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  • Solomon Golding on classical dance and diversity: 'Ballet doesn't discriminate – if you’re good enough you will make it'

Solomon Golding on classical dance and diversity: 'Ballet doesn't discriminate – if you’re good enough you will make it'

The Royal Ballet's first black British male dancer on the art form's future.

By Ottilie Thornhill (Winner of the Kings Cultural Challenge)

28 October 2015 at 3.01pm | 6 Comments

'The face of ballet is changing', says Solomon Golding, the first black British male dancer at The Royal Ballet. 'A lot of dancers aren’t from wealthy backgrounds and aren’t born with a silver spoon in their mouths', he says. 'Ballet doesn't discriminate – if you’re good enough you will make it'.

Born in Tottenham, Solomon spent his early years moving around London, West Africa and Jamaica with his father and mother, the latter of whom was an avid fan of The Royal Ballet. Solomon's own interest in dance began when his grandmother sent him a VHS of Wallace and Gromit, with a Royal Ballet Christmas Special also recorded by accident: ‘I loved it and when the next video my grandmother sent was Billy Elliot, it just resonated’.

Having started dancing in West Africa, the opportunity of formal training presented itself upon the family’s return to England, at Octagon Studios in Ely, Cambridgeshire. Solomon’s whole family were involved, with his father renovating the studio in exchange for lessons for Solomon and his siblings in ballet and drama. So quick was Solomon's progression and development that a suggestion of an audition to The Royal Ballet School soon followed.

In a twist of fate, Golding was turned down for a place following his audition, only to be offered a place by then Director of the School, Gailene Stock after she saw him in class. The offer was a mixed blessing: ‘My dad was really, really happy but my mum was a bit reserved’. He explains that her experiences as a social worker gave her concerns about his background and British institutions: ‘She said, “Solomon you’re half black and you’re from a council estate – this doesn’t really happen and I don’t know how many people like you they’ve seen before”’. His father was more optimistic: ‘We’ve always been a very proud family', says Solomon. 'My dad's view was, "Is The Royal Ballet School the best school for him to do ballet in the country, if not the world? If so, I want him to be there"'.

Upon joining The Royal Ballet's Lower School at White Lodge in Richmond, by his own admission, Solomon found himself slightly out of his depth and while strongly rejecting any notion of prejudice, did encounter preconceptions:

'There was to a small degree, a stereotype that black dancers don't have ideal feet for ballet. But by that logic, all white dancers have perfect turn out which is patently ridiculous!'

Soon after joining the school, Solomon began being taught by Anita Young, previously a Royal Ballet Soloist, and a great influence on his career since. 'She was almost like a family member - we'd just sit and listen', he recalls. I remember once when we were in the Pavlova Studio at White Lodge, she said: “Always take your work seriously but never yourself”. That ignited my passion.’

After graduating from the School, Solomon joined Hong Kong Ballet. He was the first black company member in their history and is full of praise for them - ‘it’s a great ballet company and an amazing city', he enthuses. After visa issues stalled a move to Boston Ballet, Solomon turned back to London and was offered a position with The Royal Ballet. He is now in his third Season with the Company and has performed in Connectome and Romeo and Juliet among many other works. Solomon also created a role in Hofesh Shechter’s Untouchable and describes the production as ‘a real moment’. 'The Company is an international melting pot where change is being driven by directors with vision', he says. 'Kevin O’Hare has done some great things'.

Access is vital for both The Royal Ballet Company and School and Solomon points to the value of initiatives including World Ballet Daylive cinema relays and Chance to Dance, a Royal Ballet-run community programme offering dance training to children in Lambeth, Southwark and Thurrock.

'Ballet should be accessible to all', says Solomon. 'Using social media, online streaming and cinema relays audiences can see what we're up to on a daily basis and see if it's for them.'

There are of course many distinguished black male dancers in the Company from other countries, including Carlos AcostaFernando MontañoMarcelino Sambé and Eric Underwood but Solomon sets this challenge for black British dancers:

‘Of course, I feel like there could be a lot more black dancers represented', he says. 'But it works both ways. There can be more done in minority communities to encourage ballet. If you want to see more black dancers, then be those black dancers that you want to see.'

Find out more about Chance to Dance

By Ottilie Thornhill (Winner of the Kings Cultural Challenge)

28 October 2015 at 3.01pm

This article has been categorised Ballet and tagged access, Black History Month, Chance to dance, community, diversity, Solomon Golding

This article has 6 comments

  1. Dan Alan responded on 28 October 2015 at 11:42pm Reply

    I congratulate you on your achievements but you're very young and at the beginning of you journey with The Royal. If all that really matters is how good you are you'll have a happy, satisfying career without the experience of being passed over for roles that you know you deserve. As for more black people/black communities promoting the study of ballet. Why should they? It's not as if ballet is studied by anything but a very small percentage of white people. And why is it that none of you eurocentric/ballet snobs EVER suggest that white people/communities promote the study of Africa or dance from cultures of Color. Africa dance is FAR more relevant and related to the social, pop, lucrative culture we all live in today. I suspect it's because you see ballet on the pedestal where the Europeans preach anything that comes from them is rightfully on. And for the record I too was a ballet dancer with DTH for 15 years.

  2. Dana responded on 30 October 2015 at 9:18am Reply

    Great interview about working class struggles to make it to the top. Only I wish we could stop labelling performers as "black dancers" - you never hear about "white dancers" so why does it become an issue with some performers and not others? Is it really necessary to refer to such a superficial issue?

  3. Wow...These 2 that commented just don't get it, huh? It matters that an art form is not promoting segregation, yes, but it matters even more that an art form is all inclusive. Diversity in ballet is very important because it is not made for just one type of dancer. If you have the unique talent of being able to dance ballet, you should be included in all companies and all aspects of the ballet world. However, this is not the case. Look at the lack of female dancers of color that the Royal Ballet has. And while there is a smaller percentage of dancers of color that dance ballet, that is no excuse why not one female dancer in the Royal Ballet is brown or black. NOT ONE? That should make you mad. It should outrage you that most prominent ballet companies will have only one or no female ballet dancers of color. Brown or black men have a better chance because the pool for men is smaller in general. But it's still no excuse that many black men in predominantly white companies receive hate mail from disgruntled people that think black men shouldn't partner white female dancers. We need to promote ballet in more diverse communities. We need to show young men and women of color that they can certainly dance ballet and that their skin doesn't need to be the color of freshly shaved apples in order to dance. And until the ballet world starts to reflect that actual diversity, colors and backgrounds of the world, we still need to categorize, "black or brown dancers". Because white dancers have the privilege of just being know as "dancers".

  4. Tony Newcombe responded on 15 April 2016 at 6:14pm Reply

    Not one female dancer in Royal Ballet Company brown or black. What an ill informed comment !!!

  5. Jakegee responded on 16 April 2016 at 10:23am Reply

    I enjoyed this feature when I read it last year. I have seen Soloman in many roles now and I'm pleased to see him progress in his Royal Ballet career. I also was delighted to note his brother, Kidane's success in his military career. Well done, lads!!

  6. Sarah Graves responded on 25 March 2017 at 8:50pm Reply

    Having recently seen you in The Sleeping Beauty (wonderful!) it is obvious that you have a huge talent & we wish you every success for the future. We sat next to your Mum during the show (3rd March) - a great character & rightly very proud of you. Please say hello to her from Mick & Sarah (Essex)

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