I think that having a platform and having a voice to be seen by people beyond the classical ballet world has really been my power, I feel.
That something that I fought so hard for throughout the beginning of my career is I didn't want to pancake my skin a lighter color to fit into the... ballet. I wanted to be myself. I didn't want to have to wear makeup that made my nose look thinner.
Being the only African American at this level in American Ballet Theater, I feel like people are looking at me, and it's my responsibility for me to do whatever I can to provide these opportunities in communities to be able to educate them.
My first ballet class was on a basketball court. I'm in my gym clothes and my socks trying to do this thing called ballet. I didn't know anything about it.
There are no taking days off. There are no distractions. If I had that, I physically wouldn't be capable of going onstage and performing live theater. It's extremely demanding. I have to be in ballet class every day.
Being in ballet class, being on the stage, being surrounded by my peers at American Ballet Theater every day, keeps me so humble and grounded. Being in ballet class, I feel, is like this meditation for me every morning.
Ballet was so structured. I'd been craving something that could guide me.
Ballet found me, I guess you could say. I was discovered by a teacher in middle school. I always danced my whole life. I never had any training, never was exposed to seeing dance, but I always had something inside of me. I would love to choreograph and dance around.
I want to bring awareness to the lack of diversity in ballet, and feel like that's a large part of my purpose.
I think American Ballet Theatre is setting that standard now for classical ballet, that you can dream big, and it doesn't matter what you look like, where you come from, what your background is.
My family didn't have very much money, so ballet wasn't even on my radar; I just found it randomly when I was 13 at a Boys & Girls Club. We were practicing in a basketball court in gym clothes with some old socks on. Even though it terrified me at first, I found that I really liked it.
When I was 16, I moved to Torrance, California to train at a more advanced studio, and by 19, I joined the American Ballet Theatre in New York. It all happened so fast - it was pretty unheard of that someone could train for so few years and become a professional at one of the most elite dance companies in the United States.
Finding ballet gave me passion for the first time in my life. I was always very shy and just wanted to fit in; I never daydreamed about what I wanted to be when I grew up. But dancing gave me a connection to my personality that made me grow.
Ballet became this escape for me. I feel like I was on my own a lot. I was searching for stability, so I was going off on my own and imagining what I thought stability was. Ballet became a way for me to cope.
I want the ballet world to be given the respect that it deserves and to be seen by more people - for so many to experience the beauty that I've received from the ballet world.
Most ballerinas take their first ballet class when they are 5 or 6 years old. I was 13 when I took mine on the basketball court of the San Pedro Boys & Girls Club in California.
I didn't care how much work it would take, and I didn't see the time invested as a waste or like I was missing out on anything. Ballet became my ultimate passion.
Once you become a professional, to get through a ballet like 'Swan Lake' - four acts as the lead, changing character - the perseverance is incredible. It takes a lot to make it through and keep the same energy throughout the entire performance.
I think all dancers are control freaks a bit. We just want to be in control of ourselves and our bodies. That's just what the ballet structure, I think, kind of puts inside of you.
Barack Obama being President of the United States doesn't mean racism has disappeared. It's all a process, and we have to be aware that the work never ends.