In 2011, after dancing with American Repertory Ballet and Nashville Ballet, Rachael Parini had decided to retire her ballet shoes. At that point, she was a sophomore at Florida State University, planning to major in political science and international affairs and to work for the State Department when she graduated.
But then another black ballerina changed Parini's path. A message from former New York City Ballet and Dance Theatre of Harlem dancer Andrea Long-Naidu popped up on Parini's Facebook page. "I was in shock that a woman who I had admired for so much of my life was looking at my profile," Parini says. "She told me she saw something very special in me, and that I should be sharing my gift, that I should be dancing." The two began corresponding regularly, with Long-Naidu offering encouragement and advice. Once Parini graduated, she accepted a contract with The Washington Ballet. "To this day, I will never be able to thank Andrea enough for that first message," Parini says. "I don't know that I would have returned to ballet without her generosity or persistence."
The Snellville, GA, native has been with BalletMet since 2016, and is known for her powerful presence and dynamic technique. She's also giving back to other young dancers through her work with Brown Girls Do Ballet. "When I went to summer intensives, I was usually the lone brown ballerina in my group," says Parini. "And I grew up pre–social-media, so it was definitely a struggle to feel so obviously different from my peers. I would have loved for there to have been something like BGDB when I was growing up."