Representation in Dance
Updated: May 16, 2021
Dance has been around for centuries, and while it can be dated back to (basically) beginning of time, dance styles have definitely changed since then. However the one thing that hasn’t changed for years is representation. While dance has taken the time to evolve, grow and create, representation has been scarce throughout the years. In this new generation of dance thousands of young and talented dancers who are people of colour have challenged the game and have done so for the better. Strap in because you are about to learn about some of the game changers in Dance today!
1. Misty Copeland
Misty Copeland is an American ballet dancer who has been titled the first ever Black principle dancer at the American Ballet Theatre. While this is very much impressive in and of itself, its Copeland's persistence and grace of over-coming all obstacles that makes her shine like no other. When she joined the company her body was not the right “fit” as a dancer and as a result, her doctor prescribed her medication that would alter her body. The difference in her body made her stand out even more amongst her peers, but she never let that define her. Over time she explained that “my curves became an integral part of who I am as a dancer, not something I needed to lose to become one. I started dancing with confidence and joy, and soon the staff at ABT began giving me positive feedback again. I think I changed everyone’s mind about what a perfect dancer is supposed to look like.” Six years into her career she became the first ever black soloist ballerina to play in “Firebird”. Copeland’s effect not only changed the game in the American Ballet, but also took a huge impact on millions of little dancers around the world. With the release of her book “Bunheads” which premiered in September 2020, Copeland writes about the dreams that many little dancers have and the journey to fight for what they love. Black dancers around the world took to Copeland as not only an inspiration but as a mentor for following their dreams.
2. Kyle Hanagami
Kyle Hanagami is a Japanese-American choreographer and dancer who is based in Los Angles, California and created a name for himself through good old social media. His bridge between both the entertainment industry and the digital world captivated millions through his unique style of dance and engaging choreography. While its known that many dancers start at the ripe age of 4 or 5 years old, Hanagami took his first dance class at the age of 18 (it’s never too late to start dancing friends!) He was an economics major at UC-Berkley. After auditioning for the hip hop dance crew, he soon found that he was “born to be a choreographer” and set out his talents to the world. Since then Hanagami has not looked back and has created choreography for artists such as Justin Bieber, J-lo, Ariana Grande, the Black Eyed Peas and many more. In his recent works, Hanagami has contributed to the world-wide sensation that is BLACKPINK. Creating choreography for their smash hits such as “KILL THIS LOVE”, “ICE CREAM ft. Selena Gomez”, and “LOVESICK GIRLS”, Hanagami has been able to bridge American mainstream media with up and coming Korean media aka KPOP. His branch to other parts of the world brings representation of the Asian community to the lime light, while simultaneously showcasing many other talented individuals outside of the American entertainment bubble. It is with this that his work speaks for itself. With his platforms on YouTube and Instagram Kyle Hanagami has brought millions of people around the world together through dance.
3. Parris Renee Goebel
Parris Renee Goebel, known professionally as Parris is a New Zealand Choreographer, dancer, singer, director, and actress (okay wow!) Coming from Samoan, Chinese and Scottish descent, She founded and is a choreographer of a dance school called “The Palace Dance Studio” which created dance crews such as ReQuest, Sorority and most notably the Royal Family. The Royal Family went on the win the World Hip Hop Dance Championship three times in a row, becoming the first group in history to achieve it. Parris went onto work with artists such as Ciara, Rihanna, Nicki Minaj and Janet Jackson. One of her most notable successes was her choreography for Justin Bieber's smash hit “Sorry” back in 2015. Like Kyle Hanagami, Parris stepped into the world of KPOP to work with iconic Korean groups such as BLACKPINK, Big Bang, 2NE1, along with solo work with the likes of G-Dragon, CL, and Taeyang. In 2015 Big Bang released what was dubbed as a “cultural impact” with their song “BANG BANG BANG (“뱅뱅뱅”)”, Parris choreographed the dance while also making an appearance in the video. After one month of the release of the video, the single held 2 top spots on the Billboard World Digital Songs which led them to being the only KPOP act to hold the top 2 spots twice. BANG BANG BANG was then announced as the biggest KPOP song of the summer of 2015 and was ultimately was used as part of the loudspeaker propaganda broadcast into North Korean boarders in response to the January 2016 nuclear tests. Critics went onto announce Parris’ choreography was “insanely epic, and a beautiful riot.” Queen behaviour!
