HAGERSTOWN — Rylee Armstrong loves that ballet lets her express any emotion she wants.
One thing the 13-year-old will be expressing this year is that ballet is for anyone, including other young girls of color.
The Hagerstown youth, whose heritage includes African American, was recently named a youth ambassador for Brown Girls Do Ballet, a nonprofit whose mission is to “help increase participation of underrepresented populations in ballet programs” by doing things like organizing ballet performances and photo exhibitions and providing scholarships to help young girls with their ballet development and training, according to the group’s website.
Every year, Brown Girls Do Ballet selects youth ambassadors, ages 13 to 17, and junior ambassadors, ages 10 to 12.
“Rylee was chosen because of her leadership ability and desire to help provide opportunities for other young dancers. She is a confident and great student, and we are excited about having her as a part of the organization,” according to an emailed statement from the nonprofit.
Being an ambassador for Brown Girls Do Ballet is an “amazing opportunity for Rylee,” said Shawna Sunday, the Magnet School for Arts Integration dance teacher at Western Heights Middle School, where Rylee is an eighth-grader.
“She’s going to represent the organization well,” Sunday said.
As a youth ambassador, Rylee said she gets to project the nonprofit’s mission to anyone she can, to spread positivity and to reassure others that “anything is possible when it comes to ballet and young students.”
“It’s a great privilege. I am beyond excited,” she said during a recent interview in the dance studio at Western Heights in Hagerstown’s West End.
“I feel great being who I am and getting to show who I am, but I feel there could be more representation (in ballet),” said Rylee, the daughter of Ashley and Jason Armstrong.
Rylee said she’s looked up to Misty Copeland, who became the first Black female principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre.
Through her role as a youth ambassador, Rylee said she’s looking forward to sharing her ballet journey and helping others with theirs.
“I want to bring representation to people that don’t have the same opportunity that I do and to do that in any way I can,” she said.
That includes sharing information about scholarship opportunities for dance classes through Brown Girls Do Ballet.
Learning ballet is not cheap. Lessons can be expensive. Then there’s the clothing and a pair of pointe shoes, if a dancer wants to learn pointe technique, that can cost more than $100, Sunday said.
Rylee’s road to Brown Girls Do Ballet
For Rylee, her ballet journey began after taking some gymnastics classes. She was around 4 or 5 when her mom suggested ballet classes, which she has been taking through Ballet and All That Jazz, a Hagerstown dance school.
Rylee said she really enjoyed ballet. And that’s not the only dance she likes.
After taking a ballet class, she continued those classes but kept adding other dance styles including tap, jazz, modern and hip-hop, her mom said.
Rylee successfully auditioned to join the dance school’s senior company last fall.
Her sister, Parker, 9, also takes ballet, tap, jazz and modern dance classes with Ballet and All That Jazz.
Regarding ballet, Rylee said, “I love how it allows me to be elegant but show my emotions, my strength and my passion.”
“When I’m dancing, I get to be myself,” she said.
Rylee has performed in “The Nutcracker” at The Maryland Theatre during the past two holiday seasons with The WMCB Company and The City Ballet School, her mother said.
Rylee will put her ballet skills — and other dance moves — on display later when Western Heights students present this year’s Infusion Concert. The concerts give the Magnet School for Arts Integration’s students an opportunity to perform an original show, with this year’s theme focusing on a wax museum after hours.
It was Ashley Armstrong who learned about Brown Girls Do Ballet and suggested her daughter apply for a youth ambassadorship.
Being named a youth ambassador is not only good for Rylee, her mom said, but shines a light on her dance family as well. Rylee has a group of school and dance friends who have become a second family for her daughter.
“They push each other every day. She would not be who she is without them,” Ashley Armstrong said.
The application process for Brown Girls Do Ballet included at least two rounds of virtual interviews and Rylee also submitted her dance resume, letters of recommendation, her report card and pictures of her performing certain ballet moves.
What might the future hold for Rylee?
In addition to her ambassadorship and continuing her dance lessons, Rylee is applying to the Barbara Ingram School for the Arts for both dance and violin. She is in the All-County Orchestra and is secretary for Western Heights’ chapter of the Tri-M Music Honor Society.
She is doing well in her academic classes and is applying to the International Baccalaureate program at North Hagerstown High School. Rylee is president of her school’s chapter for the National Junior Honor Society.
Rylee said she’s also applying for summer intensives or dance classes for which she must audition. Those classes could take her anywhere, she said.
Her youth ambassadorship is for one year, but she can reapply.
Sunday, Rylee’s school dance teacher, said Rylee’s leadership skills as well as her maturity and ability to connect set her apart from other middle schoolers.
Rylee hopes to perform with a professional ballet company one day.
She saw a Ukranian ballet perform “Swan Lake” at The Maryland Theatre last November.
“It was beautiful. They all did an amazing job and I hope that I can do that,” Rylee said.
“She’s definitely a very passionate kid,” Rylee’s mom said. “This is a great opportunity for her to make a difference. She really wants to figure out a way to bring dance to kids who otherwise may not have the same opportunities as her.”