Ruth Essel: Meet The Woman Behind The Black-Owned Ballet School Empowering Young Dancers

by Gee NY

In the heart of London, a remarkable story of empowerment, representation, and artistic growth unfolds at the Pointe Black Ballet School.

Documented by photographer Alishia Abodunde over a 10-month period, the story sheds light on a pioneering effort led by Ruth Essel, the founder of Pointe Black.

This ballet school is more than just a dance studio; it’s a haven for young Black ballet dancers to embrace their true selves and pursue their dreams with newfound confidence.

Pointe Black’s journey is a testament to the importance of representation in the world of ballet and the positive impact it has on aspiring dancers. Alishia Abodunde’s documentary work captures the growth and transformation of students who, by participating in Pointe Black, find a space where they can express themselves authentically. Abodunde’s images and interviews showcase their dedication and the supportive environment fostered by Ruth Essel.

Essel’s own experiences as a young Black ballet dancer navigating predominantly white spaces drove her to establish Pointe Black in 2020. Remarkably, she manages the school entirely on her own, teaching her students, organizing showcases, and even handling the music.

Despite the lack of external funding, Essel pours her heart and soul into the school to provide her students with the best possible ballet education.

To prepare for their performance of “Brick Road,” Essel treated her students to a memorable watch party of “The Wiz,” a 1978 film with an all-Black cast.

Abodunde captured the joy and camaraderie shared by the girls, providing a glimpse into the deep bond between students and their dedicated teacher.

Alishia Abodunde’s journey as a documentary photographer began with her pandemic project “Locked Down,” which focused on the daily lives of two young children during the global pandemic.

This experience equipped her with the skills needed to build trust with her subjects and present their stories authentically.

Essel takes a selfie with her students as they gather at her apartment to watch the musical film “The Wiz” together in preparation for a performance.

Since the publication of Abodunde’s story by Reuters in early October, Pointe Black has garnered attention from all corners of the globe. Essel’s dedication has inspired donations from supporters worldwide, while parents are reaching out to see how their children can become part of this inspirational dance school.

In addition to raising awareness, the story serves as a testament to the power of representation in the arts and how it encourages young artists to follow their dreams when they see themselves reflected in the world around them.

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