When Toronto native Nia Faith Betty started Révolutionnaire, she set out to help dancers of color feel less alone in the predominantly white dance world. The first step: designing dance apparel that matched more than just white skin tones. The second: expanding her color-inclusive brand into a robust social justice platform.
That social network, she says, provides young people a space to connect around causes of shared interest—to volley ideas, support each other's efforts, publish articles, and air podcasts. Nia, who would later enlist her sister, Justice, to help grow the brand, contends that this work is just the beginning.
Dance Spirit talked to the Howard University dance major about the experiences that inspired her to create Révolutionnaire, how the platform has enacted change and what's next for the brand.
Could you describe your dance background?
I got involved in dance when I was 10 years old. I was taking classes at a recreational studio—I started with ballet—and I fell in love with it. Later, I auditioned and was accepted to a pre-professional dance studio in Toronto.
How was this new environment?
There was a lot of racism happening within the studio. It got to a point where the artistic director would separate the Black dancers from our non-Black peers, put us in a separate studio and instruct us to learn the Vaganova method off a YouTube video while she actively taught the non-Black dancers. Then, when we went into our Vaganova exams and we scored lower, she tried to make it a point about race—which, when you're 11 and 12 years old, you don't fully understand that things were manipulated. It was really difficult.
At what point did you find solace in your dance journey?
When I was 12, I went to Joffrey Ballet School's summer intensive in Los Angeles, and that was my first time getting away from my home studio. I fell back in love with dance because at Joffrey, everyone is celebrated. When I was 14, I decided that I wanted to train at Joffrey full-time. So, I moved to New York City and became a trainee. But when I was 16, I sustained an injury: I had stress fractures in my sesamoid approximately a year prior, and I continued to dance on it until eventually the bone broke all the way through. My treatments included injections, laser therapy and other procedures, until I had to go on bed rest for several months.
Nia Faith Betty in Révolutionnaire.
Is this when you started thinking about what would eventually become Révolutionnaire?
Yes. I started thinking about this dream I've always had of everyone being able to have dancewear in their skin tone. I grew up dyeing my tights, pointe shoes and the straps on my leotard. It was alienating to walk into a dancewear store, and all of my friends were able to get everything off the shelf, but I had to go home and dye everything. So I started sketching designs and looking into how I could start this company.
When I got on campus at Howard at 17 and met Black dancers who shared similar experiences in dance and dancewear, I launched Révolutionnaire. Suddenly, I had a lot more to juggle. Between being a full-time student, continuing my dance training, building a social network and creating an apparel brand, it was difficult to find a good work–life balance. I'm grateful that my dance career has taught me about determination and the importance of time management, which has been invaluable in my entrepreneurial journey.
How did the social platform come about?
My sister and I were thinking about how we could give young people access to a network, tools and information that could help make their dreams a reality. We mobilized a team of over 30 young activists and changemakers from across North America. Our team is phenomenal—from interns for Vice President Kamala Harris and Speaker Nancy Pelosi to founders of nonprofits and journalists for The Guardian and Teen Vogue. The team took shape after my sister and I reached out to friends who had done work in activism and service.
What, specifically, does the platform offer members?
People meet each other, connect, start conversations and learn through a content library that focuses on five main causes—criminal justice reform, racial equity, housing and food security, gun reform, and environmentalism. Members can take action directly from our platform. Once you read an article about a cause that you care about, you can immediately go and find a petition about that cause—or contact your representatives, initiate email campaigns, start donation drives, contribute to fundraisers and volunteer—all within Révolutionnaire. We provide dance scholarships, sponsored by our dancewear shop, to dancers across North America each spring, and offer support to dancers through the "Keep Dance Safe" hub, which is a support group for survivors of abuse, assault and racism.
Has any cause that Révolutionnaire supported especially moved you?
Our donation drive for St. Vincent and the Grenadines following the volcanic eruption. About 25 percent of the island was wiped out, and my sister and I turned to each other and were like, 'We need to do something.' We connected with seven corporations from across Canada, like Dove, Nivea, Roots, Canadian Tire and Champion Supplies, and we were able to fill a 40-foot container with clothing, personal protective equipment, and hygiene and essential supplies for those affected by the eruption.
What’s next for Révolutionnaire?
The launch of our second collection with Roots. It's a 10-piece collection with sweatpants and hoodies in a variety of shades, a gorgeous award jacket, and a bag. For the campaign, we were lucky enough to work with some of my favorite dancers in the world, like Tina Pereira, who is a principal dancer with National Ballet of Canada, and someone I grew up watching my entire life.