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Article: Black history Month Inspiration from Black Ballerinas

Inspiring Dancers - Ruth Essel, Founder of Pointe Black - Imperfect Pointes Community

Black history Month Inspiration from Black Ballerinas

This Black History Month, we revisited Ruth Essel, Black Ballerina and Founder of Pointe Black Ruth is long-time Imperfect Pointes collaborator. This month she organised Pointe Black's annual dance show, for aspiring young dancers of colour in London. 

Ruth Essel, Founder of Pointe Black. A Black Ballerina wearing a grey leotard dancing at the barre in a black ballet class

When we started Imperfect Pointes, we were very aware of how the ballet world is geared towards ‘whiteness’ and wanted to ensure that as a brand, we contributed to the effort to change this mindset. That ambition is partly how we found Ruth on social media, as we actively sought out black dancers to be inspired by and learn from.

Tell us about your ballet journey:

RE: I started ballet just before I was 3 and just fell in love with the art instantly. My mum put me into classes, because she didn't want me to be another 'Black statistic'. Growing up in South London, I was exposed to the hardships of life from a very young age - ballet was quite literally my escape.

Although I loved ballet, I always experienced discrimination for the way I looked - being Black, short, chubby, even down to my flat feet and knocked knees! I was even encouraged not to take ballet in College because of that. I managed to push through until I was 24, to prove I could do anything I wanted within ballet.

These are now all of the things I advocate for with Pointe Black, and so many other issues I faced: Ballet that is accessible, affordable and equal for my community. At any age, any size, and any colour.

All of our dancers live in disadvantagedareas in London, and even before the cost of living crisis, I have personally paid for some of the ballerinas' class fees or uniforms. We also do not charge any extra for show costumes, rehearsals or theatre productions, as I knew as a child, my mother couldn't afford everything. Our scholarship fund gives the community a chance to donate money, equipment, uniform, costumes and even time so these ballerinas get a fair chance at a ballet experience they deserve.

Ruth Essel founder of Pointe Black, wearing a grey leotard stretching on the floor of a ballet studio

What do you love about your job?

Seeing the ballerinas in class every week! Getting to spend time with them and witnessing them enjoying ballet first hand makes it all worth it. We've had such a huge impact in under 2 years since our first studio lesson. Not only do we encourage an interest in ballet but also create a campaign for equity. I'm proud to see so many people support the revolution.

What’s been the biggest lesson you have learnt over the last 12 months and what are you most looking forward to?

Take. Your. Time! I have had so many visions and ideas that I tried to do too quickly and they fell through. Take one step at a time, focus on maintenance first, then growth.

I'm most looking forward to our show this October! We're doing the story of the Wizard of Oz and I'm excited to see it come to life. Show time is always a highlight of my year, personally, as it gives the ballerinas a chance to perform in a real theatre! We're also expanding classes to Croydon this year, which is very exciting.

What is it that appeals to you about Imperfect Pointes and how have you found our skin-toned tights?

Where do I start! The message about being a dancer but also being human. That imperfect element is always lost when you think about ballet. On top of that, IP have this authenticity whilst saving the planet.

The ballerinas love the gifted tights as much as I do! It's always tricky when it comes to dancewear and children because of wear and tear, but the tights are so durable. They find them a great fit - "ooooo, high quality" one girl said as she strokes her leg!

Ruth Essel founder of Pointe Black, wearing a grey leotard stretching on the floor of a ballet studio

You’ve talked about your mental health - we know everyone is different, but what strategies / tips work for you that you’d like to share?

As a survivor of Clinical Depression for almost 10 years, I have a lot of tools in my toolbox!

  • Movement - time just for me to express my body in a way I love. Gym time is one of my favs, to just plug in my headphones and focus on healing my body through strengthening it. 
  • Therapy has honestly saved my life in many ways. Look to see if your workplace or studio has any free or subsidised sessions. Look past the stigma and ask for help!
  • Setting expectations: all of my friends and family had no clue how to help me until I told them what to expect. Having that frank conversation with the people around you, telling them your triggers, what helps and what doesn't makes a big difference. Don't be afraid to speak up about what doesn't serve you.

Finally, which black ballet dancers should our community be following?

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