‘Dance is but a reflection of life, and life is for everyone’ | Ballet Virginia combines classical ballet, diverse stories

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The company puts representation and diversity first. Their next production will be Sleeping Beauty in April.

NORFOLK, Va. — From The Nutcracker to Sleeping Beauty, Ballet Virginia brings classical ballet to Hampton Roads — and they bring diversity, too.

Lydia Roberts Coco has danced and choreographed ballets for years in a space where dancers of color haven’t always been in the spotlight.

“Diversity in dance is important because our society is diverse,” said Coco Roberts.

But diversity in dance is not limited to skin color. It’s about telling everyone’s stories.

As Artistic Director of Ballet Virginia Professional Company, Roberts Coco brought the story of the Central Park Five to life in a production called “Beauty + Truth.”

In 1989, a group of teenagers were forced to falsely confess to the brutal rape of a female jogger. It is a moving story about the injustice that touches us closely.

“The day after this weekend of this wonderful performance, one of our male guest artists was racially profiled,” Roberts Coco said.

“I spoke to him and said, ‘You know, I’m really sorry this happened to you. And her response was, “I’m fine Miss Lydia. I’m used to it.” And it broke my heart, because nobody should be used to that.”

Roberts Coco said giving everyone a chance on stage — and giving every story a chance to be told — can inspire others.


Montes Pirtle, a dancer, said he wanted to pave the way for others.

“I feel like in the dance world, a lot of us people of color aren’t seen as much,” he said.

“There are so many young people, young people and old people who had dreams and aspirations of being a dancer and who wanted to be included in such a sacred and codified art.”

He said diversity in dance is something his mother never expected when she was younger.

“My mom, she wants to be a dancer but she didn’t think she could,” Pirtle said. “She didn’t think as a young African-American woman that she could do ballet or jazz, and be seen and be taken seriously.”

Pirtle is proof that things are changing and barriers are breaking down; partly because through art, we all share a common language.

“Dance is just a reflection of life, and life is about everyone, not just a certain color,” Roberts Coco said.

“I read somewhere that – diversity is like being invited to the party, invited to the dance, and inclusivity is actually having the chance to dance once you’re there.”

Ballet Virginia is currently rehearsing for their upcoming production of Sleeping Beauty. You can catch a performance in April at the Sandler Center for the Performing Arts.

You can purchase tickets online at sandlercenter.org. Tickets range from $22 to $47.

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