For These Black Ballet Dancers, Breaking Down Bias Is Part Of The Routine

'My goal in ballet is to be the first African-American principal with a major company,' 16-year-old Shaakir told Look Different.


When many of us picture ballet dancers, we imagine toe shoes, a pink tutu and a young, white, female ballerina. But ballet encompasses a lot more than this, and Shaakir and Naazir, who are black male ballet dancers from Brooklyn, are a perfect example of that.

MTV’s Look Different caught up with 16-year-olds Shaakir and Naazir, and talked to them about their interest in ballet, and the hurdles they face on and off the stage.

First off, there can already be a prejudice against men being into ballet. Naazir, who said he was bullied more than Shaakir, reported having a homophobic slur taped to his head. But the boys, who were first exposed to ballet with mandatory ballet classes in their elementary school, fell in love with dancing anyway.

In fact, Naazir said he wanted to join ballet so much that he initially forged his mom’s signature to join!

Misty Copeland hasn’t faced prejudice for being a male ballet dancer, but she has faced it for being a black ballet dancer. Earlier this year she hooked up with Look Different for a live Twitter chat and gave her fans an inside look at her experience.

“Here at American Ballet Theatre, I was only African-American woman in the company for a decade,” Copeland said.

This experience inspired her to mentor dancers, including Shaakir and Naazir. “I met Shaakir and Naazir a couple of years ago. It was beautiful to see two strong black boys in the ballet world who were comfortable and confident with who they were and to see ballet dancers that don’t come from the typical environment where they start out in a professional school and they spend their entire childhood training... They grew up in Brooklyn and they had a very normal childhood, but yet they love Classical ballet and the art of it.”

“My goal in ballet is to be the first African-American principal [the top dancer] with a major company,” Shaakir told Look Different. He also wants to pay it forward.

“Eventually, after I retire, I would like to teach students of all races.”