Inside the world's first Muslim ballet school
The Grace & Poise Academy is the world’s first Muslim ballet school.
The academy adheres to Islamic teachings, which means that there are some unique differences. Firstly, in order to make ballet accessible to all Muslim girls and fit with Islamic tradition, there is no music, but instead, ballet is accompanied by poetry and the spoken word. Over the age of 6, the classes are for girls only, there are no male teachers, and a variety of different ballet uniforms are available to provide for modesty. Any performances are for female-only audiences.
The idea of all-female classes came about from Maisie Alexandra Byers, who runs the academy in London, which started in 2019. Byers hopes to make ballet more accessible to Muslim girls. She sees her classes as a way to boost confidence in Muslim girls and for them not to participate in ballet, without feeling left out.
Byers has a degree in Ballet Education from the Royal Academy of Dance. After obtaining her degree, Byers did some freelance choreography and taught from 2 years to professional level. Shortly afterwards, she converted to Islam and decided to set up the academy.
Byers was interviewed on IC's Living the Life where she said: "The Muslim community felt that couldn't get involved previously due to faith, and some of the obstacles that come with it. We're trying to create ballet in a way that doesn't compromise faith, but enhances it."
"Initially, my obstacles was thinking about how we model things that is sensitive to modesty for females and the community. And then, the aspect of music was something to consider as well, so being able to have only female-only classes dealt with the modesty aspect of it, so if we ever do shows or performances we have ladies only audiences. I sort of had a lightbulb moment from Allah where I realised I could work in a way where we didn't play music in the lessons, but spoken word poetry."
According to the academy's website, they “feel passionately about contributing to Islamic Arts and honouring the significance of poetry within Islamic heritage.” It also highlights the benefits of ballet, including not only physical precision, control, flexibility and stamina but also creativity and expression and benefits for cognitives, social and emotional development.
One of the school's founders, Dr Sajedah Shubib, said:
''There is a gap in our community; we find that Muslim children tend to sometimes fall short when it comes to university applications. I've seen that quite consistently when I've worked with Muslim youth – there isn't much for them and they don't get involved as much, so this is really important."
''For various reasons, Muslim girls, in particular, want to be able to have a Muslim girls-only space for modesty purposes. Through Grace & Poise, we are offering that platform for girls so that they can take part in something as beautiful as ballet.''