4. Stephen “tWitch” Boss
Stephen “tWitch” Boss is a Black-American freestyle hip hop Dancer, Choreographer, actor, and television producer and personality. In 2008, he was the runner up on the American “So You Think You Can Dance”. Between the years of 2008 and 2014, tWitch starred as a dancer in Blades of Glory and Hairspray which guest staring on So You think You Can Dance as an All Star. In 2014, he guest starred on the Ellen DeGeneres Show as a guest DJ and was featured on Ellen’s Game of Games. Since then, tWitch secured a spot as a Co-Executive Producer for the talk-show. With many credits to his name, tWitch has been on multiple Tv shows and movies such as Bones, Modern Family, Step UP 3D, Ghostbusters and Drop Dead Diva. Recently, tWitch has been cast as Marcel X in the upcoming superhero movie Perfectus. Not only does he have such an impressive resume, tWitch and his wife, fellow dancer Allison Holker have been involved with Dancers Against Cancer, which provides financial support to dancers who are impacted by cancer. tWitch, opened up about his family’s own personal experience with Cancer among his grandfather and mother. He explains that “[cancer] really pulls you together as a family. It sucks when cancer comes to visit, but when you put a little love on it and behind together as a group, the chances of it sticking around are very, very low”. The impact tWitch has on the community surpasses mainstream media and impacts the lives of everyday individuals. His drive towards helping others makes him stand out and change the game within the dance community.
5. Stephanie Kurlow
Stephanie Kurlow is an Australian Dancer and Ballet student who is credited as the world’s first Hijabi Ballerina. Starting dance at the age of 2, Kurlow eventually ended up stopping at the age of 10 due to the lack of dance studio’s that catered to her beliefs. Stephanie’s mother Alsu Kurlow ended up opening a performing arts academy in 2012 which offered ballet, martial arts, aboriginal arts, as well as traditional art classes for young girls. By the time she was 11 years old, Kurlow was wearing the hijab she then launched an online campaign to raise money for a for classical ballet training. She expressed her plans on opening up a dance school that is catered towards diverse individuals as well as various backgrounds. With her presence, Kurlow is now an ambassador for Remove hate form the Debate, and is a recipient of the Aim for the Stars Scholarship and the Game Changer Scholarship by Björn Borg. Kurlow also went onto receive a scholarship for the Royal Danish Ballet summer School in 2018 in 2019, Kurlow was also featured in a global campaign with Converse named “Love the Progress” which invites the redefining of what a girl means. Stephanie Kurlow is a prime example of don’t follow the rules but change the rules. Her persistence to engage and celebrate diversity is inspiring millions to embrace who they are, what they believe and accept others. Soon enough we will be seeing many different backgrounds and faiths in the dance community and Kurlow will be a stepping stone of change.
There is so much inspiration within the dance community. People are showing that dance is for everyone and diversity is what makes everything beautiful. The dancers listed above are by means not the only representation within the dance community, but are part of many more amazing and talented individuals. the Dance community has a long way to go to show all forms of equality within dance, however the stepping stones that we have crossed have created a pathway for the next generation of young impressionable dancers. If you are interested in starting your own dance journey, be sure to check out our everybody can dance classes here! See you out there soon and can’t wait to dance with you!
“I may not be there yet, but I am closer than I was yesterday” ― Misty Copeland
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Bried, Erin. "Stretching Beauty: Ballerina Misty Copeland on Her Body Struggles", Self magazine, March 18, 2014, accessed Octobe