As part of our Untold Stories series, we launched a campaign celebrating Black ballerinas across the world. We engaged with both female and male black ballerinas across the globe to share their stories of being a minority in the world of ballet.
In an effort to champion unheard voices and the long-awaited release of a darker shade range of ballet shoes finally launching this year, we wanted to give a platform for those who faced challenges in the industry as a person of colour.
The first story we shared was from Nena Sorzano, originally from Venezuela. Clara’s journey into dance began at aged nine when her mother placed her into classes after school, as a way to prevent her from just hanging around and watching TV. Initially, Clara didn’t like the disciplined structure but kept at it, and shortly after, a ballet school opened nearby and she was brought to audition. After the first audition, the ballet school told her mother that Clara would definitely dance professionally if she continued to pursue the art-form.
These images were all self-shot by Sorzana in lockdown in her studio
Clara’s own experience as being the only person of colour in the room meant that she was always noticed first, which she says, wasn’t always a bad thing. “I was paid attention to because of my skin colour, but I believed I had the talent to follow. So I was definitely 'noticed' because I stood out, but then they’d see my technique.”
“My mother always said to me, ‘Your competition is with yourself, and not with anyone else’” says Sorzano.
“The reason I made the move to Europe from Venezuela to further my career in ballet was when I would see videos on YouTube and see black dancers working with famous choreographers and being a soloist, even doing classical ballet and having the chance of being cast with a main role. Before I moved to Germany, I had experiences where I was asked not to go to the beach so my skin wouldn’t get darker, or I’d have to apply a substance to my skin to make it ‘whiter’, only it would just make my skin a greyish colour.”
Image by Deda Productions
She went onto reflect that even though her experiences in Germany have been “better”, there’s still been times where people aren’t used to working with Black ballerinas, such examples given were the hair and make-up department. “I’ll have to bring my own make-up because they ‘forgot’ about bringing make-up to suit darker skin tones, or will complain about my hair texture because it’s too curly and they have to spend more time on it.” Sorzano explained.
"Most of the Black ballerinas that I know and Black dancers in general have shared similar, or identical experiences. But I want to be clear... being Black has been always a blessing and something that makes me special."
You can follow Clara Sorzano on Instagram here.