Diversity Statement & Actions

Westside Ballet of Santa Monica stands with the Black community and with all People of Color. We believe that racism, inequality, and hatred have no place in our world. We recognize now more than ever, the need to expand our efforts to actively address racism and white privilege in the ballet universe. As an organization, we have not fully understood the systemic racism that pervades our society; nor have we actively engaged in the inquiry and practice of anti-racism.

We are committed to doing better.

For over fifty-three years, Westside Ballet has strived to serve individuals of all backgrounds, ages, and abilities within our studios and the larger community. While our doors have always been open to all, we understand that not everyone has felt a part of our community. We are committed to making this one of Westside Ballet’s utmost concerns and to address this in our actions, outreach and education to supporting Black, Persons of Color, and Other dancers within the Westside Ballet community.

Over the past seven years we have made strong strides towards equity, diversity and inclusion through the following current initiatives that are ongoing; and we are now setting new objectives to achieve greater access and accountability. We have established a joint Diversity and Inclusion Committee bringing together the Westside Ballet Board of Directors and the Westside Ballet Volunteer Guild to oversee these objectives and to report back to the Westside community on our progress in meeting our goals.  

Current work and efforts

Recent WSB graduate & TA Olivia Polite instructs students at St. Anne’s Elementary through the beginning positions of ballet.

1.  We established an Endowment Fund to expand both merit and need-based scholarships

  • WSB provides approximately $100,000 in scholarships annually.
  • The Chow Family Scholarship Fund was established in 2018 and over $150,000 has been raised to date; major donors of this fund requested the funds be used to actively recruit People of Color.

2. We initiated a partnership with the Boys and Girls Club of Santa Monica to bring onsite ballet class to St. Anne’s elementary school children. This program is specific to our efforts to diversify our student dancers and offer instruction to children whose families might not have access or the means to ballet training.

3. We provide free performances to underserved populations.

  • Present educational outreach matinee performances for the annual Nutcracker and Spring Performance productions reaching all of Santa Monica’s Title 1 public elementary schools (Title 1 signifies a school where over 25% of the student body is on free and reduced lunch) and one sister school in Hollywood, California.
  • Invite 500 families served by social service agencies supported by the City of Santa Monica to free performances of the Nutcracker each year.

New Actions begun in July 2020

1. Diversify teaching staff by hiring more Black, Latininx, Asian and Persons of Color.

  • Scheduled a boys ballet via Zoom with an open “Dance Talks” following – with alumnus Adrian Mitchell on February 15, 2021. 
  • Compiling list of Black dance educators to invite as guest teachers.
  • Prepare statements for front-desk staff so they are fully informed and well-versed in how to answer questions about the diversity of staff at Westside and ongoing and future endeavors to improve diversity and inclusion at Westside.
  • Seek out and talk with current adult students to gauge their interest.

2. Expand outreach efforts to bring more Black and other Dancers of Color to train at Westside Ballet and establish a mentoring program to support Dancers of Color. Expand programs to introduce ballet training to underserved communities within Santa Monica and the greater Los Angeles area.

  • Identifying schools/ organizations we would like to partner with to bring ballet into their schools.
  • Contacted City Ballet of Los Angeles to get insight into how they reach out to schools. Artistic Director Robyn Gardenhire has agreed to be a guest teacher and to share her experience with the committee and staff. 
  • A new scholarship has been established by a new nonprofit, Dance in Color, and named for Westside Alumnus Adrian Blake Mitchell; artistic staff  identified two Black or Bi-racial Dancers, who are receiving the scholarship for the current school year.
  • Initiated a free introductory five-week Community Outreach class in November 2020 for ages 6 to 10 in the outdoor studio; a new five-week session will begin on January 24, 2021.
  • Exploring additional outreach to the Boys and Girls Club and the Police Athletic League, both virtually or in person.
  • Developing a summer intensive program for Dancers of Color with Dance in Color.

3. Further expand professional development training for artistic staff, office staff, and Board and Guild members to include anti-bias training, body image sensitivity, and cultural relevancy in teaching.

  • Establish quarterly PD to cover the above, including Cultural Competency, for teachers, staff and the wider Westside Community.  
  • Prepare statements for front-desk staff so they are fully informed and well-versed in how to answer questions about the diversity of staff at Westside and ongoing and future endeavors to improve diversity and inclusion at Westside.

4. Revised the dress code to allow students to self-select a tight, slipper, and pointe shoe color that best matches their natural skin tone.

  • Updated the Westside Ballet website to include revised dancewear requirements for academy students.
  • Coordinated with the Ballet Shop to display and sell a diverse range of dancewear for Dancers of Color.

5. Increased the representation of Persons of Color on the Board of Directors and Volunteer Guild.

6. Establish an Ombudsperson to provide a safe outlet for all students to use their voices to share their experiences at Westside and offer ideas to create a more welcoming and inclusive environment.

7. Expanding the representation of Black and Dancers of Color on displays within the studio and on social media.

  • Committee members have collected a large array of online resources and news regarding Diversity & Equity in the Dance Community and added access to this document to the Outreach pages on Westside Ballet’s website.
  • Selecting photos to display throughout Westside Ballet’s physical space as well as to post on the television in the lobby; to include text providing information about the dancer and his/her/their background and history. 
  • Added a section on the website to provide updates on the committee’s efforts and provide contact information of committee members. 
  • Include a section on the Company bulletin board to include information about the committee and ongoing efforts.

The Diversity and Inclusion Committee is committed to creating a safe place for our community to discuss any and all issues related to equity, diversity, and inclusion. Our intention is to cultivate a supportive experience by listening, engaging in dialogue when needed, and creating an action plan that will work toward resolution. We recognize this statement may need to be revised and edited as we move forward, as what you are reading here today is a starting point. We invite our community members to join us as we engage in this process of reflecting and raising awareness related to anti-racism.

Please feel free to contact us at judith@westsideballetcompany.org and/or richardamir@me.com to share your comments and/or interest in joining the Diversity and Inclusion Committee.

Judith Meister, President
Westside Ballet of Santa Monica Board of Directors

Richard Tahvildaran Jesswein, President
Westside Ballet of Santa Monica Volunteer Guild

Diversity and Inclusion Committee Members
Richard Tahvildaran Jesswein, Co-Chair
Judith Meister, Co-Chair
Martine Harley, Trish Blessing, Jewels Solheim Roe, Julie Weinbach, Kiva Dawson, Charlene Underwood, Adrian Blake Mitchell, Lynn Polite, Edward Polite, Olivia Polite, Fiona Bell, Jessica Tuck, Samara Koseff, Nadine Harrison, Jasmine Harrison, Nina Neumann

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