Black Ballerina

The documentary Black Ballerina shows that talented, determined dancers of color face formidable challenges breaking into the overwhelmingly white world of ballet. Directed by Pew Arts Fellow Frances McElroy, the film refutes a persistent myth that ours is a post-racial society. The stories of black ballerinas of different generations demonstrate how far we still have to go.

Through PBS broadcast and outreach, the film fosters dialogue about equal opportunity and social justice among those who gravitate to stories about the arts. It also presents many positive role models for young girls of color drawn to dance. The intelligent, strong, beautiful women featured in Black Ballerina pursue their dreams with passion and dedication. The film increases awareness and appreciation of these young artists and their creative contributions.

This leads to more diversity in dance schools and more support for school arts programs. By addressing culturally imposed standards of beauty, the film aims to spur more informed decision making among ballet’s gatekeepers, increase opportunities for women of color, change the racial composition of ballet companies and build a more racially diverse audience.

Collaborators include the International Association of Blacks in Dance, National Dance Education Organization, DANCE USA, Dance Films Association, Dance Heritage Coalition, SPHINX, Dance Media, LLC. Our audience awareness effort, supported by the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, includes a website, YouTube channel, Twitter and Instagram. We’re planning screenings/Q&A with dance schools, elementary/secondary, college/university students. In 2014, 300 Philadelphia arts entrepreneurs, including choreographer Debbie Allen, screened our trailer with enthusiasm. In February 2015, the Dance on Camera Festival at Lincoln Center screened and discussed our rough cut. Corps de Ballet International screened and discussed it at their recent annual conference.

Shooting is complete. Funds are being sought to finish editing and continue outreach planning.

Additional information is available at

  • Frances McElroy
    Mirror Dance; Making Waves; Ballycastle
  • Frances McElroy
    Mirror Dance; Making Waves; Ballycastle
  • Meg Sarachan
    Seductive Subversion: Women Pop Artists; The Barnes Collection
  • Eric Sennhenn
    Making Waves; Ballycastle
  • Nadine Patterson
    Outreach Producer
    Tango Macbeth; Moving with Dreaming
  • Project Type:
  • Runtime:
    1 hour
  • Completion Date:
    December 18, 2015
  • Production Budget:
    300,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    United States
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
  • Havana Film Festival
    Havana, Cuba
    "Mirror Dance"
  • ADF Internatinal Screendance Festival
    Durham, NC'
    July 15, 2015
    "Mirror Dance"
  • Latin American Film Festival, Duke University

    "Mirror Dance"
  • Cuban Research Institute, Florida Int'l University

    "Mirror Dance"
  • Festival of Women's Film and Media Arts, Washington, DC

    "Mirror Dance"
  • Reel Rasquache Film Festival, Los Angeles

    "Mirror Dance"
  • 7th Constellatioin Change Screen Dance Festival, London

    "Mirror Dance"
  • Melbourne Latino Film Festival, Melbourne, Australia

    "Mirror Dance"
  • Chicago Latino Film Festival

    "Mirror Dance"
  • San Francisco Latino Inter'l Film Festival

    "Mirror Dance"
  • Boston Latino International Film Festival

    "Mirror Dance"
  • Cine Golden Eagle, 2005

    "Mirror Dance"
Director Biography - Frances McElroy

FRANCES McELROY, Producer/Director, is a 2009 Pew Fellow in the Arts. She is founder of Shirley Road Productions, a 501(c)(3) organization. For 25 years, she has produced documentaries for public television and independent distribution, as well as videos for non-profit organizations. Her awards include the Emmy, Gabriel, CINE Golden Eagle, Latin American Studies Association Award of Merit in Film, IMAGEN, Society of Professional Journalists and the New York Festivals. She has a special interest in the confluence of social justice with arts and culture. Her work also explores the transformative power of art and place.

Frances’ current documentary, BLACK BALLERINA, is in production. It tells the story of passion, heartbreak and resilience through the personal experiences of several ballerinas from different generations who were unable to fulfill their career ambitions due to the color of their skin. An audience engagement and community outreach plan is being developed to spur change and to expand dialogue about issues of race, equity and inclusion. Funders include the National Endowment for the Arts. Frances’ major works have appeared on PBS. The ITVS-funded MIRROR DANCE (2005, co-producer/co-director, 53:00), is a story about Cuban twin sisters. Both former dancers with the National Ballet of Cuba, their once inseparable relationship was ruptured by Cold War politics. It premiered on the PBS series Independent Lens and later played on the PBS World series Global Voices. MAKING WAVES (2011, producer/director, 53:00), looks at the complexities of change and inclusion through the historic blue blood sport of rowing. BALLYCASTLE (2004, producer/director, 27:00) features Jewish American painter Stuart Shils and his transformative encounter with a remote Irish village. AN ANGEL IN THE VILLAGE (1999, producer, 56:40), also supported by ITVS, tells the story of Chinese-born artist Lily Yeh and her use of art for community development and empowerment in North Philadelphia and Nairobi, Kenya.

Prior to becoming independent in 1991, Frances was Director of Program Development and an Emmy award-winning producer at WHYY (PBS Philadelphia). She directed the 1988 international public television INPUT conference which was hosted by WHYY, Annenberg School of Communications, Temple University and International House of Philadelphia. She has served on the INPUT American program selection committee, a judge for the "Set in Philadelphia" Screen Writing Competition, and a proposal reviewer for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and ITVS. Frances has been an instructor at the Scribe Video Center and was a founding board member of the Philadelphia Independent Film/Video Association (PIFVA). Other awards include a 2010 Leeway Foundation Transformation Award and a 1998 Window of Opportunity Award also from Leeway; a Robert Flaherty Seminar artist’s residency, and various professional development grants from the PA Council on the Arts. She earlier served on the staff of the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-MASS). Frances is Board VP of the Pennsylvania Academy of Ballet Society.

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Director Statement

Frances McElroy is a 2009 Pew Arts Fellow and a Leeway Foundation Transformation Awardee. Through Shirley Road Productions, a non-profit she founded in 1991, she has produced documentaries for PBS and non-profit organizations about homelessness, food insecurity, the homebound elderly, arts and culture. "My focus is to give voice to the overlooked, to raise questions about injustice and to demonstrate the transformative power of art and place. "