Brave Ballerina author Michelle Meadows had a deep desire to spread the word about Black dancer Janet Collins.
By Michelle Meadows #DiverseKidlitNF Author of Brave Ballerina: The Story of Janet Collins (2019) Just a few years ago, my husband and I moved from the Washington D.C./Maryland area to a small beach town in Delaware. Change was in the air as I adjusted to living in a new place, making new friends, and sending our son off to college. I signed up for a ballet class to meet new people, get in shape, and get my mind off of missing my son. Fortunately, it worked! In addition to feeling better (mentally and physically) and meeting some of my best friends, the ballet class got me thinking about writing a book about the history of black ballerinas. Around the same time, Misty Copeland was named the first black female principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre. Like everyone, I was excited and Misty’s news and success further fueled my interest in learning about black ballerinas who paved the way. Deserving More Recognition As I researched different dancers, I came across information about actress and dancer Carmen de Lavallade. Carmen spoke often in interviews about the significant influence of her first cousin, Janet Collins. Janet was the first black principal dancer with the Metropolitan Opera House, and Carmen succeeded Janet in that role (after Janet left in the mid 1950s). I also noticed that other dancers spoke about Janet’s influence on their lives, such as Joan Myers Brown, founder of the Philadelphia Dance Company (PHILADANCO). This piqued my curiosity and led me to dig into Janet’s story.
Many dancers who spoke about Janet commented that she deserved much more recognition. As a black woman and a children’s book author, I wanted to address this. To help spread the word about Janet’s life, I set out to create a book that children can hold in their hands and read in schools, libraries, and homes throughout the country and beyond. The visual format of a picture book is especially fitting given Janet’s love of both dance and painting. The Importance of Role Models As part of my interest in bringing more attention to Janet’s story and accomplishments, I wanted to expose children to this amazing role model. I only learned about Janet Collins just a few years ago, and I wish that I heard her story when I was a little girl. I thought a picture book would be a great way to make sure that children of all races grow up knowing who Janet Collins is. On a recent trip to the Dance Theatre of Harlem School in New York, I felt proud to share Brave Ballerina with a diverse group of young dancers. Representation is important, and children deserve to see role models so they can envision themselves succeeding and fulfilling their dreams. * Learn more about Michelle Meadows' journey with Brave Ballerina in this interview!