Black Girls With Braids Reportedly Banned From Harlem Production of Black Nutcracker

Illustration for article titled Black Girls With Braids Reportedly Banned From Harlem Production of Black Nutcracker
Screenshot: PIX-11

Even in one of The Root’s Blackest Cities in America—black girls can’t wear natural hair for a black-themed musical production.


This is the scenario that reportedly played out at Uptown Dance Academy’s production of “Black Nutcracker” in Harlem on Thursday.

According to PIX11, Lisa Skinner said her two daughters —9-year-old April and 10-year-old Brooke—were banned from the annual fundraiser show because the girls choose to wear their hair in braids.

The girls have been students at the school for three years, under the tutelage of teacher and founder of the school, Robin Williams.

“She said to me if they show up in braids to the ‘Black Nutcracker,’ they will not be permitted to participate,” said Skinner.

For safety reasons, it has always been the rule that dancers must secure their hair in a bun.

Skinner said her daughters were told no braids, even if it’s tied up in a bun this year.


“They were expelled from the school because I would not adhere to this ludicrous policy and [Williams] said to me then I will send you a refund of your ticket purchase money,” she said.

Robin Williams
Robin Williams
Photo: Uptown Dance Academy

“It’s a Black Nutcracker, it’d be different if it’s the original Nutcracker,” Brooke said. “My braids, I really like them, they describe me.”

”I feel bad I can’t participate just because of my hair,” April shared. ” My hair is a part of myself, and I was born with this type of hair.”


A new state law signed July 12 by Gov. Andrew Cuomo outlawed racial discrimination based on natural hairstyles. That includes wearing afros, braids, cornrows, fades, Bantu knots, twists and locs, USA Today reported.

Prior to Thursday’s sold-out performance of “Black Nutcracker,” Williams posted the following statement on the Uptown Dance Academy’s website.

I, Robin Williams, have never ever during my 50+ years in dance told Black girls their braids are not beautiful.

We have performed the Black Nutcracker in Harlem and the Bronx for 25 years at the Apollo, Aaron Davis Hall, Oberia Dempsey Theater and other venues. As a Ballet Academy, our policy has always been that students wear their hair in a bun for classes whether it’s braided or not. However, for a Traditional Classical Ballet Production, our policy has always been for all the dancers to wear their hair in an unbraided classical ballet bun.

For our Photo Day, June, and Summer Recitals students are allowed to wear their hair in any style they want as long as it isn’t dangerous for acrobatic stunts. Extremely long or thick braids and beaded hairstyles are definitely dangerous for young trainees while turning and flipping.

Uptown Dance Academy has trained students to be adaptive to all professional training programs. Most professional dance schools require you to wear buns for training and especially for performances. In classical ballet, the hairstyle is expected to be the same for each female.

Parents were not told they couldn’t perform if they wore braids, they were told they cannot perform if they don’t follow policies.


According to PIX11, the young girls’ story caught the attention of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, who offered the family complimentary tickets to their Christmas Eve show at New York’s City Center.


Gameface doesn`t play nice with others

I, Robin Williams, have never ever during my 50+ years in dance told Black girls their braids are not beautiful.

No you have shown them with the continuation of your culturally exclusionary policy. Your actions have spoken more volumes than you telling them could ever do about the value of their hair and by extension, their value of conforming to a society that already undervalues them.

It’s bad enough when we get if from other folks but even worse when we get it from our own. While I completely understand the policy of the bun, the braids is a natural hairstyle worn by Black women for millennia. Last I checked, raids can be put up quite nicely and neatly in a bun without fear of “danger during acrobatics.” Ms. Williams should have taken this into account - especially in a production titled BLACK Nutcracker (I don’t know whats the point of the added description but whatever.) If I’m paying to see an all or predominately Black production, I EXPECT to see braids, cornrows, maybe even short hair styles (fades or bald - on the women) what I don’t expect to see is a woman who has self-described 50+ years in dance create and continue a policy that is used against her own community members to exclude them from work, the military (the policy changed, then changed again, then changed once more) and yes, dance. In ballet in particular, our women have historically had difficulty being seen as competent or beautiful enough to be included in THEIR productions. Hence the creation of Alvin Ailey and the Dance Theater of Harlem. Let these girls be who they are - naturally. If they pursue dance professionally when they get older, they will, I’m sure, be faced with the choice of whether to wear their hair in natural styles or conform to the requirements of whomever they choose to work for - but this? At this age, and for this (and I CANNOT overstate this enough) BLACK production of the nutcracker, she needs a history lesson to perhaps help her to see the value of acceptance of her cultural heritage in public spaces.