The Brown Skin Dancer By Myra Lewis
At the age of 12, a pivotal moment occurred in my life during my summer dance rehearsals. My dance teacher directed me, in front of the entire class, to “suck in.” When I proceeded to pull in my abs with every breath in my body, she began to focus her attention on my buttock. She was convinced that she could make it disappear. It was both embarrassing and eye-opening for me. I knew at that moment my teacher, of many years, would never understand my Black body. While dance has been one of my greatest joys, it has also been where I have experienced some of my greatest sadness. Dance is where I first learned how the world sees me, but it is also where I learned to see myself.
Most of my dance career I was the only Black child in the class. While I was thin and petite, I was a lot curvier than my white classmates. Initially, this was not an issue because of my youthful love for dance. I have been dancing since I could walk; I may have even done a pirouette before skipping or running. It never dawned on me until that summer that the essence of who I was, this beautiful brown dancer, was simply an anomaly in this space. I expected to receive critiques about my dance technique, but I never expected to receive criticism about the very core of who I was. My back was never straight enough because I had a natural sway and curves, my ballet bun could never lay flat because of my box braids, and my pointe shoes were never quite the color of my dark brown skin.
It was dance that made me aware of my Black skin, my Black body, and question my beauty and the intricacies of my figure. It was the thing I loved most that made me the most insecure. I spent many days staring into the mirror questioning everything about myself. Was I too dark? Was I too curvy? Was my hair not straight enough? I was a broken little girl.
It took some time for me to see myself as a beautiful, talented, and a perfectly made young woman again. But I did, and I moved to a new studio. This move took an incredible amount of courage and strength. I began to study Black dancers. I searched for dance opportunities that affirmed my beauty. I surrounded myself with mentors and teachers that pushed me without degrading my physique. Finally, I began to speak life into myself through positive affirmations. I learned to not allow others to define how I see myself. I have never been more proud of my kinky hair, my swayed back, my beautiful curves, and my chocolatey skin tones. So, through dance I have learned to carve out my own space and be my best version of a brown skin dancer.