my life have supported and guided me to remember that I do have the strength, courage and talent to do whatever I want to do.
I don't believe in dieting, I don't believe in having certain moments in your life where you're healthy and then moments when you're like, I'm going to eat whatever I want. It's just finding what works for your body and always eating healthy.
I think anything that affects me in my personal life is going to help me be a better artist on stage.
I never knew I wanted to become a ballerina. I was discovered at the age of 13. I had a love for movement even though I had no exposure to dance other than what I saw in music videos, like hip-hop music videos. But I knew that I loved moving.
I believe I am yet to dance my favorite role, but I am pretty open to adapting to different characters. I would love to be Odette in Swan Lake one day. I think that would be the ultimate role.
Even if I weren't learning new roles and getting the opportunity to be coached by incredible people, I still think I would be so excited to have an opportunity to continue to push myself and grow, as an artist.
The word prodigy was thrown around a lot, but I didn't understand what that meant, or the weight of it. It didn't really mean anything to me, until I was older and could look back on it.
Meeting Raven Wilkinson and having her as a mentor, it was that kind of support from the generations that came before me that helped to lift me up and give me the confidence to then be able to give back and bring other minorities with me on this journey.
It's really amazing that I was discovered and that I've been given these great opportunities to travel the world and work with amazing artists. I'm very blessed.
I know that I'll forever be involved in ballet. This is where my life was meant to be, and I don't see myself straying completely away, ever.
What makes people and companies and artistic directors and choreographers interested in working with dancers is the ability to kind of let go of everything you think you know and be a blank canvas.
I think I'm pretty laid back. I like cooking, being at home, and going to concerts. And I love to shop!
I was seventeen when I moved to New York. I was nineteen when I joined the main company. I was going through a lot. Just becoming an adult and just wanting to fit in, be accepted, and be in common with the other dancers.
I was 17 when I moved to NYC . I'm now 32. But I do know I can't see myself living anywhere else. I love the food, the fashion, art, the intelligence of this city and the people that live in it.
Ballet found me. I was discovered by a teacher in middle school. I always danced, my whole life. I never had any training, never was exposed to seeing dance, but I always had something inside of me.
You can do anything you want, even if you are being told negative things.stay strong and find motivation.
Growing up, I was surrounded by RandB and Hip-Hop, and the closest thing I could find to dance was gymnastics which I watched on TV. So, I just used those avenues I found available right in my milieu to express what was inside of me.
I'm a pescatarian, so I don't eat red meat or pork. So my dinners usually consist of seafood in some way. And maybe cookies after!
That it's possible to do positive things and I think that's how we're going to set an example to be respected as women in the world.
You have to be the one promoting yourself. If you don't think that you're worthy, you're never going to make it.
I do think that it's a responsibility when there are so few of us as African Americans to kind of get to that place of success in a positive light. We should take a stance and stand for something and use that platform for positivity.
Going on stage and transcending the audience and becoming this otherworldly thing makes you a dancer. It's not so black and white.
It takes a lot of money to be a part of the ballet world. Both the training and the supplies are expensive, the shoes, the leotards and the tights.
Going on stage and doing ballet, for the first time, was even more verification of, This is what I'm meant to do. This is what I'm going to do. I'm going to make it somehow.
I was aware of my race from a very young age. Not in a negative way. Coming from an interracial background, I think it is important to understand who you are.
A young girl reached out to me to be her mentor one day, which I didn't really know anything about. What I did remember was what it was to be alone as an African-American dancer in the ballet world and wanting to connect with someone who looks like me.
It's difficult to exist as a woman, especially I think as a powerful woman. You want to stand strong and you want to be considered and equal.
I remind myself everyday just how lucky I am to do what I love! I feel so fortunate and I'm just trying to take my life one day at a time.
I think I get almost every piece of clothing that I buy altered and taken in just to fit me exactly the way it should.
In the ballet studio, it was such an organized and disciplined environment, like I'd never had in my life. Seeing myself in the mirror, surrounded by the classical music, that's when I started to fall in love with dance.
