Memoirs of Blacks in Ballet, founded in 2015 by writer and activist Theresa Ruth Howard to preserve and promote the stories of Black ballet dancers, is offering three weekends of interactive education and conversation this month through its 2020 Virtual Symposium. The conference, titled "Education, Communication, Restoration," encourages participants to engage in candid discussions concerning racial inequality and social justice in ballet. While it is a space that centers on Blackness, all are welcome. Held August 14, 15, 21, 22 and 28, MoBBallet's second annual symposium will allow dancers to receive mentorship and openly speak about their personal experiences in a safe and empowering environment.
The first event, For Us By Us (FUBU) Town Hall, is a free community discussion on August 14 from 3:30–4:30 pm EDT via Zoom, followed by a forum for ballet leadership. The town hall format encourages active engagement (participants can raise their hands and respond in real time), but the registration invoice also contains a form for submitting questions in advance. The following discussions, forums and presentations include topics like company life as a Black dancer, developing personal activism, issues of equity and colorism in ballet companies, and more. Tickets range from free to $12 for each 60- to 80-minute event.
While the onset of COVID-19 initiated the symposium's transition from in-person to online, Howard believes that there may be a future in continuing MoBBallet's online forum presence, since it would encourage a wider range of participants. "I think there's a need for it," she says, "and there needs to be a desire for it."
This year's conference speakers include Boston Ballet soloist Chyrstyn Fentroy; Pennsylvania Ballet principal Jermel Johnson; Spectrum Dance Theater artistic director Donald Byrd; dance and cultural historian Charmian Wells, PhD; Middlesex University senior dance lecturer Adesola Akinleye, PhD; and numerous dance historians, artistic leaders, educators and college program representatives. Howard is also excited to speak with choreographer William Forsythe in a special session titled "Centering Otherness in Ballet" on August 29 at 12 pm EDT, followed by a discussion with some of his former dancers from Ballet Frankfurt, including Francesca Harper, Alan Barnes, Ramon Flowers, Helen Pickett and Desmond Hart, from 1:10-2:30 pm EDT.
Howard emphasizes that while the symposium will be centered around the needs and experiences of Black and Brown dancers, MoBBallet welcomes all allies, historians and dancers interested in learning about the art form they love from another perspective. Visit the MoBB website for further details on times and ticket pricing, and check out the organization's Roll Call, E-Zine and timeline for a look into its compilation of Black stories throughout dance history.