Embracing the Arts: One Elevé at a Time

by Shermika Dunner

Have you ever been somewhere where you were one of a few, or more surprisingly, the sole black person in the room? Please do not tell me I am the only one that has provided a little hint of color in a theatre or venue.

If you are a fan of the classical arts—particularly ballet, you may see this a lot. Instead of feeling like the elephant in the room, relish the opportunity to embrace a new art form and enjoy yourself.

Granted, there is a lack of black ballerinas, so sometimes it is hard to want to attend events where you do not feel a kinship to anyone. However being one of a handful of black people in the room doesn’t mean one still can’t grab up a girlfriend and watch some stellar ballet moves. Who knows? It may even have you questioning your own flexibility.

Through conversations with other black women, I have found that many of us either do not know much about the arts, or are afraid to enjoy them because we often feel as if they aren’t geared towards us. In a world where black women are often marginalized and forgotten, it’s important for us to step outside of our comfort zone and experience different art forms.

One of the most beautiful and exciting things about life are the experiences that we create. Instead of hitting up the usual spots like shopping or dancing the night away, how about expanding your horizon? Experience something unique by watching dancers glide across a stage, actors display a plethora of human emotions, or a violinist pouring their heart into an instrument.

Browse your local newspaper or events website to look for dance groups. To get you started, check out Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, which is mainly comprised of black dancers. The choreography often has Afrocentric themes and is highly charged. Although I am not much of a gambling woman, I would make a wager that once you see them, you will become a fan. And if tutus and tights aren’t your thing, look into Rennie Harris Puremovement, or another dance group that suits your fancy. There are dozens out there, many of which that are hiding in your city.

Don’t be curious about the other side. Just buy yourself a ticket and enjoy the show sans popcorn. Who knows…you may even buy yourself a tutu and use your kitchen table or nightstand as a barre.

  • LemonNLime

    I grew up a ton of exposure to the arts. I went to my first ballet in kindergarten, my first opera at 8, and had regular outings to art museums with my mom. I always wanted to dance but not ballet which is exactly what my parent stuck me in as a kid and of course I quit. Once I moved to VT I had time to finally start with jazz, hip hop, and belly dance. I LOVE it, its the highlight of my week especially since I am getting better at it. It’s never too late to try!

  • http://www.fufuandoreos.com fufuandoreos

    Thank you for this post!

  • Kemba1248

    Great article. I know what it feels like to be the only black person (or a handful) at the opera or at a Jazz venue. I think forming a close circle of people with shared interest to attend such events is what works for me. If I cannot find anybody interested, i go solo with joy.

    The arts is such a wonderful way of self expression that’s why i’m saddened when I hear about cutbacks to the arts in the school systems. Youth need to explore all outlets of expression.

  • damidwif

    i was that only black kid in dance. i didnt mind it. but my mom was furious when they used their white people make up to do my face for a recital. i have always wanted to return to dance but i could never find adult classes in my area. and i wasnt sure what i would like like with my thick self in a leotard n tights trying to do fifth position and remembering how the instructor used to complain about how my butt wasnt tucked in enough. now, i just have to find the time.

  • Pretty Cute

    great article. when i go to events like this i am the only one b/c most of my black friends aren’t interested :( also, I am always the only black in yoga classes and I can never find anyone to go with me. i really wish we could encourage more from our community to try new/classical experiences

  • Lyoness

    What a timely article! I just grabbed a couple of my friends this weekend and we went to the Symphony. It was so much fun! I’m pretty sure all of us wanted to go but we were waiting on someone to pull the trigger and ask. I usually go to things like this by myself. I think that sometimes we think that we’re the ONLY ones who like the arts but most of the time a friend is always willing to go. Check to see if your city has a young professional arm/group that support the arts. That’s a good way to connect with people.

    I was in Ballet growing up, even made it to pointe shoes for a minute before I stopped dancing. Loved it! I don’t like the myth that you have to be ‘bougie’ to like the Arts. It’s limiting. Growing up, my parents were heavy into music (mostly jazz, classical, and Sade) and they loved art too. Solid working class people who took us to museums every once and a while and shuttled us to dance classes. I hope to do this with my kids one day too. Wonderful wonderful memories…

  • http://www.one3snapshot.com ceecee

    My mom insisted we go to the Symphony as a birthday gift to her. I loved it!

  • Kaydee-P

    I grew up around dance. It wasn’t until junior high that I was introduced to ballet, modern, jazz, etc. , and after high school that latin dance came into the picture. I feel most women of color know Ailey (as they should!), but when it comes to The Nutcracker? Ehh.

    I love dance and I always try to bring my friends to performances. Or encourage them to take classes. Theater, too. I suppose once music comes into play is where things get blurry…I’ve only been to the Opera once and I wasn’t really into it, though being young/not feeling well didn’t help. I’d love to go again though.

  • http://cupofjo-jo.blogspot.com bk chick

    yes! As an alum of Ailey and a performing arts high school I def support the arts and wish we were more represented but there are actually a lot of black dancers and its a shame most people in the audience are white. I see the same thing when I go to hip hop music concerts: we make the music but sure don’t make up the bulk of financial support. I think economics are part of the reason why there aren’t many blacks who patron “artsy” functions is , but there is also a lack of effort culturally to do things out of the norm.

  • http://www.artblt.com Tamika Dunner

    I’ve enjoyed reading what everyone had to say. Very great article! My sister and I have enjoyed the arts for many years and we hate that more African Americans don’t attend. You can read more from Shermika here at: http://www.artblt.com.

