Meet Brittani Marie, Co-Founder of Brown Girls Do Ballet
[dropcap background="no" color="#333333"]R[/dropcap]epresentation matters. We know that’s true about Hollywood, the business world, and the tech industry but one industry you might not have considered is dance – more specifically, ballet. Diversity in the dance world is a hot topic right now. With the rise to popularity of Misty Copeland, the first African American female principal dancer in the American Ballet Company, has come the question: why are we so shocked (and amazed) to see a non-white ballerina excelling at her craft? That’s exactly the narrative Brown Girls Do Ballet is working to shift. What started as a photography project with founder Takiyah Wallace photographing, well, brown girls doing ballet, in hopes of making sure her own daughter had role models who looked like her in the dance world has turned into a full-fledged movement, an organization providing support through scholarships and networks to women and girls of color in ballet. This week, we chatted with Brittani Marie, the organization’s co-founder and VP of business development, about why she’s joined this powerful movement and what’s in store for Brown Girls Do Ballet.[divider type="dashed" spacing="10"]
Introduce yourself! Tell us who you are and what you do.
[dropcap background="no" color="#333333"]M[/dropcap]y name is Brittani Marie. I am an adventurous, native Texan who spent her childhood gracing stages as a brown ballerina. As the current Co-Founder & VP of Business Development at Brown Girls do Ballet, I am charged with essentially identifying strategies to generate revenue and fund our initiatives. Some of our funding activities include brand partnerships, events, and of course photographing countless amazing dancers across the US. My day-to-day tasks vary from lots of pitching, proposal writing, and managing our own projects. I wear a lot of hats! Yet, it’s exhilarating to know your work is making a difference. I feel really fortunate to have found something I’m good at and actually love it![wc_divider style="solid" line="double" margin_top="5" margin_bottom="5"]
What made you decide to join Brown Girls Do Ballet as a co-founder?
[dropcap background="no" color="#333333"]E[/dropcap]ven after 3 years, I think I’m still discovering more reasons why I joined Brown Girls Do Ballet®. The initial interest began with my love for ballet. While I never went professional, there is still nothing that surmounts the excitement of bowing after a performance or the power in channeling your emotions through movement. But I soon began to reflect on the exposure ballet gave me as a young girl and realized the how it could be a platform to empower other girls. Growing up as a dancer, if I felt intimidated walking into an audition, I was taught to conquer that fear by getting in the front row… to make sure I was remembered.
Academically, I had to juggle hours of ballet classes with completing class projects. When I attended summer intensives (sort of like camps for ballet training), I was forced to step completely out of my comfort zone. I would spend months away from home at the age of 12 with dancers from all over the world. It was sooo scary! But it created a confidence in me that many young girls struggle to build.
Through ballet, we are striving to empower young girls.[wc_divider style="solid" line="double" margin_top="5" margin_bottom="5"]
I love that your work sends such a beautiful, strong message to young women of color -- can you speak to the role feminism plays in your work?
[dropcap background="no" color="#333333"]A[/dropcap]bsolutely! Ballet portrays a message of feminism now more than ever. With its rise to the mainstream culture, I think the act of so many ballerinas’ branding themselves with photography demonstrates a fight to be equally considered and influential; just as the spotlight given to male athletes. More and more ballerinas are also taking initiative to start businesses or be discovered. Our role is to help them do this! In a traditional sense, the decision to be a ballerina also embraces ideals of freedom by pursuing what some would perceive as an unconventional career. The life of a dancer is filled with traveling months at a time, hours of practices, events, etc. At least for my southern heritage, society expects you to plan families in your twenties. I admire the women who can fearlessly create the life they desire.[wc_divider style="solid" line="double" margin_top="5" margin_bottom="5"]
You recently made the jump to full time – congrats! What have been the most challenging & the best parts of the journey so far?
[dropcap background="no" color="#333333"]T[/dropcap]hanks! Though, I wouldn’t exactly say it’s full-time since I do still pursue consulting work. But, I did recently take the first step by leaving my 9 to 5 in NYC! It was the hardest, most emotional decision I have ever had to make. I’m an avid planner so, once I made up my mind, planning the transition wasn’t the hardest part. It just required a lot of diligence, saving, and exploring ways to monetize our brand.
[pullquote align="right" cite="" link="" color="" class="" size=""]Through ballet, we are striving to empower young girls.[/pullquote]
The most challenging parts so far have been managing time and resources. What doesn’t dawn on you in the early phase of building a business is that you have to learn a lot of aspects of business that as an employee, you normally wouldn’t concern yourself with. (taxes, payroll, etc.). This of course is different for every business, but starting from the ground up, you want to learn the basics before entrusting someone else.
The best part of this journey has been without a doubt, the joys of designing the life I want. Both Takiyah and I value employee freedom so we created a remote working structure that allows our team to be location-independent. It’s also extremely rewarding to work on something you love, and have it so well received by the public. In a time where our country seems so divided, it’s worth every bit of stress to wake up and work towards influencing change.[wc_divider style="solid" line="double" margin_top="5" margin_bottom="5"]
What advice would you have for other women who want to start businesses with strong social missions?
[dropcap background="no" color="#333333"]W[/dropcap]hew! I will try not to write a thesis here! But here are a few key points that have kept us growing along the way.
I think the most important step is being grounded in who you are and what you want. (Yes, I learned this from Oprah.) Know your values that perhaps, fuel your social initiative and don’t compromise on them. This helps you remain authentic. Takiyah and I both use our instinct when dealing with people/opportunities. Our common rule is always asking why someone wants to work with us or for us. In a social business especially, you don’t want opportunist around.
A few years ago, I read an article that discussed how happy people know what sparks their endorphins. Well, numerous studies have surfaced in recent years that also link happiness to more productivity. With that being said, identify what sparks your fire. Whether it’s blog articles, quotes, documentaries or ice-cream. Why? Entrepreneurship requires GRIT! Yes, it can be exciting but there will be days where you want to quit life, doubt yourself and feel like a complete failure. I have a folder where I save articles and YouTube videos by people like Sarah Blakely, Richard Branson, and Seth Godin. I refer back to these on days where I need a boost. Building a business around a social initiative is tougher than a tech-start up and a lot harder to attract investors or raise capital.
Note what you’re good at and perfect it. Seek a team or partner to offset your weaknesses. This will help you create a profitable business model and decide on a unique selling point. We once wanted our own dance apparel store, but realized neither of us had the time to learn merchandising. So, we decided our network was our greatest asset. Having a B2B model proved to deliver more tangible results.[wc_divider style="solid" line="double" margin_top="5" margin_bottom="5"]
What's next for Brown Girls Do Ballet? Any upcoming initiatives or announcements you want our readers to know about?
[dropcap background="no" color="#333333"]T[/dropcap]here are tons in store for us this year! Firstly, we’re super excited about the release of our publication, “The Ballerina’s Little Black Book.” This lovely photo book entails interviews with some of the most prominent ballerinas of color paving the way. Pre-Sale will be available late March.This summer, we are gearing up for a mini-road show across the US to host ballet in various cities! Stay tuned for the tour calendar.