This Black Ballerina Was Told To Paint Her Face White To Perform

picture of janet collins
Briona Lamback
December 22, 2021

She danced her way onto the audition stage with grace, and a hush fell over the room of white judges. They stood stunned in disbelief that a Black ballerina as good as Janet Collins existed. 

She was accepted into the ballet company – but only on one racist condition. 

She had to paint her face white! The company wanted her to disguise her Blackness to perform with them. But despite being only fifteen years old, Collins refused to stoop so low. 

Instead, she pivoted – and ultimately made some big moves.

Collins performed in Vaudeville shows and theater troupes, and eventually performed her own choreography during her 1949 New York debut. She kept grinding – and soon her star power was undeniable.

She danced her way into the top spot as the first Black prima ballerina with the ultra-prestigious Metropolitan Opera House! 

Jim Crow laws still kept her off the stage when the company toured in Southern states. Despite this, Collins never gave up on her dreams, never danced in white face, and later taught dance to other under-represented dancers.

No matter how great we've been at our crafts, as Black folks, white supremacy has always been there trying to stop us or make us deny our Blackness to succeed. But despite these racist barriers, we have to remain resilient and pursue excellence anyway!

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