There was a moment last year while preparing to do my first Swan Lake, as a soloist with American Ballet Theatre in Australia, that I realized, this is it. This is why I've worked so hard for the last 19 years -- to be the ballerina in this ballet.
Of course, a black woman earning the title of Principal Dancer at ABT would make headlines and potentially change the ballet world. But on a much more personal level, for me, this role was everything!
I can say without any exaggeration that every rehearsal felt like this insanely surreal moment, that this couldn't actually be happening to me! As a brown woman growing up in the ballet world, it is easy to not allow yourself to dream of becoming the ballerina, the Swan. Something as subtle (or not so subtle) as a lack of representation can sit so deeply in your subconscious that you can't allow yourself to even consider the possibility. That is why when I was given this opportunity, I tried to cherish and enjoy every second of the entire process.
And then more roles came. Swan Lake with a black male partner, Brooklyn Mack, with the Washington Ballet. Then Juliet in Romeo & Juliet and the Swan Queen during ABT's 75th Anniversary season at the Metropolitan Opera House.
And then it happened! I was promoted to the rank of Principal Dancer. I can't put it into words. I felt removed from my body, as it was happening. I was watching Raven Wilkinson, Janet Collins, Delores Brown, Lauren Anderson, Debra Austin, Nora Kimball, Anne Benna Sims, Stephanie Dabney, and every woman who created this path for me. I was watching all the little brown girls who will come after me.
I was so overwhelmed all I could do was cry. When I see a crowd or audience full of little brown faces, watching me and seeing the possibilities, I can't help but think, "wow, there's hope" -- not only for ballet, but for the next generation to truly believe in their dreams and be empowered to reach for them.
It still hasn't hit me. I'm living my dream and I look forward to continuing to work hard towards becoming a better, stronger dancer. Now that we're here, my hope is that in time, this won't be such a rare achievement, and my reviews and mentions in the media will refer to me simply as a "ballerina," because that's what I am.