A Black father is bringing “Daddy and Me” day to the Philadelphia Ballet

A local father is inspiring Black families to include a trip to the ballet in their repertoire of holiday traditions.

Whether decorating the tree or wearing matching pajamas, the holiday season is all about family traditions. This year, Philadelphia father Lloyd Freeman is starting a new tradition with his children and inviting other Black father figures to do the same. 

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Since joining the Philadelphia Ballet’s board of trustees in May, Freeman has been working on diversifying the industry. As a part of his ongoing mission, he orchestrated the launch of “Daddy and Me” day at the ballet. On December 11, Freeman and the Philadelphia Ballet are encouraging Black men to bring their families to the company’s matinee performance of “The Nutcracker” by George Balanchine. 

“I would love to see more men of color start to support the arts,” Freeman said, per the Philadelphia Inquirer. “When I go, rarely do I see people who look like me.”

This month’s event is a part of a larger mission aiming to increase diversity on and off stage. Since its inception, the ballet industry has been and remains predominantly white, with 50.6% of the industry’s performers being white, 26.9% identifying as Hispanic or Latino, and only 10% as Black. As reported by the Inquirer, the Philadelphia Ballet’s audience mirrors those demographics; according to ballet spokesman Patrick Reiher, 85% of ballet attendees are White, 5.1% are Black, 4.8% are Asian, and 4.7% are Hispanic. 

“It’s fair to say that, historically, Black dancers have been underrepresented in the Philadelphia Ballet and across the country,” said the ballet’s Chief Advancement Officer David Chambers. “We acknowledge that we have a lot of work to do.”

While the Philadelphia Ballet, founded in 1963, has ethnically diverse dancers, the company currently has no Black principal dancers. Since its sole Black principal dancer Jermel Johnson retired from his 19-year career in May of this year, the company has been working to do more in diversifying its ranks. Joan Myers Brown, founder of the Black-centric Philadelphia Dance Company (PHILADANCO) hopes to see even more efforts to nurture young Black dancers and connect with the Black community. While she acknowledges the impact of Freeman’s winter event, Brown believes they have a long way to go. 

“They have to do more than just say it’s OK for Black daddies to bring their kids,” said Brown. “They have to have more dancers on the stage that look like them. Our kids can see that there’s something else they can do.”

However, Freeman’s children Ailey, 6, and Beau, 3, are eager for another big trip to the theater. After Freeman and his wife Ebony fell in love at the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater, the couple became infatuated with the art of dance, so much so that they named their daughter after the iconic dancer. 

While many mothers inquired about attending the event on Dec 11, Freeman stressed the importance of changing the stereotypical image of Black men. Open to children of all ages, tickets for “Daddy and Me” day start at $25 with the code PABALLETDAD. 

“Not only are we trying to change the audience, but we are also trying to change society’s perception of Black men and Black fathers,” said Freeman. 

“If we want to reimagine what our world could be, all kids need to see this, including the dancers,” emphasized Oscar Holmes IV, who plans on bringing his four-year-old son to the event. 

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