Charlotte Nebres, 11, is making history this holiday season as the first black lead at the New York City Ballet’s annual production of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker.
Charlotte, a student at the School of American Ballet, was hand-picked to star as Marie, the young girl who dreams of a nutcracker come to life.
“It is [a big deal],” Charlotte told The New York Times of securing the role. “But to me, it’s just how I grew up, so it’s not really different to me.”
Part of that growing up was watching Misty Copeland become the first female African-American principal at American Ballet Theater — something Charlotte, then 6 years old, still remembers.
“I saw her perform and she was just so inspiring and so beautiful,” she told the Times. “When I saw someone who looked like me onstage, I thought, that’s amazing. She was representing me and all the people like me.”
RELATED VIDEO: Misty Copeland on Her Own Health Struggles: ‘I Was Definitely Overeating at One Point’
Charlotte’s mother’s family is from Trinidad, while her father’s is from the Philippines.
Mom Danielle Nebres was a dancer growing up, too, and told the Times she still remembers the shock that came with hearing her daughter had won the part of Marie following her audition.
“With that poker face of hers, she said, ‘Well, I’m Marie,’” Danielle said. “And I just thought, ‘Oh my goodness — they really did it.’ I couldn’t believe it.”
Danielle added that when she told Charlotte she would be the very first black star, her daughter retorted, “Wow. That seems a little late.”
For Charlotte, the joy of dancing outweighs anything else that might be bogging down her mind.
“To me, it just feels like when I dance I feel free and I feel empowered. I feel like I can do anything when I dance,” she told the Times. “It makes me happy, and I’m going to do what makes me happy. You don’t need to think about anything else.”
The young star joins an exceptionally diverse Nutcracker cast this year that includes Tanner Quirk, who is half-Chinese, as her prince; Sophia Thomopoulos, who is half-Korean and half-Greek as the other Marie; and Kai Misra-Stone, who is half-South Asian, as Sophia’s prince.