Two New York girls were expelled from dance school after their mother refused to remove their braids to adhere to a hair policy.
Lisa Skinner’s daughters Brooke and April were supposed to perform in Uptown Dance Academy’s rendition of “Black Nutcracker” on Thursday, but they missed out because of their hairstyles.
Skinner said PIX11 Uptown founder Robin Williams told her “if they show up in braids to the 'Black Nutcracker,' they will not be permitted to participate.”
The girls were enrolled in the Harlem academy for three years before there was an issue. The school rules dictate dancers must wear their hair in a bun. Williams’ policy also banned braids, even if they were styled into a bun. This is the crux of Skinner’s issue.
“Braids aren't the issue, it doesn't matter if it’s braided just that it’s up and secured,” said Skinner.
Unfortunately, Williams wouldn’t budge.
“They were expelled from the school because I would not adhere to this ludicrous policy and she said to me then I will send you a refund of your ticket purchase money,” Skinner said.
The little girls are disappointed because they were unable to dance because of their hair.
“It’s a Black Nutcracker, it'd be different if it’s the original Nutcracker,” said 10-year-old Brooke. “My braids, I really like them, they describe me.”
April, 9, agreed with her sister. “My hair is a part of myself, and myself I was born with this type of hair,” she said.
After PIX11’s story was published, Williams released a statement to dispel accusations of hair discrimination.
“I, Robin Williams have never ever during my 50+ years in dance told Black girls their braids are not beautiful,” she wrote.
Williams believes the policy allows students to perform and practice without worrying about potential safety hazards caused by long hair.
“For our Photo Day, June, and Summer Recitals students are allowed to wear their hair in any style they want as long as it isn’t dangerous for acrobatic stunts,” the statement continued. “Extremely long or thick braids and beaded hairstyles are definitely dangerous for young trainees while turning and flipping.”
The dance veteran also pointed to the standards enforced by the dance industry.
“Uptown Dance Academy has trained students to be adaptive to all professional training programs,” Williams added.
“Most professional dance schools require you to wear buns for training and especially for performances. In classical ballet the hairstyle is expected to be the same for each female.”
The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater sent the family tickets to their Christmas Eve show after hearing about the conflict.
In July, New York became the second state to legally ban hair discrimination after Governor Andrew Cuomo amended New York’s Human Rights Law.
“Because natural hair and locs, cornrows, twists, braids, Bantu knots, fades, and Afros are…most closely associated with Black people, no school covered under the [New York City Human Rights Law] may prohibit such styles in New York City,” the law states. It is against the law to discriminate against “traits historically associated with race, including but not limited to hair texture and protective hairstyles.”
Skinner is currently looking for another dance program for the girls.