Picture turning up to what you thought was a gym class, to then realize you’re in an audition for Chance to Dance, an outreach program of the Royal Ballet Company. For Brixton born professional dancer Shevelle, this movie-worthy scene was his entry into dance. Today, he works to increase representation of people of color in the conventionally white-dominated world of British ballet.
Shevelle was just seven years old when Chance to Dance spotted his talent for ballet. After two successful auditions, he was offered two years of free dance training with the outreach program. “Before I found dance, I was a kid that liked to do loads of other stuff. I was a part of the science club. I played football. I did a bit of everything,” Shevelle tells us. But it wasn’t long before dance became Shevelle’s world: “There’s a sense of freedom which I think all dancers know and you can't really explain; a synergy between the body and music. And nothing really beats that.”
“There’s a sense of freedom which I think all dancers know and you can't really explain; a synergy between the body and music. And nothing really beats that.”
Aside from being given a unique chance to train professionally, the Chance to Dance program’s affiliation with the Royal Ballet meant that Shevelle had access to productions brimming with some of the world’s best talent: “I got to see a lot of productions with the Royal Ballet Company at a young age. And I really liked watching live shows and listening to live music. That's what made me fall in love with dance even more.”
The juxtaposition of the different landscapes and surroundings between Shevelle’s Brixton background to his life as a ballet dancer in one of the most esteemed dance institutions in the world couldn’t be starker: “You come from seeing the Indian shops, the African shops, the Jamaican shops. To then be in the middle of Richmond Park, surrounded by deer, rabbits, bracken, trees,” he describes. “It was amazing to come from somewhere like Brixton, which was my home for many years, to Henry VIII's old hunting lodge and feel like you might not be able to integrate. And to then leave five years later and realize you can call the place your home.”
Shevelle is deeply dedicated to improving representation and diversity in ballet, describing it as a calling. Working with organizations that provide outreach programs, particularly in dance, is a way to show other young people that there are opportunities for them in the spaces that might historically have excluded them – whatever their background, or color of their skin. “The youngsters need someone to look at that sometimes looks like them for them to believe they can do it,” Shevelle explains: “I didn't have many role models, so I know how important it is to have someone to look up to. And maybe it could be me. So, I’ll do as much as I can to do that with as many organizations as possible.”
Growing up in what was a strikingly different Brixton to the trendy, increasingly gentrified borough it is today, Shevelle hopes the capital can hold on to its vibrancy; its sense of community that welcomes people from all walks of life: “My London is full of different communities, exciting, and a boiling pot for a lot of creativity, as well as a boiling pot for opportunity.” To preserve his city, Shevelle recognizes the importance of sustainability: “I would love London to be more green. I believe that the greener we become, the better London will be – however many people live here. But there needs to be more awareness around this,” Shevelle admits: “I don't think people really understand how much our planet is crying.”