Philly ballet company elevates city children to next level

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- "I used to think that it was impossible to have ballet in my neighborhood, and affordable," said Chanel Holland.

The 31-year-old has made it her mission to be the role model she wishes she had as a child.

""I thought it was impossible for African American dancers to have a leading role," she said. "It motivated me more to keep going."

In 2017, Holland created Chocolate Ballerina Company to provide children and adults of color with a space to learn high-level dance skills at a low cost. Monthly classes are offered for free while weekly classes range between $50 and $150 per month.

Today, auditions were held for children and teens to become pre-professional dancers with the Chocolate Ballerina Company's Advanced Prima Ballerina Assoutlas.

"It's just so much fun. I really want to be a dancer in my future," said 12-year-old Layla Harris-Fisher. "I'm learning new combos, new tips to help me balance better and probably have to work really, really hard to get there."

The auditions were held with a professional twist, encouraging dancers to provide a headshot and resume upon arrival. According to Holland, it's part of a long-term plan to make dancers ready for the big stage.

"We want them to get into the best high schools,the best colleges, so that they can move and have a fulfilled life," she said.

These dancers may also have the opportunity to perform at community events. Just last month, Chocolate Ballerina Company made headlines with the first 'Nutcracker Dipped in Chocolate' performance.

It was a major step forward in Holland's vision to help city children see more individuals who look like them take center stage.

"It brings me to tears sometimes because I was once in that position where I thought nobody saw me," she said. "If they know that I see them, then they'll show me exactly who they are."

To learn more about Chocolate Ballerina Company and their free dance classes, visit their website.

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