My curves became an integral part of who I am as a dancer, not something I needed to lose to become one.
I never thought of myself as special or particularly good at anything. But once I started ballet, suddenly I had a new identity: prodigy.
At least in my performances, the audience has become so diverse in a way that I don't think ballet has ever experienced.
It's going to take a while before we see a real shift in the students and the dancers that are going into professional companies because it takes so many years of training, but I do think that there's a new crop of dancers, of minority dancers that are entering into the ballet world.
I would have young dancers come to me and ask me questions and want to know what my experiences were like: 'What's it like being a black dancer?' So I just felt like it was necessary for me to share my experiences with them.
I wake up every morning, and I go to ballet class no matter what's going on the night before. That's my priority, and that's what makes me feel sane and not removed from the realities of my world.
Before dance came into my life, I don't really remember having any major goals or dreams of wanting to be anything.
If I'm put in a situation where I am not really sure what's going to happen, it can be overwhelming. I get a bit anxious.
I think all dancers are control freaks a bit. We just want to be in control of ourselves and our bodies. That's just what the ballet structure, I think, kind of puts inside of you.
Once you become a professional, to get through a ballet like 'Swan Lake' -- four acts as the lead, changing character -- the perseverance is incredible. It takes a lot to make it through and keep the same energy throughout the entire performance.
Being one of the few African American women to make it to this level in a classical ballet company, the level of American Ballet Theatre, takes a lot of perseverance.
Perseverance has always just been something that was in me. And it was a tool that came in very handy as a ballerina.
When it came to my childhood -- growing up in a single-parent home, often struggling financially -- my mother definitely instilled in me and my siblings this strength, this will, to just continue to survive and succeed.
I didn't care how much work it would take, and I didn't see the time invested as a waste or like I was missing out on anything. Ballet became my ultimate passion.
Most ballerinas take their first ballet class when they are 5 or 6 years old. I was 13 when I took mine on the basketball court of the San Pedro Boys and Girls Club in California.
When I was a little girl, I was incredibly shy. My hope was to blend in, to fit in, to not be noticed in any significant way. I was deeply insecure and unsure of myself.
I didn't want to be the best at anything; I just wanted to blend in. And that was kind of my existence throughout my family experiences at home of just kind of blending in in the background through my other siblings, which was easy to do.
Dance kind of was always just a part of my natural state as a child. It's something that, whenever music was playing, I was dancing.
If the rhythm or beat of the music changes with a live orchestra, you have to think on your feet. If you feel like you are not on your leg, you have to make a decision to make it look as though nothing is going wrong.
Finding ballet gave me passion for the first time in my life. I was always very shy and just wanted to fit in; I never daydreamed about what I wanted to be when I grew up. But dancing gave me a connection to my personality that made me grow.
My family didn't have very much money, so ballet wasn't even on my radar; I just found it randomly when I was 13 at a Boys and Girls Club. We were practicing in a basketball court in gym clothes with some old socks on. Even though it terrified me at first, I found that I really liked it.
I was the first person in my family who was ever interested in dance, or fine art of any kind for that matter -- I came from a very humble beginning in San Pedro, California.
I think American Ballet Theatre is setting that standard now for classical ballet, that you can dream big, and it doesn't matter what you look like, where you come from, what your background is.
It's all so surreal, and I'm living my dream. And you know, principal or not, I'm getting to dance all the roles that I've dreamed of doing.
I don't eat a ton of pasta or bread. But I eat dessert almost every night, and I drink. You need a bit of balance, and I've found mine.
I want to bring awareness to the lack of diversity in ballet, and feel like that's a large part of my purpose.
When I was younger, my feet would hurt a lot, but you build up calluses and strength, and you don't feel as much pain there. But then again, it's a give and take. The older you get, you may feel pain in your back or your hips.
Finding great training, I think, is number one. I did a lot of research and found really great teachers, and it just takes -- I took a year off from school and did independent studies so that I could devote all of my time to it. But I think that training is the key, definitely, and it's not a sport.
