Pilot Project for African American Inclusion

Artistic Director’s Coalition for Ballet in America
Pilot Project for African American Inclusion

Leading Artistic Directors of Dance Companies Address Systemic Racism in Ballet

In the spring of 2020, the murder of George Floyd ushered in a moment of reckoning that led to an international outcry to reevaluate ongoing problems with racial equity and civil rights. As a response, a group of leaders in the classical ballet and dance fields assembled to discuss and address how we could affect positive changes within our art form. Over the course of eight months, we turned a critical lens on our organizations to evaluate our practices, policies & biases, to brainstorm and share, and to listen and learn from one another. In our highly competitive art form, it is unique for ballet leadership to gather collectively on such a regular basis. But over time, our commitment to creating impactful change was cemented, and our group grew as our discussions deepened and expanded. What became clear was that our art form, born of imperial courts of Europe 300+ years ago, needs a full examination as we move further into the 21st Century.  We come together, as a collective, to initiate change, stewarding artistic visions that acknowledge, celebrate, and respect the diversity of human cultures. As we bring to our work a shared commitment to build broader diversity and address historical and current inequities, we agree that a first step is to provide opportunities at the educational level. Our mission is to promote an environment of healing, foster trust in our organizations and to formally embark on creating a more inclusive environment in classical ballet.

The companies in this coalition have agreed to participate in this initial pilot program by creating opportunities specifically for young and aspiring African American and dancers of color to feel welcomed into our organizations with #BalletOpenHouse. 

Each of our companies will create free two-hour virtual visits to explore and experience the vision, culture, community, and artistic philosophy within each company.

The Washington Ballet’s two-hour #BalletOpenHouse will offer young and emerging artists of color, their families, and teachers:

  • Three 75 minute online ballet technique classes for dancers ages 11-14, 14-18, Professional, and Adult Beginner Ballet
  • A pre-recorded presentation featuring discussions with TWSB Students, Parents & Faculty, TWB Professional Dancers, and Artistic Leadership followed by a Q&A

This initiative is only the first, and our hope is that the participation, collaboration, and involvement of all our companies will help redefine ballet as a more welcoming, diverse, and inclusive art form for the future.

Thank you on behalf of the inaugural group of individuals and companies launching Artistic Directors Coalition for Ballet in America – Pilot Program for African American Inclusion.

Kyle Abraham, Artistic Director, A.I.M
Lauren Anderson, Associate Director, Education & Community Engagement, Houston Ballet
Peter Boal, Artistic Director, Pacific Northwest Ballet
Nigel Campbell, Company Director, Gibney Company
Jodie Gates, Founding Director, USC Kaufman. Artistic Director, Laguna Dance Festival
Christina Johnson, Artist, Instructor, and Coach
Virginia Johnson, Artistic Director, Dance Theatre of Harlem
Julie Kent, Artistic Director, The Washington Ballet
Edwaard Liang, Artistic Director, Ballet Met
Lourdes Lopez, Artistic Director, Miami City Ballet
Mikko Nissinen, Artistic Director, Boston Ballet
Desmond Richardson, Artistic Director, Complexions Contemporary Ballet
Dwight Rhoden, Artistic Director, Complexions Contemporary Ballet
Adam Sklute, Artistic Director, Ballet West
Jonathan Stafford, Artistic Director, New York City Ballet
Helgi Thomasson, Artistic Director, San Francisco Ballet
Denise Saunders Thompson, President and CEO, The International Association of Blacks in Dance
Stanton Welch, Artistic Director, Houston Ballet
Ashley Wheater, Artistic Director, Joffrey Ballet
Wendy Whelan, Associate Artistic Director, New York City Ballet

Facilitated by Jodie Gates

Photo of Nardia Boodoo, Gian Carlo Perez, Ashley Murphy-Wilson, and Andile Ndlovu by Procopio Photography.

Back to Top

Open House on February 28

TWB’s Open House

Sunday, February 28, 2021
2:00-4:00PM ET
Held via Zoom (links below)

The Washington Ballet, along with 16 of the leading dance organizations in the United States, has announced a new initiative for young and aspiring Black, African American, and dancers of color with #BalletOpenHouse.

TWB’s first #BalletOpenHouse will take place on Sunday, February 28, 2:00-4:00PM ET. This free, two-hour virtual visit invites BIPOC dancers, their families, and teachers to explore and experience the culture, community, and artistic philosophy within TWB. We hope you will help us spread the word and join us!

Schedule for February 28


Free classes with TWB/TWSB faculty
2:00-3:15PM ET

Each class is free and open to all. Classes are limited to 25 students. Once a class fills, we will open another section.

Class for ages 11-14 with Monica Stephenson

Register for class for ages 11-14

Class for ages 15-18 with Xiomara Reyes

Register for class for ages 15-18

Class for Advanced/Professional dancers with Ruben Martin

Register for class for Advanced/Professional dancers

Beginner Ballet class for adults with Royce Zackery

Register for Beginner Ballet

Panel Discussions and Live Q&A

3:20-4:00PM ET

TWSB students and panel guests Allison Smith, Sydnie Collins, and Kennady Jackson

DeMoya Watson Brown, Community Engagement Manager will introduce. Artistic Director Julie Kent.

Our 23-minute pre-recorded presentation includes: Video and photography of The Washington Ballet and students of The Washington School of Ballet by Iron Rose Productions, Studiio Box DC, and xmbphotography, as well as excerpts of panel discussions with students, parents, faculty, and artistic leadership at The Washington Ballet, including:

Monica Stephenson, Head of the SE Campus
Damien Johnson, Faculty
Xiomara Reyes, Head of Professional Training Division
Rahsaan Bernard, Executive Director of BBAR & TWSB parent
Yvette Collins, TWSB parent
Sydnie Collins, TWSB Level 7 student
Allison Smith, TWSB Professional Training Division student
Camille Smith, TWSB parent
Charles DeSantis, TWSB parent and Board Director
Kennady Jackson, TWSB Professional Training Division student
Helga Paris-Morales, TWB Studio Company dancer
Julie Kent, Artistic Director, TWSB parent

Followed by a Live Q&A, including many of the panelists as well as:
Nardia Boodoo, TWB Company dancer
Audrey Malek, TWB Studio Company dancer

Register to attend the panel discussion and Q&A


Photos of Nardia Boodoo, Gian Carlo Perez, Ashley Murphy-Wilson, and Andile Ndlovu by Procopio Photography.

Back to Top