As practice wrapped up at the Boston Ballet's rehearsal studio, little ballerinas walked excitedly around the lobby. Older dancers were perfecting their spins and twirls in front of the mirror.
For Chyrstyn Fentroy, that meant moving from one extraordinary and beautiful position to another, with what looked like effortless grace. This year, she'll dance as the Snow Queen in the Boston Ballet's production of "The Nutcracker," as well as in several other roles.
She was clearly exhausted, but excited to perform in "The Nutcracker." As she says, it's the first ballet most people see — and where her love of ballet began.
"I think my first vivid memory of 'The Nutcracker' is being one of the little girls that comes out from Mother Ginger's skirt," she said. "That was like my first featured thing. I was like 3, but I was the last girl to leave the stage and I got to do a cartwheel."
Fentroy is the daughter of two dancers, including a mother who she grew up watching dance as the sugar plum fairy. She says she's happy that Boston Ballet hasn't put too much emphasis on her identity.
"I can tell they didn't bring me in because they needed a black girl. They never made a big deal out of me being the first in 10 years, and I appreciate that because it makes it feel normal, and that's what we want is to be just one of the dancers," she said.
Fentroy admits that there are challenges to being the only black woman in a company, from having to wear her hair in an afro in a ballet when others are wearing their hair down, to feeling insecure — haunted by the fear that she's not good enough to be in certain roles.
"You can get that feeling of am I only getting cast in this role because I am their dancer of color, and if they don't put me in this role, they aren't featuring their dancers of color, so someone will say something," said Fentroy. "It's just something that I've kind of beat into my head, that it doesn't matter never going to be enough in my mind.
Fentroy hopes that seeing her dance will help younger girls feel like they belong on the stage, too — so that someday, that the presence of an an African American on the ballet stage is not newsworthy.
"We can't solve this problem of diversity in one day, but we have to plant the seed," she said. "It has to start with little kids that are in class and they go and tell their friends, 'Hey, I'm doing ballet class,' and then their other friends of color can come and do ballet too because they're like, 'Oh, my friend is going to do this and I feel OK because she's there.'"
In the meantime, Fentroy is practicing. She's focused on the feeling that drew her to ballet in the first place — when she was a little girl — as she moves from Mother Ginger's skirt to dance as the Snow Queen.
"The snow scene is one of my favorite scenes in the entire Nutcracker with the snow falling, and it's, in my opinion, the best part of the score, the music is just beautiful," said Fentroy. "It feels like you're living in a snow globe."
This segment aired on December 21, 2018.