Aside from Misty Copeland, it’s rare that little girls of color see any ballerina who looks like them on a worldwide stage. Black dancers and choreographers have carved out their own spaces in classical dance with renowned institutions and talents like Alvin Ailey and Debbie Allen, but we aren’t recognized globally the way we should be. Luckily, Copeland is now opening doors for upcoming dancers of color to burst down. Sisters Rylie and Codie, with their momager and dance instructor, are showcasing what it takes to live and breathe dance in a new YouTube reality series Rylie and Codie’s World.
Former model and Apprentice star Stacie J. knew from an early age that her daughters had what it takes. She enrolled them into dance classes when Rylie and Codie were 3 and 2, respectfully. Now, the sisters are 13 and 9 and dance upwards of six days a week. They train rigorously with Robin Williams, founder of the Uptown Dance Academy, and the Dance Theater of Harlem, where Rylie has a full scholarship. Rylie also attended the elite American Ballet Theater on a full scholarship through Copeland’s Bridge Class program.
The show chronicles how the girls navigate a demanding dance practice schedule with a hectic social and academic life. Erickka Sy Savane is the writer and co-producer of the project. She’s been friends with Stacie for decades.
“I felt this was a story that had to be told. The girls, their work ethic really blew me away. I feel like kids don’t get to see the story behind successful people. They just see people taking a selfie…and when I met these different dancers and they were working their buns off, I was so impressed,” Sy Savane told Shadow and Act.
The idea was born from Stacie, who is not from the dance world herself, but learned quickly how competitive it is. She even admits to clashing with Williams over her tough-as-nails approach in training.
“I had to learn about this dance world. One example with Robin is they would go to class – and she’s from the old school of learning…there’s no drinking water,” Stacie said. “At certain breaks, you don’t get a water break. As a mom, I didn’t understand that. I’m like, ‘My kids have been dancing and need a drink of water.’ Robin had to explain it to me.”
Regardless, the girls wouldn’t want to train with anyone else. “I like Miss Robin a lot. I like how her classes allow for us as dancers to really bond and get to know each other,” Rylie says. “I also like that we get the opportunity to perform a lot because, with other companies, you’re not always able to perform.”
The series also chronicles Williams’ own challenges with running a medium-sized school in New York and what she has to overcome. In one episode, she details how she had to find a new space after leaving her own one due to increased rent.
“Being a Black woman is challenging, being a woman is challenging and I’m only 5’ tall, so sometimes that’s challenging too,” she jokes. “It’s really hard because 26 years ago, the spaces were large. I had the largest school 26 years ago when I first started. Every 10 years it gets smaller and smaller because of gentrification. That’s the biggest challenge because the rents have tripled.”
Check out the full 20-minute interview where the cast and crew discuss how dance training molds character, why performing as a dancer is necessary, staying grounded, balancing a social life, what they hope viewers of the series get from the show, and more. The show airs new episodes every Saturday on YouTube.