She credits dance as the core of her life’s work!
Janet Rollé has made history as the first Black woman to become CEO of the American Ballet Theatre (ABT) in its 65-year-history, The Philadelphia Tribune reports.
Rollé honed her skills in the business as executive vice president and chief marketing officer at CNN Worldwide. She went on to serve as general manager of Beyoncé’s Parkwood Entertainment for five years. During that time she served as associate producer of Beyonce’s iconic Coachella performance where she made history as the first Black woman to headline the Music and Arts Festival. Rollé is also credited as an executive producer of “Black Is King,” Beyonce’s award-winning visual album accompaniment for the 2019 live action remake of “The Lion King.” Now, she has been named CEO and executive director of the American Ballet Theatre, making history as the first Black woman to hold the title in the institution’s nearly seven decade history.
Rollé began her first dance class when she was just 8-years-old, crediting her mother, an immigrant from Jamaica, with forming what Rollé calls the foundation of her career.
“Through dance, I learned how to be a professional, the value of discipline and technique, and my love for the creative process. These lessons have always been at the core of my professional life and work,” said Rollé.
Her appointment is a monumental moment for the ballet world, which has long been burdened by allegations of elitism and racism.
“At 7 years old being a Black girl in their school, and they’re being told by their teachers, ‘You don’t belong here, your skin is the wrong color, your feet are too flat…we can’t work with your hair,’” said Misty Copeland, the first Black woman principal dancer for the ABT, in a 2018 interview.
Chloé Lopes Gomes, another prominent Black ballet dancer, echoed those sentiments, writing this year about the institutional racism in the ballet world, which she called “primarily White and elitist.”
“I have heard over and over the damaging stereotypes that Black dancers aren’t flexible enough or don’t have the right feet, or that Asian dancers aren’t expressive enough. Ballet is still designed for White dancers, down to the shoes and makeup we wear. Nude-colored ballet shoes for Black dancers didn’t exist until 2018,” said Gomes.
Andrew Barth, chairman of the ABT’s Board of Governing Trustees, is confident that Rollé will help lead the company into a new frontier that makes space for change while paying homage to the Theatre’s legacy.
“She is brimming with ideas to lead ABT into the next decade, all while respecting Ballet Theatre’s history and legacy. I am confident that Janet’s accomplished background in business operations and development, strategic partnerships, and brand management will be a tremendous asset,” said Barth.
Rollé says she’s humbled and excited for her new role, noting that the gravitas of this historic moment isn’t lost on her. She is set to begin as CEO and executive director of ABT on January 3, 2022.
“It is therefore a singular privilege to be entrusted by the Board to preserve and extend the legacy of American Ballet Theatre, and to ensure its future prosperity, cultural impact, and relevance. To come full circle and be in a position to give back to the art that has given me so much is a source of unbridled and immense joy,” said Rollé.
Congratulations Janet! Because of you, we can!
Photo Courtesy of Cindy Ord/Getty Images/The Women’s Forum of New York