Growing ballet in the barrio

If it’s up to Christopher Fairbank, ballet folklorico won’t be the first ballet that comes to mind in San Antonio.

On September 15, Fairbank and his Tri-Coastal Ballet Company will host An Evening of Elegance at the Carver Community Cultural Center. Tri-Coastal is a new ballet troupe created by Fairbank to reach out to underprivileged children who might otherwise never be exposed to the art of ballet.

“There is more to ballet than the stereotypical white ballerina,” says Fairbank. “I wanted to form the company to show people and say, ‘Look, this Mexican girl can do ballet. This black guy can do ballet. This white girl can do jazz … and hip-hop.’ We need to just push these kids forward and let them dance.”

Fairbank, who moved to Texas from New York where his background in ballet is extensive, said his new venture aims to train students to perform right alongside professional dancers.

Raised in Ithaca, New York, Fairbank discovered his love for ballet at the age of 11 when it was forced on him by a female classmate. His school’s production of The Nutcracker needed a Fritz and his friend wasn’t going to take no for an answer.

“When she told me about the play I thought, ‘Not me. I’m not doing any ballet,’” Fairbank, 29, recalls. “The next thing I know, they’re taking measurements for my costume and I’m standing in a ballet studio for a rehearsal.”

More ballet classes followed as Fairbank and the rest of his family realized his natural talent. Although he says his father initially was a bit hesitant at the idea of his son in a leotard rather than tossing around the pigskin like his brothers, he was won over by Fairbank’s second performance.

“After the next show, my dad said, ‘Wow you’re really good. You need to keep with this,’” said Fairbank, who was adopted as a child and considers himself a perfect mix of Puerto Rican, black, and white. “He saw that I had a love for ballet. I think that’s when he really opened up and became comfortable with the idea.”

After high school, Fairbank was accepted into the Ithaca Ballet Company before moving on to a number of other prestigious institutions, including the Washington Ballet Company and the Columbia City Ballet Company in South Carolina.

“Chris was a very outgoing performer during the two seasons I worked with him,” said William Starrett, executive and artistic director of the CCBC. “He was very well-liked among the other dancers and had a terrific jump.”

It was during his auditions with different companies across the nation that Fairbank said he first encountered racism because of his mixed background.

“One professional ballet company flat-out said to me, ‘You’re too dark,’” said Fairbank. “That crushed my spirits. I thought, ‘I’m never gonna get in because of my skin color.’ The next year I went in to audition for the same company because I heard they were looking to ‘add color’ to the program. That year they told me, ‘You’re too white.’ There was no happy medium.”

Through Tri-Coastal, Fairbank promises a fair shot to any dancer eager to step into the spotlight. One goal, Fairbank says, is to provide scholarships to youth who join the company.

“Why not bring this art to kids in the ghetto where no one is going? No one believes that these kids in the barrio can make something of themselves. We’re here to tell them and the world, ‘Oh, yes they can.’”

Currently, Tri-Coastal is practicing out of a studio in Schertz, Texas. Fairbank hopes to get enough response from this weekend’s show to begin the process of opening his own studio in San Antonio. For more information contact Christopher Fairbank at [email protected]



An Evening of Elegance
Tri-Coastal Ballet Theatre
8pm Sat, Sep 15
Carver Community Cultural Center
226 N. Hackberry
(210) 207-7211