When I was younger, my feet would hurt a lot, but you build up calluses and strength, and you don't feel as much pain there. But then again, it's a give and take. The older you get, you may feel pain in your back or your hips.
There are no taking days off. There are no distractions. If I had that, I physically wouldn't be capable of going onstage and performing live theater. It's extremely demanding. I have to be in ballet class every day.
I say over and over again that I am just standing on the shoulders of so many who have set this path for me, and they may not be seen or recognized or have been given an opportunity to have a voice, but I'm here representing all of those dancers. Dance Theatre of Harlem Virginia Johnson, Tai Jimenez, Lauren Anderson.
If the rhythm or beat of the music changes with a live orchestra, you have to think on your feet. If you feel like you are not on your leg, you have to make a decision to make it look as though nothing is going wrong.
Being in ballet class, being on the stage, being surrounded by my peers at American Ballet Theater every day, keeps me so humble and grounded. Being in ballet class, I feel, is like this meditation for me every morning.
Being the only African American at this level in American Ballet Theater, I feel like people are looking at me, and it's my responsibility for me to do whatever I can to provide these opportunities in communities to be able to educate them.
I was seventeen when I moved to New York. I was nineteen when I joined the main company. I was going through a lot. Just becoming an adult and just wanting to fit in, be accepted, and be in common with the other dancers.
'The Company' was interesting. I didn't love it, although it might be compelling to someone who isn't a dancer. There wasn't a lot of dialogue, and you were just kind of observing the creative process of choreography and in class.
When I was 16, I moved to Torrance, California to train at a more advanced studio, and by 19, I joined the American Ballet Theatre in New York. It all happened so fast - it was pretty unheard of that someone could train for so few years and become a professional at one of the most elite dance companies in the United States.
In the ballet studio, it was such an organized and disciplined environment, like I'd never had in my life. Seeing myself in the mirror, surrounded by the classical music, that's when I started to fall in love with dance.
I would have young dancers come to me and ask me questions and want to know what my experiences were like: 'What's it like being a black dancer?' So I just felt like it was necessary for me to share my experiences with them.
I traced the marley floor with my pointe shoes, and imagine myself on the stage, not as a member of the corps, but as a principal dancer. It felt right. It felt like a promise. Some day, somehow, it was going to happen for me.
I didn't want to be the best at anything; I just wanted to blend in. And that was kind of my existence throughout my family experiences at home of just kind of blending in in the background through my other siblings, which was easy to do.
I feel like going to class every morning is so humbling. You're always working to improve, and you're always being critiqued on your next performance. It's not about what you've done. There's always room to grow.
Ballet found me, I guess you could say. I was discovered by a teacher in middle school. I always danced my whole life. I never had any training, never was exposed to seeing dance, but I always had something inside of me. I would love to choreograph and dance around.
I'm definitely influenced by the music. We dance to music, and you have to listen to it and phrase your dancing and movement in a certain way to compliment the music. We have to work hand in hand, the dancer and the music.
It's going to take a while before we see a real shift in the students and the dancers that are going into professional companies because it takes so many years of training, but I do think that there's a new crop of dancers, of minority dancers that are entering into the ballet world.
Ballet became this escape for me. I feel like I was on my own a lot. I was searching for stability, so I was going off on my own and imagining what I thought stability was. Ballet became a way for me to cope.
Something happens when you feel that energy and excitement from the audience. And you do, I don't know, four pirouettes. You jump higher than you ever have. And it's just this really magical thing that happens in those moments.
Once you become a professional, to get through a ballet like 'Swan Lake' - four acts as the lead, changing character - the perseverance is incredible. It takes a lot to make it through and keep the same energy throughout the entire performance.
I wanted to open the dialogue about race in ballet and bring more people in. It's just beautiful to see the interest that has exploded for such an incredible art form that I will forever be grateful to!
I have the opportunity, which most people don't experience nearly as much, of being in front of a mirror up to 10 hours a day. Staring at your body, you really get to know every little detail of how to make yourself look your best.