  • http://www.artblt.com Shermika

    Thanks all for the feedback on my article! Are any of you in the South so we can hit some shows together? ;-) I LOVE the arts, but alas I often find myself and the sis being the only people of color in the venues. I think it’s so fun to embrace the arts, and as Kemba1248 said–if you can’t find a friend go solo. Great advice! To those of you that have taken dance classes, how great is that!

    Too often many of us (myself included) are ambivalent about going places unless we have a companion. Pretty Cute I keep saying I’m going to do yoga one day. And Kaydee-P, I love The Nutcracker; it’s almost becoming a tradition. I do hope that schools will stop cutting/eliminating funding to their arts programs. Thanks for reading!

  • Tori

    I love the arts in all forms. I grew up with it all my life. My grandmother is a retired designer from NY, my mom is a painter/printmaker, my aunt is a painter, and I myself have been painting and drawing since I was six years old. I LOVE art! And everything about it. So I appreciate this article. I definitely wish more black people would take the time to learn about it. I think they get put off by it, and assume it’s just for whites or other nationalities. When the truth is we are the creators of half of the arts that we have today. We invented jazz, we invented rock ‘n’ roll, we invented all kinds of dances, etc. They were just stolen from us and then capitalized on, so we should stop feeling like we don’t belong in the world of art because we do. Art has no face, just rhythm, a little paint, and some creativity.

  • http://truequeen.com shanny

    I think we’ve all experienced this at some point in our lives; its how we handle it that will shape our experience. Not ever letting the sea of light faces distact you from the quality of the art your interested in is key. Glad you’re not intimidated, because its us who will loose out these sort of activities if we dwell on these sort of details.

  • KJB

    As a child I started taking ballet, classical voice lessons and piano and continued into college. I was fortunate to go to an elementary school where we attended the symphony and children’s theatre performances regularly. It was also beneficial that my aunt was a dancer in a large company in my city. To this day I attend cultural events like theatre, dance and classical music performances on a monthly basis. I always make it a point to bring people with me who weren’t exposed to the arts like I was.

  • Chrissy

    I want to start going to ballet’s so it is definitely something i want to stick to. However, I wish I would have stuck to dance when I was younger, especially ballet.

  • http://@clnmike Clnmike

    I dont think people in the arts do a good enough job in reaching out to black kids, the audience you would want to introduce the art to if you want the audience to grow. That and accessibility, tickets are not cheap.

  • http://www.artblt.com Shermika

    I think it’s all about finding programs that are geared towards us. If you look hard enough, you can find great ticket discounts to a lot of performing arts events.

  • glow

    Great Article. I have always loved the Arts!! The arts elevate, inspire and move us to deeper level of consicousness. I took my daughter to the nutcracker last weekend. It was amazing and such a joy to see my little girls eyes watching the ballet dancers and hearing the symphony. Yes its true we are under represented in many art forms but that should not stop us from participating in it. We owe it to ourselves and our ancestors to try.

    Tamika that website looks fantastic. I will check it out.

    Happy Holiday Clutchettes


  • pahje

    Former ballet dancer. Definitely can relate. Support Dance Theater of Harlem. Fusion and classical ballet choreography. Ever seen a “ballet” choreographed to James Brown?? Awesome.

  • Summer Bunni

    It would be nice if more black people started introducing their kids to the arts again. I know many programs were removed from schools over the years and it’s been all on the parents. But, I agree if you look hard enough you can find events or programs for your children.

    Kids need positive outlets.

  • http://wearescenetoo.wordpress.com/ @t_lavette

    Agreeeee! I’ve always enjoyed the Arts. This semester my prof made us keep a blog and I chose to talk about minorities in performing arts. Loads and loads of unsung heroes in arenas where people might say “I didn’t know Black people did XYZ”.

    In October, I saw Audra McDonald at the Kennedy Center. By myself. In the GOOD seats. If you don’t know Audra played Naomi on Private Practice, Diddy’s wife in the made for tv version of ‘A Raisin in The Sun’, etc. Long story short she’s a classically trained ridiculously talent actress and singer. I didn’t feel like convincing any of my friends to go and pay so much for seats. I just said eff it and rolled solo dolo. Had an amazing time! It was just something almost overwhelming to see someone doing what they loved and sharing a God given gift. There were sprinkles of us in there but I was the only black person in my section. This older white woman even helped herself to my seat before I arrived. >_> And was nicely escorted to her seat once I arrived by the usher.

    Anywho, YES! Grab your girls and go see a show, performance, etc. Go solo if you must. Makes for a great date night too!

  • http://amoeslolo.tumblr.com aMoesLOLO

    Starting from very young age, I went to classic ballet lessons. When I became older I wanted to go on jazz ballet but then they stopped the balletschool. I was sad and disappointed when they stopped teaching, I still am.
    And it is true, especially with an opera you’re the only colored person.
    But that doesn’t stop me, to go to the theater.I like to go to the theater, but do not always have someone to come along. They prefer sitting at home. But going by yourself is not bad either.

  • SimplyComplex

    I started taking ballet and tap when I was 3, and continued until I was old enough to drive myself to my last recital-pointe shoes and all!! My dance career didn’t stop there so needless to say, I was OFTEN one of 2-3 black girls and MANY times the ONLY one! But that was ok because I loved what I was doing and would be the one put front and center because while I was the only black girl, I was also one of the best dancers in my class (until I was MUCH older). I do wish that more of us were interested in the arts, and it is sad to go to say an Ailey performance and 98% of the performers are of color but only 10% (or less) of the audience is. I introduced one of my friends to them for the first time last year, she LOVED it! I’m going to see them again this weekend (#excited!).

  • diamant

    élève = student
    elevé = raised

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