AGMAzine Spotlight on Nardia Boodoo: “Black Ballerinas are Beautiful”

Published February 14, 2022   |  By Musical Artists  |  Post in All Areas

This interview was conducted by Alicia Cook, Director of Communications at AGMA, and was originally published in the Winter 2021 issue of AGMAzine in March 2021.

“This has been a challenging time period for dancers,” Nardia Boodoo said at the beginning of her conversation with AGMAzine. “I discovered that so much of my identity is centered around my performance career. As dancers, we commit ourselves to the art form. We arrive at the studio prepared and ready to go. I draw energy and inspiration from my colleagues and the Artistic staff. So much of my life revolves around this daily grind. COVID-19 interrupted that flow. Without the energy of preparation, self-mastery, and self-discovery, I felt lost and punished.”

It is no surprise The Washington Ballet (TWB) dancer felt that way. Boodoo has been dancing most of her life. Beginning ballet at age 14, Boodoo was mentored by the legendary Arthur Mitchell. She was also the original lead for the piece Black Iris by Jeremy McQueen, and was selected to perform an original piece for the annual Service of Tribute on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day at the Washington National Cathedral.

Right before COVID-19, Boodoo was at TWB, about three weeks away from premiering Swan Lake, when she learned that TWB was going to close later that day. Like many of us, Boodoo first believed she’d be back to work in two weeks.

“I had no idea of the magnitude of the disaster that was to come,” she said, noting the pandemic’s tremendous financial hit to the dance industry. “I believe the pandemic permanently changed the dance world. In a lot of ways, the dance world never really needed to evolve with technology, such as virtual access and streaming. We now know the importance of holding digital space and having a stronger presence on social media.”

Boodoo herself is a person of influence on the stage and on social media and aims to inspire young dancers of all colors and races. Boodoo has advocated for dancers of color throughout her career and had her very own “Cinderella moment” when she recently got to work with Maybelline.

“I never really saw anyone that looked like myself in ads growing up,” the dancer/model recalled. “Working with Maybelline made me the most nervous because it’s truly iconic. They booked me a suite at Hotel St. James in New York and a car service to the set. I started with hair by the renowned Brenton Kane Diallo. Then I was moved on to make up with the legendary Erin Parsons. It was like playing dress-up. We tried a couple of different looks for a few hours. It was a dream come true. I felt so lucky.”

A signed model with one of the world’s top modeling agencies, Wilhelmina Models, Boodoo has starred in commercials and ads for Tory Sport by Tory Burch, Chanel, Estee Lauder, Beyond Yoga, Reebok, Nike, Yumiko, Eleve, Free People, Banana Republic, and So Danca, to name a few. She has graced the cover of Dance Spirit Magazine, VIP Alexandria, and The Village Voice, has had multiple features in Pointe Magazine, and was featured in The Ballerina Project book.

To her, these are opportunities where she can further represent Black ballerinas on a major stage and in a major way.

“I am often in disbelief that major fashion brands want me to represent them. I am not your typical bi-racial young lady. My father is Indian, and my mother is Black,” she shared. “Representation matters. There are so many invisible systems put into place to keep Black people disenfranchised. Black families and individuals love Fine Art and are often discouraged from participation due to the lack of representation. Ballet was not built on equity; it was created by and for the French court. We need a sort of cultural resurgence. It’s long overdue.”

Boodoo is of course referencing the movement toward equality taking place all over the country, and notably within the Performing Arts Industry. While a lot of work needs to be done, she remains “cautiously optimistic.”

“I am not a psychic. I do not know what the future looks like, but we must make valiant efforts to create a better future. Right now, it appears that most companies are in the phase of conversing and highlighting the major offenses. Black dancers all over are fearlessly using their voices and will continue to do so. Those who hold the power should listen and hold the companies that aren’t moving in the right direction accountable,” she said.

“Although this current generation inherited these issues, it does not mean we must accept them. Things like unconscious bias and legacy casting impact us a great deal,” she added.

The ever-passionate Boodoo is often admired for her tenacity and spirit. She doesn’t seem to tire. Throughout this tumultuous time, she has kept her heart light and her focus sharp.

“To steer myself away from that feeling of being punished, I began to view quarantine as an opportunity instead. I started taking college courses and am working toward an undergraduate diploma. I decided to revisit physical therapy exercises to strengthen my weaknesses in order to better help myself once we return to the stage. I began studying and eventually received my Pilates Mat and Reformer certifications,” shared Boodoo, who has taken Pilates classes for years and always had a desire to help fellow dancers through instruction. “I have tried very hard to better myself in ways that would help me, and others, in this new situation.”

While the situation is “new,” Boodoo promises that it is not a permanent change. “We will return to the stage. All is not lost.”

Keep up with Nardia Boodoo on Instagram.