“Brickbats & Tutus”: The Story of Julie Felix, Britain’s First Black Ballerina


British dancer Julie Felix, whose father hails from St. Lucia, was refused places with the London Festival Ballet and the Royal Ballet because she was “coloured,” although she had been a star pupil at the Ballet Rambert School. Later she would be hailed as “Britain’s first black professional ballet dancer,” but only after she had achieved fame through her roles with the Dance Theatre of Harlem. As quoted in the review below, “She believes that being a mixed heritage child prepared her for what was to come in her own life.”

Julie Felix’s story has been brought to life in John Plimmer’s Brickbats & Tutus (Austin Macauley Publishers, 2015). On October 1, 7:00pm, Felix will be present at a book signing at St Martin’s Girls’ School, located at Brueton Avenue (Solihull) London. Here are excerpts of Poppy Brady’s (The Voice) “Battle of Britain’s First Black Ballerina,” which tells of Felix’s heartbreak and courage to reach the top.

The world of ballet may exude much finesse and sophistication. However Julie Felix had to develop a ‘thick skin’ to become Britain’s first black professional ballet dancer.

The acclaimed artist had to overcome racism and prejudice forcing her to relocate Stateside to earn the recognition she deserved after being told her black skin would ‘mess up the line’ of white dancers for a Swan Lake production in London.

But rather than being bitter about such a soul-destroying rejection, Julie rose above it all to become a star with Dance Theatre Harlem in New York when she was barely out of her teens.

In a glittering career she has toured the world, dancing in front of US President Ronald Reagan, meeting Luciano Pavarotti, Michael Jackson and performing alongside a host of stars such as Lionel Richie and Shirley Bassey.

And now she has told her incredible life story with the help of John Plimmer, a retired head of CID with West Midlands Police turned author, who has penned her biography aptly titled Brickbats & Tutus. “There are still some parts of the book I can hardly bear to read because the memories are painful,” said Julie, who now has three grown up daughters and lives in Solihull, where she is head of dance at St Martin’s Girls’ School. “Then there are other chapters and I think to myself: ‘Did I really do all that?’ When I was young I seemed to have so much drive and determination – no one was going to hold me back whatever they said! In fact, the more barriers and obstacles put up in front of me, the more stubborn I became to succeed. I knew I had the ability, but sadly, my skin colour was against me. It shouldn’t have been like that, but I’m afraid it was and I feel it still is today for many dancers in the ballet world. Racism is still here – it’s simply become more subtle.”

Julie_FelixJulie was raised in Ealing where her mum Doreen, a white Londoner, was an amateur opera singer, while her father Patrick, who hailed from St Lucia, worked as a foreman at the Hoover Building in west London. She believes that being a mixed heritage child prepared her for what was to come in her own life.

She won a place at the renowned Rambert School of Ballet where she was chosen to dance alongside ballet icon Rudolph Nureyev in Sleeping Beauty.

Julie felt this honour had secured her future as a dancer, only to be told by a senior ballet director that she wouldn’t be able to join the company as “‘white swans have to be white swans and a black one would mess up the line’”.

But rather than being crushed by this, Julie took up an offer to join the up-and-coming Dance Theatre Harlem in New York, which had been launched by Arthur Mitchell, America’s first black ballet dancer. [. . .]

For full review, see http://www.voice-online.co.uk/article/battle-britains-first-black-ballerina

For more on Brickbats & Tutus, see http://www.amazon.com/Brickbats-Tutus-John-Plimmer/dp/1784552151

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