Image source: Ruth Essel
“What do you want to be?” It’s a question many of us now smile fondly at as we remember our childhood dreams of being astronauts, vets, and firefighters (all at once, of course). Although the work seems very different these days from our teenage chimes, for Ruth Essel, founder of Pointe Black, become a dancer it was anything but a nostalgic dream. “I started dancing when I was about 3 and have been dancing ever since,” Essel told POPSUGAR.
After years of studying the art form, Essel – also known as @thecurvieballerina on Instagram – started black tip, a dance school based in South West London, as a much needed response to the overwhelming lack of inclusiveness in the UK dance world. The creation of the school, which Essel described as a moment of “divine intervention after years of encouragement from friends and family,” was a tale of passions.
“I hope everyone feels safe and included in the study, and we at Pointe Black will continue to scream from the rooftops to be represented and represented fairly.”
“I already had some knowledge of psychology [from a BA degree] and I’ve been choreographing since I was a teenager. At 17, I also thought about going to the Brit School because I was raised in a family of musicians. “Although Essel fulfilled every box of the” triple threat “mandate needed for the performing arts school – singing, dancing and acting ( over the years of Stagecoach) – a conversation with an instructor eventually dissuaded her from even auditioning. “I left that conversation feeling like I could never make it,” said Essel, who until then. moment had already been acutely aware of being “different” in the world of ballet, thanks to uniform tights and pointe shoes and anything but inclusive hairstyling protocols. ” the world would never accept me for who I am. “
It was Essel’s love of dance, but also her experiences of feeling like a stranger to the world of ballet, that inspired her to start her own school, and one that had racial fairness – “not the equality, but fairness “- at its core. “We are a black-owned company. We want everyone to have access to art,” said Essel, crediting companies like Ballet Black in London and the Harlem Dance Theater in New York City for being some of the first institutions to help. breaking down barriers in the world of ballet and reshaping the industry. “Basically I give everyone the nourishment that I didn’t get when I started dancing,” Essel said. “I hope everyone feels safe and included in the study, and we at Pointe Black will continue to scream from the rooftops to be represented and represented fairly.”
Image source: black tip
The necessary nude and pale pink tights and pointe shoes are among the most visible representations of the ballet world’s lack of representation (plus, of course, the lack of black people on stage), and for that reason it was picked up on level. global attention in the last year. But it is a problem that Essel and every black or brown dancer have been acutely aware of their entire life. “[When I was young], I would buy two pairs of dance tights in hopes that they look more pink because the brown underneath those pink tights really shines through, “he explained.” [shade of] pink, or are simply dyed brown with pink undertones. There is still a lack of understanding that there is no black person out there who has pink undertones. We have red, green, blue shades, but there is definitely no pink. “For this reason, Essel’s students at Pointe Black don’t wear pink tights or pink ballet flats during their classes.” it doesn’t have to be that way. We don’t have to feel that way, “he said.
Pointe Black’s dedication to offering inclusive and non-discriminatory access to ballet goes far beyond allowing dancers to wear tights that complement their skin tones. It extends to what happens in the classroom and is evident through Essel’s fair approach to ballet education. “When I teach adult classes, I will always make sure to give corrections or advice based on their body type, rather than according to ballet traditions,” Essel explained. “Instead of just saying, ‘Stand straight, shoulders down,’ I look at the person … Which makes room for the fact that most black people have very, very curvy spines or hyperextended spines,” she said. Essel. “This means that some things can be pretty difficult either difficult for people believe you can do it, but that just means you need the right educator to tell you according to your body. “
Image source: black tip
Ballet can sometimes be difficult for people’s mental health, and for this reason, Essel focuses on providing a safe space for its students, one that doesn’t leave them feeling downcast and defeated, but rather allows them to feel free through. dance both physically and mentally. “Ballet is tough, it’s very athletic and it’s very disciplined. I wanted to make sure I had other elements within my ballet practice and studio to make sure everyone got in and out better than they felt.” This increased focus on holistic wellbeing may feel like “a little awareness at the start or end of the adult class just to remind them that they showed up and introduced themselves and that in itself was a huge achievement,” he explained. Essel. “For younger ballet fans, we make positive affirmations at the end of our lesson to remind them that they can achieve whatever they can think of, and they are brave and they are beautiful. “
“It’s an art form that I hope through true fairness and mindful teaching can become more accessible, regardless of background, because ballet is for everyone.”
When it comes to diversity, visibility and inclusion in the overall dance space, Essel explained that he believes this should be “an imperative that has as much priority as safeguarding”. Treating it this way, Essel said, requires those in positions of authority to reexamine not only how they teach and direct companies, but also the inherent biases of the ballet world as a whole. “It means teachers and industry professionals have to ask, with consent, how to best serve their black students,” he explained. “You’ll hear things like, ‘Well, blacks naturally don’t have the technique for ballet.’ To which I say: ‘Isn’t technique something you learn and strengthen rather than something natural?’ “
Looking back over the past two years since the founding of Pointe Black, Essel said: “It really was the journey. When I started, I was advised against opening up to both children and adult classes. And to be honest, since. business point of view, initially with the adult class I thought maybe [people] they were right. However, now seeing it all together, starting from the beginning with the children, but also healing with the adults, I am glad I didn’t listen to that advice. For me, ballet means many things. I love the feeling of moving my body. I love her freedom, to be strong but elegant at the same time. It’s an art form that I hope through true fairness and mindful teaching can become more accessible, regardless of background, because ballet is for everyone. “
Image source: Pointe Black Studios / Ruth Essel