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Latham breaks racial barriers in ballet

FRI. |3-22-24| FEATURES

     Breaking barriers in dance can be challenging, whether it is racially or physically. Senior Kallie Latham has overcome these barriers with self-confidence and hard work.

     Latham has been dancing in the style of ballet since the age of three at North Carolina Academy Dance of Arts (NCADA). When Latham first started dancing at the academy it was not racially diverse. 

     “[I felt] lonely because I used different makeup products and different hair products, during performances,” Latham said. “I didn’t see anyone like me for a long time at the studio.”

     However, over the past few years, NCADA has become more diverse and has helped Latham find a community in the dancing world.

     “It is more comforting seeing people that look like you, you have a community within a community,” Latham said.

     Ballet may not be a diverse dancing style, since it can be pricey and originated in Europe which has different beauty standards than America.


Contributed Photo

     “Ballet is extremely expensive [and] that does exclude a lot of people from joining,” Latham said. “Ballet is [also] very selective with wanting a certain body type and some people will never fit those standards due to genetics.”

     Latham has broken the stereotypes about ballet, being a woman of color and continuing dancing in the style she enjoys.

     “People think ballet is a soft thing and that black women aren’t that feminine and that's a barrier I broke,” Latham said. “also showing people that one sport doesn't make you whitewashed just because you are doing something.”  

     Although ballet is not diverse, Latham's dance studio casts roles solely on talent.

     “NCADA [does] a really good job of basing [casting] on talent,” Latham said. “I get put in parts that fit me.”

NCADA may cast roles due to talent, while other dance studios cast based on dancers' race.

     “In most ballets, they want to keep everything unified, especially in ensembles, so they don’t want people of color in them,” Latham said.

     While ballet is not inclusive, tap is, Latham dances in multiple styles including jazz, contemporary and tap. 

     “[Tap] is the best thing, I’m good at and it comes naturally to me, it is really fun and loud,” Latham said.

     Even though Latham does enjoy dancing, there have been times when she has become discouraged.

     “When people that you know get things because of their parents or if they pay more, it can be discouraging,” Latham said. 

     Latham's family and friends kept her motivated during the times she wanted to give up.

     “There have been many times where I wanted to quit [but] my friends are really good,” Latham said. “[and] my mom really likes when I dance.”

     Latham feels accomplished with what she has done in ballet.

     “The friends that I’ve made and the community we’ve created, I think it’s really comforting,” Latham said.

     Dance has also taught Latham valuable life lessons.

     “Dancing has taught me that not everything in life is fair and it’s not going to be fair,” Latham said. “Hard work will get you where you need to be.”

     Latham has also taught herself to not compare herself to others.

     “I always say this comparison is a thief of joy and you can’t compare yourself to the person beside you,” Latham said. “Because everyone has their strengths and weaknesses.”

     Though dance has taught Latham valuable lessons, equality within ballet has improved over the last few years.

     “For the longest time pointe shoes were always light pink because it’s supposed to elongate your legs to make your body look straight and the line good,” Latham said. “Now with dancing, they finally have colored shoes so people of color have shoes that match their skin tone, and it makes their dancing look just as good as other people’s dancing.”

      Latham feels accomplished with what she has done in ballet.

     “The friends that I’ve made and the community we’ve created, I think it’s really comforting,” Latham said.

Latham is not a stranger to the stereotypes that arise from a specific form of art. Which is why she has words of encouragement for people who express themselves in a predominantly white field.

     “Just because you are the only one who looks like you doesn’t mean that something is wrong with you being there,” Latham said.

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