Ballet dancer

Meet Imani Sailers, the rising Nashville ballet dancer advocating for black representation

If Imani Sailers were a body of water, it would be a bayou, where a river slows down just enough for a diverse ecosystem to thrive. With a quality of movement as rich as it is soft, youthful as it is wise, and technical as it is artistic, the rising dancer of Nashville Ballet moves with carefree ease. Sailers’ ability to articulate her voice as a woman is equal to that of her peak work. In a changing ballet culture in which dancers demand more agency, she is a light both on and off stage.

Company: Nashville Ballet

Age: 26

Hometown: Chicago

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

Awards: Corps Peak Star 2018

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

Escape time: In 2018, while still an apprentice, Sailers tested her mettle 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 pulled through with extreme determination, poise and strength. That’s when I knew she was a force to be reckoned with!

Last role: For her first full lead role, Sailers recently danced the lead character in Vasterling’s Lucy Negro Redux. Based on the book by poet Caroline Randall Williams, which explores the woman behind Shakespeare’s “Dark Lady” sonnets, this is a ballet about a black woman choreographed for a black ballerina. “It’s the first time I had to think about my blackness specifically to pull off a role,” she says.

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

What its artistic director says: “I’m always looking for individuality and how a dancer’s personality enhances their movement,” says Vasterling. “Imani connects to audiences in a unique and profound way.”

“It’s 100% normal for me to expect that when I come to the studio I can be myself and be accepted.” Imani sailboats

Defender of artists: Sailers has taken an active role in shaping its corporate culture. “My blackness influences the way I experience the world. The things I’m able to bring to artistic discussions — about our tights, rep, who’s leading our rehearsals — show me that at Nashville Ballet, I can 100 % 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 his sights. “I might want to go to law school or find a way to turn those interests into working for a ballet company.”

Other Interests: Sailers teaches at the Rejoice School of Ballet, Nashville Ballet’s sister school. “This year I had the chance to direct and choreograph the pre-professional production, so I did a animal carnival for my children.