What Does a Ballet Dancer Do After Converting to Islam? Open The World's First All-Female Muslim Ballet School

The founder of British-based Grace & Poise tells AMT about the path that brought her to Islam and teaching ballet.

Grace & Poise Academy, which was established in London in 2019, is the world’s First Muslim Ballet School. Rather than teaching her students through music, Maisie Byers, its founder, teaches her students ballet through Islamic poetry. Although the classes are open to non-Muslims, the all-female academy focuses on making a positive impact on young girls’ lives.

American Muslim Today: When did you first go into ballet? Did you face any opposition from your family or the community?

Maisie Byers: I started ballet at the age of 3 and from a non-Muslim background, this was the norm growing up. I took ballet seriously from a young age and then trained at the Royal Academy of Dance gaining a Degree In Ballet Education and Licentiate Of the Royal Academy of Dance. Upon graduating, I worked for many ballet schools across London teaching early years to professional levels. I also worked as a freelance choreographer.

I converted to Islam and felt passionately about setting up a Ballet Organization that caters to the Muslim community and allows the same high-quality training and professional development I had been exposed to without compromising faith. The Muslim community has responded very positively to this as the work we do promotes a positive Islamic identity formation and provides ballet in a way that is unique and in line with Islamic values. Our classes work with poetry rather than music, are girls only and have female-only watching to respect modesty. This not only makes ballet accessible to Muslims, but our approach with poetry also has many child developmental benefits and celebrates the significance of poetry in Islamic heritage.

Image courtesy of Maisie Byers

AMT: What about ballet attracts you?

MB: I believe ballet has many benefits. Ballet aids the body to develop strength, stability, coordination and control. It aids posture and alignment and it’s a way for girls to be athletic, artistic and elegant. Ballet also is an art. It encourages creativity, emotional expression and exploration. Poetry allows the child to explore narrative and storytelling through movement and the spoken word. Our classes benefit children physically, emotionally, socially and cognitively and support the holistic growth of the child. I am particularly passionate about this because it’s this development of the whole self that I believe will allow many Muslim girls to be healthier, fulfil individuals physically, mentally and emotionally. Whilst giving them transferable skill sets that will feed into future careers and increase their prospects. 

AMT: What inspired Grace & Poise’s formation?

MB: My love of Islam, interest in child development, expertise and passion for ballet and poetry became the perfect ingredients to establish the organization.

Image courtesy of Maisie ByersAMT: Why do you think it is important to have this organization specifically for Muslim girls?

MB: Many children have the opportunity to be able to holistically benefit from activities like ballet across the world and I feel strongly that the benefits will also aid the Muslim community. I believe firmly in living in Islam and then adapting the world around us to cater to our values as Muslims rather than having to adapt our beliefs/compromise in order to benefit from activities like ballet. This is why we have had such a positive response so far from the Muslim community. We are putting Islam at the forefront and opening doors for the community to benefit from Ballet without ever compromising faith. It’s also important to add that as an organization we have an Islamic ethos and are making ballet accessible to Muslims but are naturally open for any girls that like our way of working regardless of faith.

AMT: Traditionally kids move to music. Why use poetry instead?

MB: Poetry allows the child to explore language, narrative and engage in storytelling, this aids the child cognitively and has many artistic and creative benefits. For some Muslims that don’t listen to music our classes are also inclusive and for those that do listen to music they appreciate and value our unique and artistic way of working that is beautiful as an art form in its own right.

AMT: How can people sign up for classes? Are they year-round?

MB: Yes, our classes run alongside school terms and we aim to have extra activities like workshops, shows and other events over the school holidays. We also provide ballet in Islamic schools in curriculum time as part of our outreach program. We are planning to expand the school internationally, InshaAllah, and so look forward to being able to make our work more accessible to Muslim girls everywhere.

You can sign up for classes on Grace & Poise’s website.

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