The organization promotes diversity in the arts.
ANDERSON, Ind. – A young ballerina in Anderson becomes an inspiration to girls across the country.
Alaya Walker has been chosen as an ambassador for Brown Girls Do Ballet, an organization that promotes diversity in the arts.
It’s a positivity program that empowers dancers of color and ensures that classical ballet is welcoming to all girls who want to take the stage.
Almost every day after school, Alaya Walker is in the studio, perfecting her technique at the Anderson Young Ballet Theatre. At only 12 years old, she performs with the skill and grace of a much more seasoned dancer.
Classical ballet is her passion.
“She lit up immediately and we knew that was what she wanted to do,” said Alaya’s mother, Shelia Fakhreddine.
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“So much,” Alaya said with a laugh. “I would like to surprise myself at school, like doing hallway dances and I would surprise myself, like, dancing at home and my mom would have to tell me to go to bed at night.”
“There’s just an inner light in this kid,” said Jennifer Thiemet, Alaya’s dance teacher and artistic director of AYBT. “It’s always been there since she was little, and you see it as soon as you start talking to her and you see it as soon as she starts dancing.”
But what Alaya saw when she started dancing at another studio was very few other ballerinas of color to emulate and cheer on.
“Ballet in particular is notorious for not having diversity,” Thiemet said.
“When I came here, there was another brunette girl. In my class, there weren’t many other girls who looked like me,” Alaya said. “So I was a bit shy and just kept myself.”
But as her studio diversified, Alaya found mentors, gained confidence in the classroom, and flourished on stage. Just this Christmas, she was cast as the lead in AYBT’s “The Nutcracker.”
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“It’s very easy to get into something when you have everyone looking like you,” Alaya’s mother said. “But when you walk into something and there are others who don’t look like you or look like you? You feel like you’re the odd one out and it’s okay to be different. It’s okay not to be like everyone else and she needed to know she could be a dancer.”
TaKiyah Wallace experienced the same thing ten years ago when her daughter started dancing in Texas.
“I was going to local dance websites and I didn’t see a lot of kids who looked like her on those websites,” Wallace said. “Seeing someone who looks like you is so important.”
That’s why Wallace founded Brown Girls Do Ballet.
At first it was a photography project, sharing positive images on Instagram. When it went viral, Wallace decided to do more, promoting diversity in dance with mentorships and scholarships, advocating for things like varying skin tones in tights and pointy shoes, so that the lines of brown ballerinas are elongated, like everyone else.
“And it’s really nice to have this sisterhood of other girls going through the same thing that you can talk about, like, ‘Oh my God, how did you put your braids in that ballet bun, because I have a hard time with this?” Wallace said.
At its grassroots, Brown Girls Do Ballet connects ballerinas of color nationwide and encourages them to keep dancing.
“Every weekend I travel for the project and get in touch with another parent who says ‘thank you for doing this’. You have no idea how much it helped his self-esteem and motivated her to keep going,'” Wallace said.
Alaya Walker is now part of this mission. While browsing social media with her mom several months ago, they discovered Brown Girls Do Ballet and its young ambassador program.
“My mom, she saw pictures of brunette girls in different poses and I was like, ‘That’s really cool.’ We saw the ambassadors and my mom was like, ‘You should try this, you should try this, and I said, ‘I don’t know, I might not understand!'” Wallace said.
Out of thousands of applicants, she got it. She is one of 33 girls selected as 2022 ambassadors, not only for her talent as a dancer but also for her leadership qualities at school and in the studio.
“She’s always been a beautiful dancer. She’s always been a beautiful performer. She’s always been a hard worker. But this selection process? They’re very demanding,” Thiemet said. “They want good mentors and you have to be selective.”
“I imagine you think she’s going to be a great mentor,” 13News asked her.
“She already is. She already is,” Thiemet said.
Over the next year, Alaya will mentor young ballerinas, participate in social media campaigns, help with costume collection and volunteer work, and serve as a role model. She once had a photoshoot for a Black History Month video and said she couldn’t wait for the in-person mentorship.
“I think being an inspiration to young girls is super cool. I’ve always wanted to do that,” Alaya said.
This young dancer is raising the bar for ballerinas nationwide.
“She had no self-confidence when she started dancing and I saw her grow up,” Fakhreddine said. “I can’t wait to see her be a leader and a mentor for other girls, other brunette ballerinas.”
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