‘Brown Ballerina’ addresses lack of diversity in ballet
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.
The short film “Brown Ballerina” follows a black ballerina who dreams of becoming a principal dancer.