The Black dance world celebrated when singer Solange Knowles became the first Black woman to compose a New York City Ballet score. Dancers like Janet Collins, Raven Wilkinson, Alvin Ailey and Misty Copeland were just a few pioneers who were turned away because of their skin color, body types and simply being Black. Solange achieving this milestone gives other Black dancers, specifically Howard University students, hope that the future of dance is bright.
Domenique Ross is a senior dance major, strategic legal communications minor from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She believes that Knowles is paving the way for other African Americans to be outside the norm of what is considered traditional ballet.
“It’s important for different artists to collaborate, especially in different realms,” Ross said. “For ballet, you think of traditional classical music typically composed by white men, and I think that Knowles doing this for Black artists gives a different Black perspective and allows Black ballet dancers to know that they don’t have to do everything specifically in a white dance background.”
Ross and Rayna Richardson expressed how lonely the dancing world could be dealing with microaggressions at a young age. Rayna Richardson, a senior psychology major and dance arts minor from Teaneck, New Jersey, specifically remembered feeling like her body was not meant for dance.
“I think it may not be direct racism that you use in front of the classroom but it’s a lot of micro- aggression and subtle things. If you look at me, you can see I have muscular thighs. I don’t have the shape of what you might see from a ballet company, so you have teachers that come in, look at you, they do not see the typical bodies, and they say things like your thighs are a little over-developed.” said Richardson. “Well, my thighs aren’t overdeveloped, that’s just my body shape that they are not used to seeing, so it’s things like that that you get exposed to at such a young age I think it makes you feel like your body is not suitable for ballet.”
On multiple occasions, Ross and Richardson have felt hostility about how they wear their hair which is typically in braids or twists.
“One time I had in Senagalese twists and the students were like ‘Omg are those dreadlocks?’ like no, that is crazy,” said Ross.
Even after all the microaggressions, Ross and Richardson still find the art form to be as beautiful as it can be. They feel like there are still spaces for Black dancers to thrive, one being Howard.
Dr. Ofosuwa Abiola, Ph.D., the associate dean of research and creative endeavors, serves as an associate professor of Africana Dance and Performance History. She believes that Howard prepares its students for times such as this.
“Solange Knowles becoming the first Black woman to compose an original score for a ballet production is beyond historic. She has not only shattered the glass ceiling, she removed it,” Dr. Abiola said excitedly.
She added, “Howard University’s dance program prepares its students to be cultural change agents, breaking down barriers through the narratives of dance. In addition to a rigorous regiment of dance instruction, students are immersed in the history and legacies of the Black dance world. By graduation, they have a deep understanding of the world they will become part of, and the work they must do to change it.”
Both Ross and Richardson have been dancing for over ten years. This accomplishment means the world to them and makes them feel recognized.
“It just feels good to be recognized. For Black dancers, it’s comforting to know that you have someone who understands your background and culture. Intertwining her style with classical pieces is something ballet has never seen before and I am excited.” Richardson said.
Knowles composed the score for the New York City Fashion Gala. The show will be performed on the anniversary of the New York City Fashion Gala. The show can be watched in the months of Oct. and May.
Copy edited by Chanice McClover-Lee