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Pacific Northwest Ballet elects first Black principal dancer

The announcement comes during the 50-year anniversary of the Seattle-based company.

Oct 17, 2022

The Pacific Northwest Ballet (PNB) has made history by naming Jonathan Batista its first-ever Black principal dancer.

The Seattle-based ballet company is also celebrating its 50-year anniversary, KUOW reports.

“This is a moment for us,” Batista told the outlet. He joined the organization as a soloist last year and was recently promoted to principal dancer. “Being the first Black dancer in 50 years of Pacific Northwest Ballet, this is a moment for young Black boys, young Black girls, that want to dance, that want to see themselves on that stage.”

PNB has a total of 46 dancers nine of whom identify as Black, including Batista.

Speaking to The Seattle Medium, Batista noted the discipline required for the art form. “You have to really be invested in order for you to become a ballet dancer, a professional ballet dancer, you have to invest all your time in your being, your mind, your body,” he explained. “And once I started traveling and communicating with people, I think that is when I fell in love with ballet.”

During his career, Batista has performed with ballet companies from the UK to Canada, and occasionally he was the only Black dancer, according to KUOW.

But it wasn’t until London that he first saw a Black principal dancer on stage, who, at the time, was “the first Black principal dancer in the history of that company,” Batista told The Medium. “That experience would really influence my journey and what I would become today.”

In his youth, Batista’s parents sought to protect him from crime and other dangers in his native City of God in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil by involving him in various activities such as dance classes, sports and martial arts.

“I think my parents were very smart in this sense to really place me everywhere, to place me in every activity,” he said. “I always had to study and do things and their hopes were that I would identify myself with one of these things.”

Continued Batista, “I was a very busy kid. I went from ballroom dancing to drama theater, to martial arts, I did DJing, graffiti, piano, guitar, swimming, basketball, volleyball you name it.”

Reflecting on his career, he believes it has had a specific purpose. “I inform people when it comes to my career, I feel like my career has been a tool to open doors for the current and next generation and I feel like I have been on a mission.”

Batista really appreciates the PNB milestone, KUOW reported. “It is such an honor to be in this position,” he said. “It also is a moment where I think, ‘Wow, it took 50 years for Black man, for Black person, to become a principal dancer.”

Oct 17, 2022

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