Note from BBT: It’s no secret that because of the way Brazil has treated its black and brown population over the course of nearly five centuries, we still see many areas of society in which people of color are extremely under-represented. As the opportunities have always been given to people with white skin, these areas and genres later attain an association with white skin, to the point that when people see non-whites participating in such areas, it’s often an eyebrow-raising situation.
It’s a sort of reaction like, “What is he/she doing here?”
It’s a funny thing, but being recognized as black can be a thing that brings pride and representation to the whole community and then there’s the kind that marks someone as not only being different, but a kind of signal that others pick up on. A kind of dog whistle. This is also the case in the world of classical dance. For black people, seeing that there is a black girl in dance school or company, it’s a pleasant surprise because it’s a joy to see someone with brown skin finally make it in that particular area.
Example. If a group of black people are sitting and watching a dance recital, if they’re there to support the only black dancer in the recital, they’ll most likely already know the girl or boy’s name, but if they don’t, when that person’s performance arrives and someone asks, “Who’s up next?” and someone says, “the black girl”, the anticipation as a special event will make the moment memorable.
On the other hand, if this female or male is the only black child, adolescent or adult in the recital and a group of white people not acustomed to seeing black bodies in classical dance ask each other, “Who’s up next?”, the meaning could be completely different. Like, “Oh…..Kay…”…there could be an understood agreement not to verbalize any negative or racist thought, but a sort of silent agreement to deal with the “odd one’s” appearance until it’s time for the people who are expected to be part of the dance group performs.
This is not to say that this is always the case, just the fact that this type of thought isn’t uncommon whether we’re talking classical dance, gymnastics, court rooms or corporate board rooms. In this way, we can see how Amanda Lima’s success being “the black girl” in the world of ballet can be perceived and defined in two different ways, depending on the perspective of the person saying the phrase.
I introduced Amanda to readers in December of 2018 and today, the young woman’s talent continues to take her to higher heights and accomplishments in a genre that is often not seen as a place for black girls and women.
“People will always refer to me as ‘the black ballerina’”: Ballet takes Amanda Lima from Ribeirão Preto to the world
Twenty years ago, when Amanda Lima put her ballet shoes on for the first time, perhaps no one imagined that there began a life of dreams and keys to open doors to the world. Ballet has been a part of the girl’s life ever since. She took her first ballet class at the age of 3 and was always one of the few black dancers, now also a teacher, from dance schools and studios in which she participated.
Through it and her own effort, she obtained scholarships in schools, went to college at USP (University of São Paulo) and today makes a living through dance. Now, Amanda is about to leave her neighborhood, Parque Ribeirão, and study at a prestigious school in Canada. Her dream is close to being realized. A campaign to raise funds was carried out and around 70% of the money has already been raised. Amanda Lima has already obtained 70% of the resources and there is little to go to study at a renowned Canadian ballet school.
Today, at the age of 24, Amanda, graduated in Physical Education from USP – University of São Paulo, works and makes a living from dance. She performs as a dancer in an advanced group and teaches. She is also a teacher in several schools and academies.
“I started very early. My mother is an employee of Hospital das Clínicas and had an agreement for me to study at the Methodist. There I started doing ballet. Over time, the agreement ended, but I was invited as a scholarship holder to continue in a ballet school. Then that school closed and at the age of 13 I went to Studio Luciana Junqueira, where I am today. I never stopped,” she says.
And it was by dividing classrooms with dance rooms that Amanda attended elementary school, high school and college. “When I was studying at Colégio Auxiliadora (I got a discount for dancing) I also took a technical ballet course and finished both at the same time.”
Invitation to Canada
Last year, while taking a course in Salto, São Paulo, she earned a scholarship at the renowned Bloch ballet school in Vancouver, Canada. In addition to the scholarship, she was invited to participate in a show by the Contemporary Division company. The artistic presence that she emanates when she dances is so great that it caught the attention of Brazilian director and choreographer, Mônica Proença, during a workshop held in 2018. Proença lives in Canada.
The Ribeirão Preta dancer drew attention during the classes. “At first it was exciting, but then I put the costs on the tip of the pencil, it wasn’t simple. I was and I am very happy for the support that I have received. People I never imagined came to me to offer help. I have 70% of the resources. The ticket I got from my uncle. I managed to get housing for the period that I will be there. Then there is little left,” she celebrates. “I think it will really be a fantastic experience. It’s an incredible opportunity and a dream to be realized, for a simple girl who has the chance to expand her horizons with dance,” she concludes.
Few black dancers
When she’s on stage, she attracts everyone’s eyes, not only because of the high quality of her work in dance, but also because she has a different skin color than what most people see in ballet companies. The dancer, choreographer, model and physical educator is, as she says, the “bailarina preta”, meaning “black dancer”.
