A Buffalo teenager has been selected to serve as a national ambassador for a ballet program that promotes black dancers. WBFO'S Focus on Education Reporter Eileen Buckley says 'Brown Girls Do Ballet' supports diversity in ballet programs.
In August of 2015 Misty Copeland was named principal ballerina at the American Ballet Theatre. She became the first African American principal dancer in the 75-year history of the company. Copeland is breaking down barriers for young black girls who want to dance professionally. At one time Copeland was told she had the wrong skin color for Swan Lake. Now she's a ballet superstar. For 15-year old Amirah Muhammad, Copeland is her inspiration.
“We may think if there’s not somebody up there on the stage that looks like us ‘oh I can’t do that - maybe this just isn’t for me’ and then change to a different style of dance or, I don’t know, choose something else. But now that we have people up there that look like us and you can relate to in a way, it’s like wow - maybe I can do that as well,” said Muhammad.
“There is no question you are going to pursue this as a career?” asked Buckley. “Absolutely,” responded Muhammad
Muhammad started dancing at the age of three at Buffalo City Ballet. She still dances there and is now training at Neglia Ballet in the pre-professional program. She also has a coach in New York City. Steps on Broadway.
Now she has been appointed as to serve as a national ambassador for Brown Girls Do Ballet, an organization that serves minorities in dance. This will provide her with scholarships and mentioning opportunities to follow her dream.
Last summer she trained at American Ballet in New York City and now she is working on trying to fund raise to support this year's summer training.
“This year I was accepted to the American Ballet Theatre, Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, Manhattan Youth Ballet and almost a full scholarship to the Dance Theater of Harlem, which is a great honor for me, so I will be fundraising for all those,” said Muhammad.
But where will she decided to dance this summer?
“Well, of course, the scholarship is quite an honor because that really means that they have a great interest in you as a dancer and that means a lot to me. Recently, when the Dance Theatre of Harlem came to Buffalo in October, I took a few master classes with the artistic director, who was very kind and he awarded me with the scholarship, so that means a lot and I’ve decided to go there,” explained Muhammad.
The Buffalo teen also plays the violin. She is the daughter of professional violinist and leader of the Muhammad School of Music in Buffalo, Henri Muhammad.
“Well my wife and I, we’re very proud,” said Muhammad of his daughter’s dance success.
The Muhammad family is now learning to navigate through the 'dance world'. Muhammad said the struggle for black artists in general is in the 'training'.
“Learning the ins and outs, but we’re also finding that there are a lot of similarities, much like you rarely see blacks and minorities proficient in classical music, it’s the same with the world of dance, which is why I think the organization Brown Girls Do Ballet is so important as my daughter, will be a mentor to younger dance and she’ll have mentors to her, such as Misty Copeland and other professional black dancers who have gone on that can advise her,” said Muhammad.
Amirah Muhammad already had a chance to meet Copeland during her training last summer.
“In spending time with Misty Copeland, what have you learned?” asked Buckley.
“She’s doing so many great things and she is more than a principal dancer now. She’s endorsed by Under Armour. She’s been on so many levels of ballet now and it’s really setting the bar very high and for me that’s so inspiring and she’s always saying ‘you have to be yourself, you have to be confident in yourself’ and that’s really been a big thing for me,” said Muhammad.
“But Misty Copeland is one of very many professional black ballerinas that we don’t know about,” responded her dad. “But it just shows there are barriers in classical music, there are barriers in classical dance that we are all working to tear down.”
Muhammad is home schooled by her mother. Her daily routine begins with school work in the morning, by late afternoon she begins ballet training until early evening and then starts her homework at night.
On May 15th at the Aloma Charter School in Buffalo the Muhammad's will team in an event entitled "Beethoven and the Ballerina".
“So I hope that we can have more dancers, younger dancers, that want to aspire high, just like I can and its just been a really great experience for me, reaching toward something that I can work hard for every morning and aspire toward learning something new, or becoming a better dancer every day, which has been my goal for a while now and I hope that I can see more younger dancers that can aspire high like me,” replied Amirah Muhammad.