Be strong, be fearless, be beautiful. And believe that anything is possible when you have the right people there to support you. -Misty Copeland
Black girls have the first part down. Strong, beautiful, and fearless, we see them conquering the world daily. Whether it is academics, sports, STEM, in Hollywood, or the boardroom, Black girls have been taking control of their own destinies for millennia. The world however has a problem with that last part.
We do not support Black girls, who are, too often devalued and diminished by society. Who are much more likely to be victimized by racial + sexual violence before they are 18. It is so difficult for young Black girls to find safe space. The expectation is that dance, at least for a little while, might be that safe space.
Misty Copeland reminds us that in settings, surrounded by people who believe in us, we can accomplish the seemingly impossible. Like becoming the first African-American principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre, one of three leading Ballet Companies in the nation. I imagine Misty had a great amount of support to nurture her love of dance and support her through her dream. That’s important because Black ballerinas matter and it is with this sentiment in mind that we bring you the story of Tansha Cunningham Hurell and her daughter Journey.
Brown Girls Out Loud discovered Journey, a young dancer in training and her mom Tansha, in a now viral story about the discrimination Journey experienced while preparing for her dance recital at Take Five Dance Academy. During a dress rehearsal, Tansha learned that the costumes would require “flesh” or “nude” tone tights, however, the studio was insisting they be light “tan” color.
When Tansha requested that Journey wear her own skin tone colored tights the studio informed her that this would not be ok. You can read their full story here to get further details. In the end, the studio refused to accommodate the request and Tansha had no choice but to pull Journey from the studio and in turn, the recital
Brown Girls Out Loud (BrGOL) reached out to Tansha and Journey to learn a little more about what happened.
We wanted to learn about how Journey feels in the aftermath. They were both gracious enough to grant us this interview.
Brown Girls Out Loud: How do you feel about what has happened?
Journey: I feel really sad. I don’t know why the people at the dance studio don’t like my skin. Mommy said my skin is beautiful…daddy and brother tell me that too! Mommy said we are going to find a new dance studio that loves brown skin.
BrGOL: Do you have any advice for other dancers like you who may be going through something similar at their dance school?
Journey: Well, they could call my daddy or mommy because they always make me feel better. Don’t be sad because you can still be a coco ballerina somewhere else maybe at Disneyland! When I turn 5, I’m going back to Disneyland, they can come with me if they want to. We can be black girl magic!
BrGOL: Can you show us a few of your favorite dance moves?
Journey: Maybe next week or tomorrow. Ok, I’ll show you
BrGOL: Even though this was an upsetting experience, will you continue dancing?
Journey: Yes, I love dance and my friends at dance. I miss my friends, but I get to make new ones. I still get to dance at home and at my cousin’s house!
BrGOL reached out to Take Five Dance Academy to get a statement, their response was as follows:
For 26 years, our school has celebrated ethnic and racial diversity among our students and staff. This one situation does not reflect our studio culture.
The tight color we chose for Journey’s class matches the tan tap shoe which coordinates with the costume. In other classes, our dancers wear pink tights with pink ballet slippers. They also wear black fishnet tights with black jazz shoes. In addition, our students wear white tights with white ballet shoes. The color of tights and shoes are picked based on the costume to give a uniformed and professional appearance on stage.
Ms. Harrell received a refund which included three costumes, tuition for classes her daughter had already taken and the registration fee for the upcoming season that she had already signed up for.
Journey is a talented dancer who auditioned and was chosen for one of our performing groups. We are disappointed that she will not be involved in our community shows next season.
While we appreciate this response, considering Journey’s experience, it feels hollow. Was it absolutely necessary to insist Journey wear “tan” tights that were not tan enough for her own skin tone? I think that is something the studio will have to struggle with.
There are many studios, who no doubt, treated Misty and her momma similarly. I am sure Ms. Copeland has her very own stories about studios who tried to make her blend in when they should have let her shine! It probably took them a few tries to find a studio she felt safe and at home in. My hope is that Journey finds that space too and that other parents who are reading this challenge Take Five and every studio trying to be so offensively colorblind.
Despite the claim that, “This one incident does not reflect our studio culture…” upon visiting their Facebook page I am met with this cover:
While these tiny tots are adorable, there is no diversity here. This picture is the face of every dance studio everywhere since ballet became a thing. You know what message this sends to little Black and Brown girls?
“This isn’t for you.”
The problem with this Studio’s response is, it doesn’t care to accommodate young dancers like Journey. They don’t look to recruit Black dancers and they don’t work to retain them. Unless they are looking to boost their hip hop choreography for competition, American dance studios are not recruiting Black dancers, not as teachers, and not as students.
They don’t support little Black girls, especially if they don’t fit the dancer’s mold. I’d love to believe this is one single incident for this studio but Take Five is like many dance “academies” across this country, white washed and apathetic to the dreams of Black and Brown girls. I know this studio would like to believe it has doesn’t excluded dancers of color but the their social media presence tells me a different story. It is doubtful, this is the first time a Black girl has experienced exclusion at Take Five; This is just the first time a mom decided to be Out Loud about it!
We commend Journey and her mom Tansha for taking this stand and demanding dance teachers and studios be more sensitive and inclusive in supporting and preparing Black dancers.
We hope parents will see this and challenge Take Five and other studios across the country to do better.