From a humble and black family, Amanda says she was never discriminated against because of her skin color, but she felt a lack of representation. “I was never directly discriminated against because of being black, but I always felt a lack of representation. When you look at the pictures, the photos and even the stories of fairy tales recounted in ballet shows, it’s difficult to feel represented. And maybe white people don’t understand why they are always represented in them, but for me it was always difficult to see myself in this environment, where there are almost no people or characters of my color,” she says.
After a long time in dance, always wearing pink pointe shoes and tights, after research and reading on the subject she realized that the question of the costume being always in pink was not mandatory in ballet, but whims for pessoas brancas (white people) and created for white people in dance.
“It’s a subtle thing for those who don’t suffer from it, but very symbolic for me where everything was created for a standard, for example, pink sneakers and stockings were created for light skin and only now almost 200 years later do pointe shoes for other skin tones start to appear.”
Even though she has not experienced any situation of direct verbal or physical aggression, either as a professional or as a student, Amanda sees racism in dance in a more profound way:
“Of course, dance schools for the most part don’t have black teachers, black students and stories that fit characters of another ethnicity that aren’t white. In addition to the issue of uniform, pink pantyhose and pointe shoes are things made for the light skin tone. So I always noticed all this, for me racism within dance, in classical ballet mainly, it was always present more in this structural and cultural form than in an aggressive and direct way,” adds the dancer.
The ballerina came to manually paint her pointe shoes in the same tone as her skin, using makeup base, Nugget and fabric paint, due to the lack of pointe shoes in different shades in the stores.
“The moment came when I went to dance a neo-classical choreography and the choreographer said that we would dance without pantyhose, so each one would paint their pointe shoe in the color of their own skin. When I painted them the first time I realized that I felt much more comfortable and my lines for dancing were more beautiful, so I always started to wear them painted, even when I bought them pink I painted them later, because at the time they didn’t have pointe shoes that already came with my tone,” she explains.
Nowadays, it’s already possible to find pointe shoes in black skin tones for sale, but not as easily as the light ones, as it’s necessary to order on demand. Some brands that make them available are Gaynor, imported from the United States, and also the brand of which Amanda is a model, called “Evidence Ballet”.
In addition to the criticism directed purely at the color of the skin, the dancer explains how racism also uses other aspects, to harm black dancers:
“There is a myth in dance that says that black people have a lot of strength, but don’t have other favorable genetic characteristics, mainly for classical ballet, such as flexibility, a certain type of knee, neck and subtlety for example. Racism also happens in sports like swimming, where people say they don’t have black people because black people have denser bones and this hinders performance, but nobody thinks that, in fact, it is because swimming is an elite sport, that it requires conditions and expenses to practice, being culturally something that has always been of the elite,” says Amanda.
Last year 2020, eventually, anyone who uses social networks or follows the daily newspapers, came across the fervent and growing movement #VidasNegrasImportam (black lives matter), which emerged after several cases of repression against black people, which went public.
“While I have a hope that people are becoming aware of the specific cases that happened, I also feel very sad to think that this is not all new, in fact it has been happening for a long time, the difference is that now they are being filmed. So I think that the #VidasNegrasImportam movement is very valid, because it brings up people’s responsibility for these acts and is also capable of causing changes,” she says.
Recognition: Last year Amanda Lima was invited to star in an advertising campaign for the brand Evidence Balé
Knowing that ballet was born out of an elite culture, in the courts and royalty and that even today, despite social projects, dancing is not available to everyone, the dancer explains:
“Currently, we have both sides, private schools and social projects, but in both cases it’s still a practice with high costs; appropriate clothes, pointe shoes, costumes, festival registrations are recurring expenses that make the practice more common among those who have better financial conditions,” she evaluates. “I have seen the number of black dancers grow little by little, and at the high level we already have prominent names like Ingrid Silva, Misty Copeland, Michael de Prince, but they are still few compared to the number of names of white dancers that are considered famous,” she adds.
Ingrid Silva is Amanda’s great inspiration. “I remember that a few years ago I saw a report about her (Ingrid) on TV and that totally changed the way I saw myself in dance. I started to believe in myself more and realize that where there is no representativeness, we have to create it. Today, regardless of where I manage to go or not, I want to open paths and inspire people just like she did.”
The dancer supports the importance of seeking references from black people for a better personal identification. The biggest reference for her is her own mother, who taught her a very important inspirational phrase: “One thing she tells me a lot is that ‘knowledge frees’, so I would say that phrase to people that I can inspire in some aspect. Because from the moment you start to know yourself, the practice and the history, you’re liberated in a certain way from suffering, so that there are no changes in yourself, in space and therefore in history as well.”
Amanda’s efforts are paying off. In addition to opportunities inside and outside the country, she has inspired other black children. “Last year I did a campaign for a brand of ballet products. And at the biggest dance festival in Brazil, they mounted a huge stand with my photo. I couldn’t be there, but I received a lot of messages and affection from people who saw it. I recently received a message from a mother of a black child who passed by the stand, she thanked me for the representation, said that her daughter was very excited and happy to see the photo and that she follows me on social networks, always showing her daughter as a form of encouragement,” she concludes.