“I want to show the ballet world it’s possible to do all these things and not be rail-thin or have blond hair,” Misty Copeland told Self Magazine last year. “I feel like I’m representing not just the little brown girls but all African-American dancers who have come before me who were never promoted because of the color of their skin.”
In 2015, Misty Copeland became the first black woman to achieve the status of principal dancer at the American Ballet Theater. But as many of our own readers have pointed out in emails and comments addressed to HuffPost Arts & Culture since, Copeland was not the first woman of color to succeed in a dance world historically filled with white, lithe bodies. Before her, for example, there’s Raven Wilkinson, one of the first African-American ballerinas permitted to join a ballet company in the 1950s. And cousins Janet Collins and Carmen de Lavallade, who were some of the first principal dancers of color with the Metropolitan Opera.
In response to Copeland’s shoutout to the dancers of color who came before her, we reached out to Brown Girls Do Ballet, a start-up organization devoted to addressing diversity in ballet programs, to ask young dancers in their network to spotlight some of the role models inspiring them. In four beautiful responses, aspiring ballerinas Shalom Johnson, Amelya Rivera, Olivia Winston, and Amirah Muhammad celebrated eight dancers who motivate them in their own careers.