Meet Imani Sailers, the Rising Nashville Ballet Dancer Advocating for Black Representation

May 10, 2022

If Imani Sailers were a body of water she would be a bayou, where a river slows just enough for a diverse ecosystem to develop. With a movement quality as rich as it is smooth, youthful as it is sage, and technical as it is artistic, the rising Nashville Ballet dancer moves with an insouciant ease. Sailers’ ability to articulate her voice as a woman is equal to that of her pointework. In a shifting ballet culture in which dancers are demanding more agency, she is a light both on and off the stage.

Company: Nashville Ballet

Age: 26

Hometown: Chicago

Training: Chicago Multi-Cultural Dance Center, Indiana University Jacobs School of Music

Accolades: 2018 Pointe Star of the Corps

Books and ballet: Instead of pursuing the second-company route after high school, Sailers attended Indiana University, graduating with a BS in ballet, with an outside field in political science and a philosophy minor.

Breakout moment: In 2018, while still an apprentice, Sailers had her mettle tested when she replaced an injured dancer in Jennifer Archibald’s Superstitions. The 30-minute contemporary ballet required physical and emotional stamina, as well as artistic maturity. Nashville Ballet artistic director Paul Vasterling recalls, “She held her own with extreme determination, poise and strength. That’s when I knew she was a force to be reckoned with!”

Latest role: For her first full-length principal role, Sailers recently danced the titular character in Vasterling’s Lucy Negro Redux. Based on poet Caroline Randall Williams’ book, which explores the woman behind Shakespeare’s “Dark Lady” sonnets, it is a ballet about a Black woman choreographed for a Black ballerina. “This is the first time that I had to reflect on my Blackness specifically to pull off a role,” she says.

How she prepared: “Cross-train, cross-train, cross-train. Lucy has multiple pas de deux, two solos and a pas de trois in the first act,” says Sailers, who bumped up her cardio and is an avid Bikram yoga enthusiast.

What her artistic director is saying: “I always look for individuality and how a dancer’s personality enhances their movement,” says Vasterling. “Imani connects to the audience in a uniquely deep way.”

“It is 100 percent okay for me to expect that when I come to the studio, I can be myself and be accepted.” Imani Sailers

Artist advocate: Sailers has taken an active role in shaping her company’s culture. “My Blackness influences the way that I experience the world. The things that I am able to bring to artistic discussions—about our tights, rep, who’s leading our rehearsals—show me that at Nashville Ballet it is 100 percent okay for me to expect that when I come to the studio, I can be myself and be accepted.”

Beyond ballet: A Juris Doctor degree has always been in her sights. “I might want to go to law school or find a way to parlay those interests into working for a ballet company.”

Other interests: Sailers teaches at Rejoice School of Ballet, Nashville Ballet’s sister school. “This year I got a chance to direct and choreograph the pre-professional production, so I did a Carnival of the Animals for my kids.”