In Misty’s footsteps: Ballerina with Caribbean Roots

ballerina

The full title of this article by Richard Johnson, (Jamaica Observer), is “In Misty’s footsteps: Ballerina with Jamaican roots steps into the spotlight.” Johnson writes that “ballerina Misty Copeland continues to inspire young girls of colour worldwide to achieve the highest in the world of ballet,” focusing on the case of Erica Lall, a dancer whose parents hail from Jamaica and Trinidad.

That story rings true for 19-year-old Erica Lall, a dancer in the corps de ballet of the prestigious American Ballet Theater (ABT), the same company for which Copeland is currently a principal dancer.

Lall, who was this year named among the ’25 To Watch’ by the industry glossy Dance Magazine, was born in Cypress, Texas, a community in Harris County just outside Houston in the United States, to a Jamaican mother and a Trinidadian father. Her mother, Hermoine White, is originally from Linstead, St Catherine, but grew up in Kingston.

Lall’s journey from Texas to New York and ABT is one which is different yet similar to that of Copeland, who is set to perform here in Jamaica on August 31 and September 1.

“I started dancing when I was two. I was going to classes with my sister who is eight years older. At first I would just watch, but then I was clearly into it and at four I was placed in my first dance class. I did tap, jazz, hip hop and contemporary, then started ballet at nine… I just loved the challenge that ballet offered once I got into it.” Lall later enrolled into the Houston Ballet Academy, which meant her parents would do a one-and-a-quarter hour commute each way daily to take her to and from classes. But they did as they too recognised that their little girl was committed to ballet.

If she wasn’t already committed to the dance form, a meeting with Copeland at 13 sealed the deal. “I participated in my first summer intensive organised by ABT in Dallas. As part of the programme, I had the chance to have dinner with Misty and I remember her being so encouraging. I was so in awe of her as a young, black girl seeing another woman of colour in ballet.” Little would she know that this was the first of a long line of association with Copeland.

Coming out of that summer intensive, Lall would win an ABT training scholarship which saw her jetting off to New York the following summer. The directors of ABT in New York were so impressed by her that she was offered a permanent spot in their school, but her Caribbean parents were not too sure they wanted their teenage daughter living alone in the Big Apple.

“Initially my parents said ‘no’. So on the day of our final performance that summer, the directors cleared the auditorium and met with my parents. My parents were concerned that I wasn’t prepared to be on my own. But the school convinced them and I was too glad to move to New York. I lived in a tiny partment with a room-mate with no cooking facilities, just a small bunk bed. Luckily, I’ve had no crazy experiences,” Lall told the Jamaica Observer.

In New York she again came in contact with Copeland.

“It was day one and Misty walks by the door. She turned around and comes into the studio and said, ‘I remember you’… I felt the earth move. I had no idea she would remember meeting me the summer before in Texas. Since then she has been like a sister to me.”

It has been a climb up the ranks for Lall. Starting in the fall of 2014, she climbed two levels in one year and within months she was invited to join the studio company for a full year; serving her apprenticeship with multiple roles in The Nutcracker. By May 2016 she rose to a member of ABT’s corps de ballet. All this time under the watchful eyes of Copeland.

“The first time we danced on stage together was in Swan Lake. I was part of the corps and she a principal. We only had about three or four rehearsals together, but the bond was really amazing and she brought so much to the stage. You see her perform and you fall in love with ballet. She says a lot. But it’s most that ballet required a lot of hard work and dedication, especially for a woman of colour, and you have to be two hundred times better than everyone else as most people see colour ahead of talent.”

The New York experience brought home one of the concerns Lall had about ballet — the lack of diversity. To address this, in addition to her classes at ABT, she also enrolled at the all-black Dance Theater of Harlem.

“I wanted to feel more comfortable in my skin. There I could wear tights and point shoes that matched my own skin. I was usually the only dark girl in most of my classes and and was constantly told things like, ‘Don’t stay in the sun; we don’t want you to get too tanned.’ I have always used that as a push and being around people who looked like me at Dance Theater of Harlem.”

Lall was recently in Jamaica on a well-deserved holiday following ABT’s rigorous season at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, which ran from mid-May until the first week in July. There were seven shows a week with warm-up and rehearsal running from 10:30 am to 5:15 pm five days a week, and the shows which lasted three hours

“I have been coming to Jamaica since I was born. My grandparents had a house in Kingston and we would always come there. I was in my early teens when I realised that Jamaica was such a huge part of me. I just love the people… always so welcoming and warm. You don’t get that anywhere else… I feel like I’m at home when I’m here. Then there is the food… nothing like a festival and a snapper. But my favourite thing about Jamaica are the mangoes; I can’t get enough mangoes,” she gushed.

[Many thanks to Peter Jordens for bringing this item to our attention and providing all related links. Source: http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/entertainment/in-misty-s-footsteps_139138?profile=1116]

For more about Erica Lall, see:
http://ericalall.com
https://www.instagram.com/erica_lall
https://www.abt.org/people/erica-lall
https://www.elle.com/culture/a21345276/erica-lall-ballerina-abt-profile and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sP3L2OqEARA
http://www.blacdetroit.com/BLAC-Detroit/January-2018/As-American-Ballet-Theatres-Romeo-Juliet-Dances-into-Town-Corps-de-Ballet-Dancer-Erica-Lall-Talks-Success-and-Diversity
https://www.dancemagazine.com/25-to-watch-erica-lall-2513591973.html

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