Photo by Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Shannon Harkins, a 13-year-old ballerina from Silver Spring, MD will dance in The Washington’s Ballet production of the Nutcracker.  Shannon has performed in the Nutcracker for 7 years. Her roles have included everything from a soldier to now playing a Chinese girl in this month’s production. But Shannon has her heart set on something bigger. She wants a corps role, like a snowflake, and then a Sugar Plum Fairy.

But being an African-American ballerina comes with sacrifice and the Harkins family knows that all too well.

Shannon’s parents, Juli Harkins, a project officer for a substance-abuse and mental health agency,  Derrick, pastor at Nineteenth Street Baptist Church realizes the challenges of being an African American ballet dancer. But they’ve stuck by their daughter for the last 8 years. With role models such as Misty Copepland, the Harkins believe that their daughter is on the right track.

From The Washington Post:

Outside ballet, Shannon says, she lives “pretty much a normal life.” Her friends thinks it’s neat that she dances like Misty Copeland. And she has friends from ballet class. “I’ve always felt included,” Shannon says. But “I wish the diverse ballet world was a lot larger.” One problem she sees: “the fact that a lot of people think ballet is for white people or Europeans.”

Its a sentiment that’s been especially true of ballet insiders, says Septime Webre, who has been artistic director of the Washington Ballet for 14 years. In an art form that draws from European court traditions, where uniformity is part of the aesthetic, dancers of color have a hard time.

“The top 20 companies in America generally suffer from preconceived notions of what beauty is; what a prince looks like and what a ballerina looks like,” Webre says. “As directors break out of their own preconceived notions of what those are, they will begin to promote dancers who are coming into the corps of ballet.” He points to his casting of Brooklyn Mack as a lead in the ballet’s recent production of “Giselle.” Dancers show the audience their “idealized selves,” and it’s a view that’s often too narrow for white directors, he says.

Read the whole story at The Washington Post

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  • It’s good that she going ahead with her dreams and not letting people discourage her.

  • NOitALL

    I hope Shannon is able to make her dreams come true. I’d love to see her on stage. Also, Misty Copeland is NOT the only Black ballerina in the world. Aesha Ashe and Michaela dePrince come to mind. Let’s not forget the brothers, either. There are several at New York City Ballet. And of course, there is that little, tiny, off-the-radar company called Dance Theatre of Harlem. They have a whole cast of them. How about we start promoting some of the other Black ballet stars as well? Give them some shine.

    • Annoyed

      Thanks for posting about DTH. I tried to but the comment dropped out.

  • Good to see that she is moving towards achieving her goal in life. Just want to wish her all the very best for your future. May you shine like a star.