Pilot Program for African American Inclusion

Artistic Directors Coalition for Ballet in America

Pilot Program for African American Inclusion

Message from Artistic Director Mikko Nissinen:

“I am honored to be a member of the Artistic Directors Coalition for Ballet in America – Pilot Program for African American Inclusion.  Since April of 2020, my fellow Artistic Director colleagues and I have been working together to discuss the current state and the future of the art form.  Together, we shaped tangible action plans and a statement of commitment to address inequities and inclusion. On February 5, Boston Ballet will be kicking off a series of three 2-hour interactive open house mentorship events in partnership with the IADB Association. The program is designed to help young and aspiring African American and dancers of color enter into the professional dance field, get to know us, and feel welcomed into our organization. I am also proud to share the collective statement of commitment from my esteemed colleagues below.”


2020 was a year like no other. In the spring, the murder of George Floyd, only one African American man among hundreds, ushered in a moment of reckoning that led to an international outcry to reevaluate the ongoing problems with racial equity and civil rights our world continues to face. As a response, a group of leaders in the classical ballet and dance fields assembled to discuss and address how we could affect change in our art form.  Since June 2020 and over the course of several months, we turned the lens on our organizations to evaluate our practices and policies, to brainstorm and share, and to listen and learn from one another. In our highly competitive art form it is unique for ballet leadership to gather collectively on such a regular basis, but over time our commitment to change increased, our group grew and we expanded our discussions. What became clear was that our art form, born of imperial courts of Europe, is in need of an overhaul if it is to move further into the 21st Century.  We come together as a collective to initiate change and to foster greater trust in how our organizations are run. The exquisite beauty of ballet must be relevant if we are to survive. This will require a vision that is more inclusive, that is capable of acknowledging and respective of the diversity of human culture.  This group of artistic leaders are all committed to building broader diversity and greater equity. And as we work in our own organizations to address any inequities, we agree that a first step is to open opportunities at the educational level. Our mission is to foster trust in our organizations and embrace a broader vision of cultural inclusion in classical ballet.

The companies and artists in this group have agreed to an initial step designed to create equal access and opportunity for all young artists, and where aspiring young artists of all colors and race feel welcomed into the art form. Participation, collaboration and involvement by all will shape and define the ballet of the future. With this commitment to the future of our art form, we are unveiling our first collective program.

Each of us will devise a program that will create access for more young artists of color to participate in America’s classical ballet and contemporary dance companies. This initiative will provide the young artists free online experiences with the companies.

Each dance company will create a two-hour virtual visit that will be specifically designed by each individual company to best represent their vision, culture, artistic philosophy and to get a sense of the community they create at their companies. The two-hour virtual experience may include:

  • A chance for young artists, their families, and teachers to virtually visit the organization’s facilities.
  • An online, live ballet or repertory class with the company’s leadership and artists to experience each organization’s unique style and approach
  • The opportunity to be seen, to be heard and be assessed dancing in class
  • The opportunity to learn and be coached in company repertoire by the artistic directors, rehearsal directors or company members
  • The chance to interact with and ask questions of the organization’s students, professional performers, production team and administrators

In this time of COVID-19, virtual visits present an interactive opportunity to look inside the unique environment of each organization. At the same time, it allows young artists, their families and teachers to experience each company’s vision, culture and community, and ask questions of their leadership.
This initiative is the first in a number of action steps and reforms we will implement over time to move ballet forward and truly become an art form for everyone.

Thank you on behalf of the inaugural group of individuals and companies launching Artistic Directors Coalition for Ballet in America – Pilot Program for African American Inclusion.

Kyle Abraham, Artistic Director, A.I.M
Lauren Anderson, Associate Director, Education & Community Engagement, Houston Ballet
Peter Boal, Artistic Director, Pacific Northwest Ballet
Nigel Campbell, Company Director, Gibney Company
Jodie Gates, Founding Director, USC Kaufman. Artistic Director, Laguna Dance Festival
Christina Johnson, Artist, Instructor and Coach
Virginia Johnson, Artistic Director, Dance Theatre of Harlem
Julie Kent, Artistic Director, The Washington Ballet
Edwaard Liang, Artistic Director, Ballet Met
Lourdes Lopez, Artistic Director, Miami City Ballet
Mikko Nissinen, Artistic Director, Boston Ballet
Desmond Richardson, Artistic Director, Complexions Contemporary Ballet
Dwight Rhoden, Artistic Director, Complexions Contemporary Ballet
Adam Sklute, Artistic Director, Ballet West
Jonathan Stafford, Artistic Director, New York City Ballet
Helgi Thomasson, Artistic Director, San Francisco Ballet
Denise Saunders Thompson, President and CEO, The International Association of Blacks in Dance
Stanton Welch, Artistic Director, Houston Ballet
Ashley Wheater, Artistic Director, Joffrey Ballet
Wendy Whelan, Associate Artistic Director, New York City Ballet

Facilitated by Jodie Gates