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Ballet West ballerinas advocate for dancers of color

<i>KSTU via CNN Newsource</i><br/>FOX 13 News spoke with Katlyn Addison and Jazz Bynum
Willingham, James
KSTU via CNN Newsource
FOX 13 News spoke with Katlyn Addison and Jazz Bynum

By April Baker

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    SALT LAKE CITY (KSTU) — Ballet West is celebrating a major milestone, selling out nearly all of its 10 Swan Lake shows. They say it’s the highest attendance in more than 40 years.

FOX 13 News spoke with Katlyn Addison and Jazz Bynum, professional ballerinas who are setting an example for dancers of color.

The women have studied ballet since they were around three years old.

“For female, classical ballerinas, you start so young, and you have to have that focus,” Addison reflected.

While Addison first worked to perfect her craft in Canada, Bynum began studying ballet in Maryland. Eventually, their different paths, yet similar visions, led them to Ballet West in Salt Lake City.

Bynum is a company corps artist, part of the group of dancers on stage. Addison is Ballet West’s first black principal dancer, the highest rank a dancer can reach within a professional dance company.

It’s an incredible accomplishment that takes on even more meaning when Addison remembers the uncontrollable obstacles standing in her path to success.

“I have had plenty of times where I was compared to another dancer that doesn’t look like me and just because they were white, they got the role, and I was just as good as them,” Addison reflected. “It made me more persistent and…dot all my ‘I’s’ and cross all my ‘T’s’ to make sure that there was no excuse why I’m not in that role.”

Like Addison, Bynum also faced unfair treatment because of her skin color when she was a younger dancer.

She remembers a time when she couldn’t learn a step quickly during rehearsal.

“The teachers pulled me aside and told me that they were going to let another girl go in who was white and that she was going to finish the rehearsal,” Bynum explained.

Although Bynum spent the rest of that specific rehearsal perfecting the move, she was never put back in that role. She said it wasn’t the only time that a similar situation happened in her career.

While they’ve never faced this type of treatment at Ballet West, the dance company has been working harder in recent years to improve its culture for dancers of color.

Both women have been involved in that process; however, Addison has worked countless hours with Artistic Director Adam Sklute to create new policies from the ground-up.

One policy includes allowing black and brown dancers to wear tights that match their natural skin tone rather than pink.

Both women explained that the tights help to create unique confidence within dancers.

Moving forward, Addison and Bynum said they will continue their advocating work, all while continuing to dream big for themselves.

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