Raven Wilkinson in Les Sylphides. Photo Courtesy Wilkinson.

Ballerina Raven Wilkinson passed away on Monday at her home in New York City at age 83. Wilkinson is best known as the first African American woman to dance full-time with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and as a cherished mentor to Misty Copeland.

Raven Wilkinson presenting Misty Copeland with the Dance Magazine Award in 2014. Photo by Cherylynn Tsushima for Dance Magazine.

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Dance News
Raven Wilkinson in Les Sylphides. Photo Courtesy Wilkinson.

Ballerina Raven Wilkinson passed away on Monday at her home in New York City at age 83. Wilkinson is best known as the first African American woman to dance full-time with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and as a cherished mentor to Misty Copeland.

Raven Wilkinson presenting Misty Copeland with the Dance Magazine Award in 2014. Photo by Cherylynn Tsushima for Dance Magazine.

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Nardia Boodoo (photo by Rachel Neville)

Watch Nardia Boodoo discuss her (classic) dance crushes and secret talents. Read about more up-and-coming black ballerinas here.

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Dancer to Dancer
via @nycballet on Instagram

Though ballet has come a long way from its early days, New York City Ballet corps member, Olivia Boisson—one of the handful of black dancers in the industry—says there's still plenty more that can be done to promote diversity within the art form. Boisson got real about her experience in an article for Women's Health, which discusses everything from Boisson's early training to her work with NYCB.

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Nardia Boodoo (photo by Rachel Neville)

"I had a unique path to dance," says Nardia Boodoo, a luminous, elegant apprentice with The Washington Ballet. She briefly studied ballet as a child, but didn't start serious training until she was 14 years old, attending Baltimore School for the Arts. "I didn't know what a pirouette was," she says. "I would wake up really early to stretch and remember my corrections." But, a focused student, she advanced quickly: Soon she was attending prestigious summer intensives, and she earned a spot in The Washington Ballet Studio Company in 2014. Now, Boodoo is working with her childhood idol, TWB artistic director Julie Kent, and dreams of someday dancing the title role in Giselle.

Boodoo is acutely aware of the power of representation. "It has only recently become OK to have a Misty Copeland," she says. "It's no longer socially acceptable to only have girls who look exactly the same, in any aspect of entertainment. But at the same time it feels like a trend, and I'm not a trend, I'm a human being." Boodoo wants to see genuine diversity, from top to bottom. "You need teachers and directors, ballet masters and répétiteurs," she says. "Diversity on every single level is progress."

Dancer to Dancer
Alexandra Terry (photo by Rachel Neville, courtesy Terry)

Alexandra Terry didn't always dream about pointe shoes and tutus. Though she took dance class as a child, it was competitive gymnastics that originally captured her interest. (She credits the powerful strength that undergirds her ballet technique to years of repetitive routines on beams and mats.) At 13, Terry started commuting an hour and a half from her home in Connecticut to NYC, so she could study at the Joffrey Ballet School. After training with Karin Averty and Irina Dvorovenko, she realized that ballet was her calling, and following a vigorous summer intensive at Ellison Ballet, she transferred to that school year-round so she could fully immerse herself in the art.

Now, as a Ballet West second company member, Terry is excited to be a part of the professional ballet world. "I was watching demi-soloist Katlyn Addison, who's also black, in rehearsal the other day, and I got so emotional seeing someone like me out there performing a lead role," she says. While Terry appreciates the racial progress the ballet world has made recently, she also recognizes the need for a constant push towards diversity. "You look around the room in some auditions and you don't see anyone who looks like you, which is just so isolating," she says. "I think the ballet world needs to give every dancer a chance to work hard and prove herself, no matter what she looks like."

Dancer to Dancer
Amanda Morgan (photo by Lindsay Thomas, courtesy Pacific Northwest Ballet)

With her endless limbs and regal bearing, Amanda Morgan is an arresting presence onstage. Born in Tacoma, WA, Morgan studied at Dance Theatre Northwest and Pacific Northwest Ballet School, and attended summer courses at Alonzo King LINES Ballet, Boston Ballet School, and the School of American Ballet. In 2016, Morgan was offered an apprenticeship with PNB, and, in 2017, she joined the main company as a member of the corps de ballet.

Only a year into company life, Morgan is already making her mark. In addition to her demanding corps schedule, she's danced Rosalia in Jerome Robbins' West Side Story Suite, and originated a role in Dani Tirrell's Suckle, which premiered last August. "Growing up in the school at PNB, I was never able to see a woman in the company who looked like me," Morgan says. "That pushed me even more. Now, as I'm dancing in the company, it means little brown girls in Seattle are finally able to see themselves onstage. It's because of them that I continue to strive to be the greatest dancer I can be. They're our future."

Dancer to Dancer
(From left) ABT's Erica Lall; NYCB's India Bradley; Washington Ballet's Nardia Boodoo; NYCB's Rachel Hutsell (all photos by Rachel Neville)

Misty Copeland. Her name is synonymous with exquisite artistry and outspoken advocacy. And her visibility has made a huge impact on the ballet world. Ballet's relationship with race has always been strained at best, hostile at worst. But Copeland's persistent message and star quality have finally forced the ballet industry to start talking about racial diversity, inclusivity, and representation. "The rarity of seeing ourselves represented is sad," Copeland says. "The more we see every hue and body shape represented on the stage, the more possibilities young dancers feel they have for themselves."

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Cover Story

Daphne Lee is a queen, and not just in the "OMG Girl Boss Alert" sense of the word. She's an actual queen—a beauty queen. Crowned Miss Black USA in August, she's been doing double duty as she continues to dance with the Memphis based dance company, Collage Dance Collective. Lee's new title has given her the means to encourage other black girls and boys to pursue their dreams, while also pursuing dreams of her own. The scholarship money awarded with the pageant title will assist her as she earns a Masters of Fine Arts degree at Hollins University.

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