Black youths being pushed away from arts, says Britain’s first black ballerina

Britain’s first black professional ballerina has said it is “difficult” for young black people to pursue careers in the arts, despite “improving” attitudes towards discrimination in the industry.

Julie Felix, of Looe, Cornwall, was forced to travel to the US in the 1970s after a ballet company in London excluded her “because of the colour of (her) skin”.

Ms Felix received her MBE for services to dance education from the Princess Royal in a ceremony held at Buckingham Palace on Wednesday – an honour which came after a decades-long career as a dancer, teacher, coach and author.

Investitures at Buckingham palace
Ms Felix said the MBE meant “so much” to her and wanted to be able to “give back everything” she has learned over the years (Jonathan Brady/PA)

The dancer told the PA news agency: “Unfortunately, due to the issues with the lack of funding in education and in the arts, it is proving difficult for any young person that wants to train at a high level.”

“For people of colour, it’s even more difficult because of the price that it costs to pursue a career in the arts, ballet lessons, music lessons, anything like that.

“It’s really, really costly and so I think to have the opportunity for council funding or other funding to be more readily available for every young person is really, really essential.”

The former Birmingham Royal Ballet teacher, who is an honorary fellow at Falmouth University, said artistic crafts such as ballet were important extracurricular activities for young people which could “really change their perspective on life”.

“It gets a young person out when they know there’s an opportunity, especially for dance and ballet, just to have something after school and being able to relate to a (teacher) who is able to show them that there’s more to life than just going home and not doing anything,” she added.

Ms Felix said being awarded the MBE “means so much to me” and she wanted to “be able to give back everything that I’ve learned and my experience of travelling (and) being on stage”.

She added: “Last week, I was invited to be on a panel at the Royal Opera House (for) a black, British ballet across the Atlantic.

“It was lovely to see black ballet dancers being brought over to perform at the event, along with members of the Royal Ballet Company.

“So that showed me that things are improving.”

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