By Amanda Foust
It’s not hard to find ballet classes or programs for kids interested in learning the art of dance.
What’s more rare, however, are ballerinas from minority groups, which is why TaKiyah Wallace and Brittani Marie created Brown Girls Do Ballet, a website that provides resources, networking, scholarships and more to girls of African, Hispanic, Asian, Indian and Native American Ancestry.
Earlier this year, the website named Alexandra Manuel of Carmel as one of the 5 to Watch in 2016, a list that highlights the talents and efforts of top young ballerinas from across the nation.
“Alexandra was chosen for this year’s 5 to Watch list based on her passion, dedication, and advanced skill level at such a young age,” said Wallace, founder and CEO of Brown Girls Do Ballet. “She is also a great student and a positive role model for the young dancers that come behind her, which is very important to us as an organization that pushes mentorship.
“All of these qualities will take her far as principal dancer of a major professional ballet company in the future.”
Alexandra, 12, was thrilled to receive the honor.
“I am so excited,” she said. “I really love dance, and I dance with a lot of really good dancers.”
Alexandra trains at the Indiana Ballet Conservatory in Carmel and has been a part of their programs under Artistic Director Alyona Yakovleva-Randall since she was eight. She studies technique, pointe, character, contemporary, modern, jazz and repertoire and is in her first year of IBC’s Professional Training Program.
“Indiana Ballet Conservatory inspires me to do my best every day,” she said.
Alexandra comes from a family committed to building the local arts community. Her father, Rob Manuel, is president of the University of Indianapolis and is dedicated to the school’s tradition of making the arts a priority.
“We love to see people round out their own view of the world through more than one medium,” Rob Manuel said.
Wilmara Manuel, Alexandra’s mother, works as the IBC interim executive director and homeschools her daughter while she pursues her professional dance training full-time. With 20 hours a week of practice, Alexandra is pursuing her dream of being a professional dancer with full force.
“We are proud to be a part of this community, and we love the arts,” Wilmara Manuel said.
Although well-versed in the arts, both mother and daughter admit there was a learning curve when it came to finding costumes and practice outfits that would complement Alexandra’s skin tone. Wilmara said she found valuable support from the Brown Girls Do Ballet website.
“We see now that there are lots of dancers of color out there, and (Brown Girls Do Ballet) was a good forum to find resources, inspiration and support,” Wilmara said.
Not only has the website offered support, but Alexandra’s teachers and fellow dancers have also challenged and encouraged her along the way.
“There are at least five faculty teachers who have been on the world stage at one point and are now dedicated to teaching the next generation of professionals,” Rob said.
Wilmara agrees that IBC has been crucial to her daughter’s success.
“The dedication of the entire team is what makes this work,” she said.
Alexandra continued her pursuit of becoming a professional dancer this summer by participating in a five-week intensive at IBC before heading to The School of American Ballet California Workshop for Young Dancers, conducted at the studios of Maple Conservatory of Dance in Irvine, Calif. She also spent a week training in Monaco after receiving a scholarship for the Princess Grace Academy of Dance at the Youth America Grand Prix 2016 New York Finals.
Favorite food: Popcorn
Favorite type of music: Anything ballet, Beyonce and pop music
Inspiration: “My ballet girls, coach Miss Alyona, Svetlana Evengnia, prima ballerina at Bolshoi Ballet, Svetlana Zakharova, and principal dancer at Bolshoi Ballet.”
Interesting Fact: Speaks French fluently
Danced with World Stage Dancers: Franco deVita, Gillian Murphy, Guillaume Cote, Darci Kistler and Amanda McKerrow
Dream for the future: Training at Bolshoi Academy and dancing with the Bolshoi Ballet Company
- Hope Award (March 2016) – Youth America Grand Prix Indianapolis Regionals
- 5 to Watch in 2016 – Brown Girls Do Ballet
- 3rd Place Classical, Top 12 Contemporary (February 2016 )- Youth America Grand Prix Chicago Regionals
- 1st Place Classical, 2nd Place Contemporary (January 2016) – World Ballet Art Competition Toronto, Canada
- 3rd Place Contemporary, Top 12 Classical (January 2015) -Youth America Grand Prix Chicago Regionals