Diversity in Ballet

Ballet is an art form that's not known for diversity. One contributing factor to the lack of diversity could be cost—on top of the cost for lessons, there are also shoes, practice leotards, and performance costumes to be bought. Juilliard, which is one of the best (if not the best) schools for ballet, offers a ballet summer camp for teens that costs $1200 plus $1000 for room and board. Private lessons can cost up to $75 per hour[5]! So, on top of hard work and dedication, there's the ability of parents to afford the training. Once you've stepped over that hurdle, there's the politics. It's no secret that the politics of ballet can cause ballerinas to struggle with body image; similar to models or celebrities, there's a certain "image" that is expected and it often doesn't include minorities. Ballerinas bring to mind gracefulness, but also beauty, two terms often steeped in European ideals. Throughout the years several minority dancers have fought their way to the top and graced the stage with poise, dignity, beauty and elegance.

Maria Tallchief, born in 1925, was the first Native American to gain success in the ballet world. Ms. Tallchief was born in Oklahoma and was of the Osage Tribe, however, she grew up in Los Angeles, where she took up ballet. She became one of the country's leading ballerinas in the 1940s and continued in stardom through the 1960s. She began her career dancing with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and became first prima ballerina of the New York City Ballet in 1947. In addition to breaking ground for Native American ballerinas, Ms. Tallchief was also the first American (regardless of race) to dance with the Paris Opera Ballet. She preformed in productions of Orpheus, Scotch Symphony, Miss Julie, Firebird, and The Nutcracker. She was a muse for choreographer George Balanchine, whom she married briefly. He also created parts especially for her. Upon retiring in 1965, Ms. Tallchief became a ballet instructor and founded the Chicago City Ballet. In 1996, Ms. Tallchief was inducted to the National Women's Hall of Fame and won received the Kennedy Center Honors for her contribution to the United States.  In 1999, she was awarded the highest award given to artists by the United States government, the National Medal of Arts[1]. After breaking the mold, setting records for both Native American ballerinas and American ballerinas in general, and inspiring those around her, Ms. Tallchief passed away in 2013[2]. Ms. Tallchief's sister, Marjorie, is also a ballerina[3].

More amazingly talented historical and contemporary minority dancers!

  • Carlos Acosta, Afro-Cuban principal guest artist at The Royal Ballet 
  • Alvin Ailey, choreographer and founder of  Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, a multiracial modern dance ensemble
  • Chi Cao, Chinese principal dancer of Birmingham Royal Ballet, Gold medalist of the Varna International Ballet Competition
  • José Manuel Carreño, former soloist of American Ballet Theatre, current artistic director of Ballet San Jose 
  • Evelyn Cisneros, first Hispanic/Latina prima ballerina in the U.S.
  • Janet Collins, first African-American/Black prima ballerina of the Metropolitan Opera
  • Misty Copeland, currently performing with American Ballet Theatre, first African-American/Black ballet soloist in New York in 20 years
  • Michaela DePrince, born in Sierra Leone, orphaned, adopted in America and told America "wasn't ready for a black girl ballerina," currently in American Ballet Theatre's preprofessional division and the Dutch National Junior Company
  • Lisa Macuja-Elizalde, first Filipina prima ballerina
  • Shiori Kase, Japanese first soloist of English National Ballet
  • Sanjay Khatri, first Indian male ballet dancer
  • Desmond Richardson, co-founder and co-artistic director Complexions Contemporary Ballet, former principal dancer at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre
  • Yuan Yuan Tan, first Chinese principal dancer with the San Francisco Ballet 


  1. "Maria Tallchief". Bio. A&E Television Networks. 2015
  2. Anderson, Jack. "Maria Tallchief, a Dazzling Ballerina and Muse for Balanchine, Dies at 88". New York Times. 2013
  3. De Leon, Jenefar. Five Indian Ballerinas. NewsOK. 2015
  4. Brooks, Katherine. "17 Ballet Icons Who Are Changing the Face of Dance Today". The Huffington Post. 2014
  5. "Cost of Ballet Classes". Cost Helper Fitness. 2015

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