Empowering Urban Youth to Dance Ballet

This ballet school in Philadelphia uncovers hidden talent in youth.

May 12, 2023
Empowering Urban Youth to Dance Ballet | This ballet school in Philadelphia uncovers hidden talent in youth.

Graceful, precise, and dream-like, ballet is a classical art that is cherished by dancers and audiences around the world. A young dancer from Philadelphia has decided to pirouette into a community where ballet was inaccessible, opening this once closed world to many talented future dancers.

Chanel Holland is the founder and artistic director of the Chocolate Ballerina Company. The goal of this ballet school is to teach ballet culture and open up performance opportunities to urban youth, according to Philadelphia Dance.

Holland was accepted to the famous Alvin Ailey School at the age of 16. As she progressed in her training at other schools, she understood that there was racism against dancers of color in the world of ballet. In a personal story she relates to Philadelphia Dance, she recalls a time when she was accepted as a member of a corps de ballet, yet when she walked in, they made her feel like she was in the wrong place. She was the only Black dancer.

Time to give back
Not only were there very few black ballet dancers, Holland understood that ballet was  designed for a certain body type that she did not have, she explained in a TODAY video interview. She loved dance so much; she persevered in her career until she decided that it was time to give back.

She wondered where all the Black dancers were and knew she could find them, train them, and help them fulfill a dream of dancing ballet. Holland went back to her childhood community in South Philadelphia where she opened up her ballet school for students of color.

To make dance more accessible, she offers classes at discounted prices and some for free. The students wear dark toned leotards so they feel comfortable and confident. She also fuses cultures by creating a twist on classics. Her school’s version of The Nutcracker Suite was called Nutcracker Dipped in Chocolate.

Fusing ballet with pop culture
Holland also merges techniques, according to Philadelphia Dance. This was seen in her 2022 performance of Romeo and Juliet, a fusion of ballet with pop culture music.

She believes that ballet should be a place for creative expression and should not have any confines. “Dance arts has no color, has no boundaries, that [is] what makes dance amazing,” Holland told Philadelphia Dance. 

Holland wants to make big changes, with hopes of opening similar dance schools in Washington, New York, Texas, and Florida. Given her success so far, her vision could soon become reality. “This skill can be taught. Everyone deserves the chance,” Holland said. 

The Black Swan, Chocolate Ballerina Company’s newest show, opens on June 4, 2023, at Independence Seaport Museum Theater in Philadelphia. It is the first ever Black and Brown production of this ballet and will feature groundbreaking staging, according to the Go Home Philly blog.

The performance is bound to inspire all, infusing hope, and creating dreams for a new generation of dancers.

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Nicole is an editor, blogger and author who has recently left her urban life in order to be more connected with nature. In her spare time, she’s outdoors hiking in the forest, mountain biking or tending to her new permaculture garden.