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Tiny Rwandan Ballerinas

{Tiny Rwandan ballerinas via tumblr}

A couple of months ago I was talking to my husband and I asked him what he wanted to be when he was a little boy. I recall his mom mentioning how creative he was when he was younger, so I figured his answer would be pretty close to his career as an a sound mixer/actor/writer. To my surprise, his answer was, “If I had to go back and do it all again I’d probably be a chef. I’ve always liked to cook, but growing up I didn’t know that being a chef could be an actual career.”

This got me to thinking, how many of us have passion in life that we never in our wildest dreams thought could happen? I remember my first week at my Performing Arts High School. A couple of days into school I switched from the acting department to the dance department. I met a fellow dancer. This young black girl had danced ballet since the age of 5, and mentioned she was told by a fellow (white) dancer over the summer that “black girls don’t get to dance in major ballet companies”. She was heartbroken, because it never occurred to her that it wasn’t possible. For some reason she took this limited opinion at face value; A black ballerina would never get to be a principal dancer or soloist with the top 3 companies: American Ballet Theatre or New York City Ballet or San Francisco Ballet.  We were generally relegated to The Dance Theater of Harlem (which is still an amazing, yet mainly African-American dance company). I understood. Ballet was my first love. Before I even stepped foot in a formal class, I was presenting mini performances in my home to Ravel’s Bolero. My mom bought me a ‘Get in Shape Girl’ ballet barre which I used to practice my barre exercises next to my life-size poster of Mikhail Baryshnikov. Eventually I made it into a real ballet class and I loved it. However, as the years passed I never saw a face that looked like mine that had managed to break the color barrier and rise in the ranks of a major ballet company. Yes, there were a few faces like Lauren Anderson, and others which I know of now….but back then their stories were relatively unknown and the idea still seemed out of reach. Later in high school I put my emphasis on modern & jazz dance, but sometimes I can’t help but think what would’ve happened if there was a Misty Copeland around.

For those who don’t know who she is, Misty is the most high-profile African-American soloist for the American Ballet Theater. She is an incredible dancer with an impressive story to match. The the thing I love most about her is that her passion & mission is to make classical ballet a more accessible art form. The youth of today are very lucky. Thanks to the world-wide web and the multitude of social media platforms, everything is pretty much at your fingertips.  Unfortunately, there are still those whose  socioeconomic level provides less of an opportunity to ‘dream big’. Misty is one of the few artists & entrepreneurs profiled in the Passion Project by American Express; a project designed to inspire all to pursue what is most passionate to them.

As much as I loved ballet, acting won out. I still dance when the opportunity arises, and to be honest, my passion for dance & acting were always neck-in-neck. So in the end I’m still pretty lucky that I get to pursue a passion of mine.

What’s your passion? If you could go back to your 5 or 10 year-old self, what you be? Was there some career that you thought was out of reach? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

P.S. Check out this orphan to ballerina story and more dance-spiration.

Until next time…

-S

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