Theresa Ruth Howard, founder and curator of Memoirs of Blacks in Ballet (MoBBallet). Photo by Saya Hishikawa
“Help us in dismantling the barriers to the classical forms of the arts.”
Each month we highlight a community program that aligns with the values of SoulVision Magazine. We believe engaging with one’s community is critical to fostering positive change in the world.
Memoirs of Blacks in Ballet (MoBBallet) was founded by Theresa Ruth Howard in 2015. MoBBallet “preserves, presents, and promotes the contributions, and stories of black artists in the field of ballet, illustrating that they are an integral part of dance history at large.” The idea is to be a digital museum of the history of black ballet dancers. Through oral histories, mini-docs, and articles, their accomplishments and stories will continually be available to the public.
MoBBallet serves as an extension of the diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) work Howard does for ballet and the arts.
Photo by Eva Harris.
Traditionally, the discussion of DEI focuses on numbers. Howard’s focus is on how a space feels. “It is not solely about numbers,” she explains. “Inclusion is a feeling, not an action.” Her motto is “Organizations are not constructs, they are people,” and in her conversations with clients, she challenges them to rethink not just their organizational core values, but their own. “Organizations don’t change, people do. This is why empathy is vital,” she says. “In the end, I would describe what we do as connecting people by erasing boundaries and amplifying the commonalities that bring us together. We just want to make the world a better place.”
Through her engagement with DEI work, Howard has come to appreciate its complexity. This insight has greatly influenced her overall approach. “It’s like baklava. There are so many layers and as you get deeper in, you realize it’s not simply about a lack of diversity; it is about the culture itself, the system that holds everything in place,” she explains. “I’m happy to be a part of deconstructing the hierarchical structures that have historically supported the exclusion of people of color. Elitism, classism, sexism, and racism have been socially and culturally acceptable barriers to these classical forms. I am excited, honored and amazed to be a part of this incredible shift in consciousness.”
Howard’s work to advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion reaches beyond MoBBallet. She has been called upon by Opera America for consultation and was invited to join their ALAANA Action Group. In February, Seattle Opera invited her to address the classical arts community (Symphony and Ballet) on ways to better integrate their DEI efforts and discuss black representation in the arts. Howard launched the pilot program of its MoBBallet Symposium last October in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. “It’s a multi-generational, personal development and educational intensive convening of elite and diverse faculty of black ballet professionals, pre-professional ballet students, and dance educators,” she says. She explains the symposium as a “comprehensive community” for black people in ballet. “We support, nourish, and ‘raise’ black ballet artists,” she explains.
Photo by Eva Mueller
Howard reminisces about the success of the first symposium. “It was successful beyond my wildest imaginations,” she says. “It was a giving, sharing, and healing experience for both the students and their mentors.” She plans to expand the symposium to an entire week instead of three days. “This means we are in the process of fundraising, so we can offer scholarships and travel stipends for our participants,” she says. “We believe economics should not be a barrier to such a singular experience.” Ballet is for everyone. The arts are for everyone. With Howard’s help, we will see a culture that looks more like the world we live in. Dance, like love, is universal.