‘Brown Bal­le­rina’ ad­dresses lack of di­ver­sity in bal­let

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - Showtime - South Broward - - DANCE ART - By Bar­bara Cor­bellini Duarte

Grow­ing up in Del­ray Beach, Chas­sidy Jade would watch her older sis­ter’s bal­let classes and per­for­mances. She couldn’t help but no­tice that her sis­ter was of­ten the only black bal­le­rina in the room or on­stage.

“In our neigh­bor­hood, we got teased a lot just for be­ing dif­fer­ent,” Jade, 26, says. “A lot of peo­ple didn’t understand, even peo­ple who were the same cul­ture. ‘You do bal­let? That’s weird. That’s not some­thing black peo­ple do.’”

When she was 15, she wrote a short story in­spired by her sis­ter’s danc­ing. Ten years later, she turned that story into a short film, “Brown Bal­le­rina,” which will screen Dec. 12 at the Ali Cul­tural Arts in Pom­pano Beach. The movie fol­lows a black bal­le­rina who dreams of be­com­ing a prin­ci­pal dancer and con­stantly deals with re­jec­tion for hav­ing a curvy, mus­cu­lar body. The screen­ing will fea­ture live mod­ern dance, bal­let per­for­mances, live paint­ing and live mu­sic.

This year has been his­toric for black women in the arts and en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­tries, with Misty Copeland be­com­ing the first black prin­ci­pal dancer with Amer­i­can Bal­let The­atre and Vi­ola Davis be­com­ing the first black woman to win an Emmy for out­stand­ing lead ac­tress for her role in the TV show “How To Get Away With Mur­der.” “The Brown Bal­le­rina,” how­ever, was re­leased in July 2014.

“I’ve been want­ing to do this project for a long time, and it’s funny that all of this started to hap­pen af­ter I had ba­si­cally al­ready done this film,” says Jade, who lives in Fort Laud­erdale. “So I felt like I was do­ing it at the right time.”

Nonethe­less, Jade says

The “Brown Bal­le­rina”

When: 8 p.m. Satur­day Where: Ali Cul­tural Arts Cen­ter, 353 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., in Pom­pano Beach Cost: $20 for gen­eral ad­mis­sion and $10 for Pom­pano Beach res­i­dents. Con­tact: Go to Face­book.com/AliPom­pano or BrownBal­leri­naFilm.com. the real trans­for­ma­tion in the bal­let world will come with the next gen­er­a­tion.

“Misty Copeland is do­ing a fan­tas­tic job, but that’s just one,” she says. “It may take us time to get there, but there’s definitely a whole new gen­er­a­tion of girls who prob­a­bly would have never even thought of be­ing a bal­let dancer be­fore.”

That’s why Jade and the film’s pro­ducer, Michelda Ge­orge, see “Brown Bal­le­rina” as more than a film. For them, it’s also a com­mu­nity project. They’ve been in­vited to give talks in schools and have launched a line of “Brown Bal­le­rina” mer­chan­dise, in­clud­ing shirts, baby clothes, wrist­bands and posters sold at BrownBal­leri­naFilm.com. They hope to use the pro­ceeds to open a dance stu­dio and art space in Fort Laud­erdale that would of­fer free bal­let classes for chil­dren.

“When we think about a bal­let dancer, the first im­age that pops into your head is of a blond, blue-eyed girl who’s a pen­cil stick that has no shape,” says Ge­orge, 29, of Fort Laud­erdale. “So that’s all the im­agery that we have ever seen, that I have ever seen. So to be able to ex­pose chil­dren in gen­eral to bal­let or dif­fer­ent forms of art [and] for them to know that it’s avail­able for them is what we want to do.

Jade’s sis­ter, Shanna Woods, cur­rently per­forms with Miami Dade Col­lege’s Ju­bi­la­tion Dance Ensem­ble. Jade says Woods still en­coun­ters crit­i­cism of her body.

“I know that her body prob­a­bly is her big­gest is­sue,” Jade says. “You have to stay in shape, you have to be a cer­tain size. She has a big butt, big hips, and I think that’s some­thing she al­ways strug­gled with, and I think that’s some­thing she’ll prob­a­bly con­tinue to maybe have an is­sue with as she goes through her danc­ing ca­reer.”

Even though the film’s fo­cus is on bal­let, Jade and Ge­orge be­lieve women who have never danced can iden­tify with the story.

BROWN BAL­LE­RINA/COUR­TESY

The short film “Brown Bal­le­rina” fol­lows a black bal­le­rina who dreams of be­com­ing a prin­ci­pal dancer.

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