Ballet found me, I guess you could say. I was discovered by a teacher in middle school. I always danced my whole life. I never had any training, never was exposed to seeing dance, but I always had something inside of me. I would love to choreograph and dance around.
Whenever there was chaos in my house, whether it was arguing, being in a cramped space with all of us kids and screaming, I found an empty space where I could just put music on and move.
Barack Obama being President of the United States doesn't mean racism has disappeared. It's all a process, and we have to be aware that the work never ends.
I wanted to open the dialogue about race in ballet and bring more people in. It's just beautiful to see the interest that has exploded for such an incredible art form that I will forever be grateful to!
40 years old is about the time a principal dancer would start to think about retirement, but some go on to dance a little bit longer than that.
There are no taking days off. There are no distractions. If I had that, I physically wouldn't be capable of going onstage and performing live theater. It's extremely demanding. I have to be in ballet class every day.
My first ballet class was on a basketball court. I'm in my gym clothes and my socks trying to do this thing called ballet. I didn't know anything about it.
Something happens when you feel that energy and excitement from the audience. And you do, I don't know, four pirouettes. You jump higher than you ever have. And it's just this really magical thing that happens in those moments.
It's a European art form, and you're used to seeing a certain type of person as a ballerina. And I don't look like a lot of the girls around me.
Being the only African American at this level in American Ballet Theater, I feel like people are looking at me, and it's my responsibility for me to do whatever I can to provide these opportunities in communities to be able to educate them.
I think that having a platform and having a voice to be seen by people beyond the classical ballet world has really been my power, I feel.
Depending on the level you're at in your company, the higher you go up in rank, usually the longer you can dance.
When people meet me in person, they're usually surprised at how petite I am because there's this idea that because I'm black, I just look a certain way.
It's hard to be the one that stands out when, you know, in a ballet company, you're trying to create unison and uniform when you're in a corps de ballet.
'The Firebird' just symbolizes a lot for me and my career. It was one of the first really big principal roles that I was ever given an opportunity to dance with American Ballet Theatre, and it was a huge step for the African-American community, I think, within the classical ballet world.
I don't feel like my life is that of a superstar! Every day I wake up, I take the train, I go to my ballet class. My everyday life is pretty normal.
I feel like going to class every morning is so humbling. You're always working to improve, and you're always being critiqued on your next performance. It's not about what you've done. There's always room to grow.
I think body-image issues are not just a dancer thing. I think we're much more in tune and aware because the body is our instrument and art, and we stare at ourselves in a mirror all day, but I feel like it's something that every woman experiences and every girl experiences.
I want the ballet world to be given the respect that it deserves and to be seen by more people -- for so many to experience the beauty that I've received from the ballet world.
My childhood is a part of my story, and it's why I'm who I am today and why my career is what it is.
Being in ballet class, being on the stage, being surrounded by my peers at American Ballet Theater every day, keeps me so humble and grounded. Being in ballet class, I feel, is like this meditation for me every morning.
I grew up poor in San Pedro, California, sleeping on the floor of shady motels with my five siblings and not always sure when or where I'd get my next meal.
There are hundreds of stories I've heard from black women from my generation, generations before me, and the next, that have never been given an opportunity to fulfill their dreams.
I am a black woman, and my experiences would not be what they are if I wasn't. I'm so happy to share those experiences for other people to be able to learn from them.
Ballet became this escape for me. I feel like I was on my own a lot. I was searching for stability, so I was going off on my own and imagining what I thought stability was. Ballet became a way for me to cope.
All you can do is be your best self. I've always felt that I had to be that much more aware of how I present myself. I'm representing more than just me. I think every person should think that way.
I've always approached my career and my life, you know, one day at a time, as if this was the last day that I'm going, because you never know as an athlete and as a dancer. You never know what can happen today, tomorrow.
What you put into your body is just as important as how hard you dance. I believe with the right training and an understanding of how to take care of your body, you can mold it to be whatever you want it to be.
That something that I fought so hard for throughout the beginning of my career is I didn't want to pancake my skin a lighter color to fit into the... ballet. I wanted to be myself. I didn't want to have to wear makeup that made my nose look thinner.