Talks Inspiring Young Girls of Color To Be Confident with Who They Are
By Taylor Johnson
Desiree Parkman started dancing at a young age and throughout the years developed an extensive career in dancing in the Grammy and Tony award winning show “Annie Get Your Gun.” Also once part of the Radio City Rockettes, she has danced alongside legendary talents like Lena Horne and Ossie Davis. Having made a career in teaching dance to young girls in dance schools across the nation, her love for dance and teaching led her to open a non-profit Urban Artz program which is designed to provide access and exposure to underserved community youth.
Inspired by her own dance journey, Desiree authored and self-published Dancing with Naima, a children’s book that illustrates the beauty of learning essential life lessons. The book also discusses how parents and teachers can encourage and help young ballerinas gain confidence in themselves.
What has been the most memorable part of your dance career?
The most memorable experience was performing for The legendary Lena Horne at an evening celebrating her life at Lincoln Center. I also got to meet and share a wonderful conversation about her life and her journey in entertainment. She was a class act and so down to earth! I was in awe and it was one of the best nights of my career.
How do you hope to inspire younger dancers?
I would hope that my journey in dance would be inspiration for what is possible in the arts world. In addition, through my work I wish to instill the idea that there are limitless opportunities open to them if they are willing to do the work and be present. Also, that no matter who you are or where you are from…..you’re made from excellence!
What inspired you to write your book Dancing with Naima?
I was inspired by the lack of inclusion in children’s books, specifically dance, and from my own experience growing up and looking for representation in media and not finding them as a little girl. I want little girls and boys to not be left out, but to feel powerful within themselves through the imagery that they see in the media.
Who is Naima? What is the inspiration for this character?
Naima is me as a little girl, a revisit to the joy and wonder I felt when I first stepped into a dance studio. I was inspired by my journey into dance, as well as the many young girls that begin dance every year. I knew there was a lack of representation featuring girls of color in books and I wanted to be a part of changing that. I wanted those little girls to have something special that speaks to them.
What was the process of getting that very first book published?
It all happened pretty naturally. It started with a few conversations with a close friend about the idea. I started writing it maybe three years ago when I was living in Texas. Life took over, and I put it on the back burner for about a year, as I had not found the right illustrator. Once I was settled here in Florida, I picked it up again and the universe provided me the perfect illustrator in Jasmine Cole, a friend I met visiting my parents in Mississippi. I researched about self-publishing and decided to go that route. I finally published last November under Amazon’s CreateSpace. Self-publishing is a great way to get your book out, but I am not ruling out any publishing houses that are looking for a children’s author for a niche market.
As you wrote Dancing With Naima who were you keeping in mind – the kids, the parents or both?
I wanted to keep this in the spirit and voice of the child. Her excitement, her discovery into the world of ballet. I also wanted to show the parent as being supportive and ready to see how the journey unfolds. I wanted this to be a real introduction and take them inside a dance class from beginning to end. And for parents it works as a tremendous educational guide as it has beautiful lessons built in that reinforce working hard, eating healthy, being on time and being prepared. It also comes with a glossary of ballet terms.
What struggles/issues do black women face in the dancing industry?
I can only speak to my own experiences. I would say at the forefront is just having to opportunities. Many times you are auditioning for the one of two spots allocated to persons of color. Another would be fitting into what the dominant culture deems the right image in regards to body and type, constantly having to shed societal stereotypes.
What are you working on now?
Currently, I am preparing for summer dance intensives at Jacksonville Centre of the Arts, Orlando Repertory Theatre as well as organizing a trip to NYC for dancers to experience the city through classes and Broadway shows.
What advice would you give to other dancers?
I encourage young dancers to be diligent about their training, making sure it is of the highest quality. Do your research, know your business inside and out . The Who, what’, and where of the business so you can make informed decisions regarding your career. Be financially savvy; read books on wealth management to learn how to manage and invest money. Lastly, find a mentor to help you grow.
How important is it for young girls of color to see images of themselves as a ballet dancer?
It is crucial for girls of color to see images of themselves doing great things period and of course that extends itself to ballet. There have always been brown ballerinas around but we did not see them often or know about them unless you lived in that ballet world. With the breakthrough that is Misty Copeland, and others before her like Lauren Anderson, Charmaine Hunter, Aesha Ash to name a few, as well as organizations like Brown Girls Do Ballet, we see brown images in ballet more often. I hope it becomes the norm and not just a trend but result in true inclusion into the art form.