Dance world, meet Nia . . .

Dance world, meet Nia . . .

No one ever told her she couldn't dance because of the color of her skin.

But I still wonder what her journey will look like when she has often been the only, or one of few, brown skin dancers in her class.

I don't mention this dismal statistic to beckon the dance world toward increasing the shades of its dancers. (I think that is a given in any field.) Rather, as a new "dance mom" to the professional scene, I take a deep breath and realize I am walking into yet another space where the reality of identity performance abounds. This time for brown skin dancers, like my little girl.

She recognizes that the her skin color and hair texture are unique in her dance studio--but she sees caramel amidst a sea of peach; and she delights in her curly hair amidst a sea of straight hair. 

As I reflect on her journey since she was 2 1/2, I recall the many dance studios where her ethnicity has stood out, the professional dance companies with handful of brown skinned dancers, and lately the many books and articles that highlight the journey and barriers of brown-skin dancers, I see that she is a unicorn indeed. (Good thing we LOVE unicorns around here!)

In truth, the world of cultural awareness and identity performance is my vocational expertise--but in the legal profession, not dance. Even still, this--this space just feels different. My daughter is not the 20- to 30-something year old law student or established attorney from a traditionally marginalized group to whom I usually speak; the one who has been emotionally and mentally scarred by an unjust American history and homogenous profession.

She is my little girl who just wants to dance.

Though I wonder what her dance journey will look like, I do not want to presume an unjust one. I am thankful to those brown skin dancers that have come before her, who, in their own way, made Nia's road--I hope--a bit more level. Most of all, I am grateful that I serve a mighty God who did not create the ethnic divide that is prevalent in our society. And so, though I wonder, I have no call to action toward society, the dance world, or to myself as her mom.

Right now I simply watch her dance. And I pray.  

I pray that despite my steepness in ethnic inequality and identity performance research, God will guard my heart and tongue from vomiting up all my difficult experiences in this world upon her. But rather with the watchful eye of a Mama Bear, God grant me the strength to give her the space to dance, to create that space where my talent and skill allow, and to guide her through any ethnic harms through the biblical lens of living in a fallen world. 

 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”  (John 16:33)



Photos of Nia: by mom, Leslie Patrice Photography


For wonderful insight and education on the flight of brown-skinned dancers, please see:


Alvin Ailey American Theater

Alonzo King Lines Ballet

Photo credit: RJ Muna 

Swan Dreams Project: Aesha Ash 

"The Swan Dreams Project's goal is to convey the message that beauty and talent are not constrained by race or socio-economic status. I want our youth to know that they are not limited by stereotypes nor by their environment, but only by their dreams."

Photo Credit: Richie Ganzer

Brown Girls Do Ballet - TaKiyah Wallace-McMillian

"Brown Girls Do Ballet®, a philanthropic organization often featured for its noteworthy Instagram movement, began in 2013 as a personal photography project by TaKiyah Wallace in an effort to highlight girls of African, Asian, East Indian, Hispanic, and Native American ancestry in Ballet programs. Wallace was taken by surprise upon discovering the lack of cultural diversity in local ballet schools while searching for a program for her then 3-year-old. Like any mom, she grew concerned about how her daughter would feel in a class where no one resembled her."

Photo Credit: TaKiyah Wallace & daughter: Omar Ramos



5 Contemporary Black Ballerinas Who Are Breaking Barriers (by Nneka M. Okona)  

Photo Credit

7 Iconic Black Women who Changed the Course of Ballet History (by Cory Stieg)


Photo Credit: Jack Mitchell/GETTY IMAGES


Misty Copeland, Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina (2014 / 2022)- "Determination meets dance in this prizewinning and New York Times bestselling memoir by the history-making ballerina Misty Copeland, vividly recounting the story of her journey to become the first African American female principal ballerina at the prestigious American Ballet Theatre."

Misty Copeland, Black Ballerinas: My Journey to Our Legacy (2021) - " From New York Times bestselling and award-winning author and American Ballet Theatre principal dancer Misty Copeland comes an illustrated nonfiction collection celebrating dancers of color who have influenced her on and off the stage."

Michaela De Prince, Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina (2016)- "Michaela DePrince was known as girl no. 27 at the orphanage where she was abandoned at a young age and tormented as a "devil child" for a skin condition that makes her skin appear spotted. But it was at the orphanage that Michaela would find a picture of a beautiful ballerina en pointe that would help change the course of her life"

TaKiyah Wallace-McMillian, the Founder/Executive Director of Brown Girls Do Ballet and author of The Color of Dance (2023)-- a "stunning coffee-table book showcas[ing] breathtaking images of ballerinas of color of all ages and levels that reflect today's beautifully diverse world of dance."

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