Visible Women

How this woman started the first black ballet company in the UK

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Hannah Keegan
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Work/Life is Stylist’s regular column about the professional routines of successful women. Meet Cassa Pancho, Ballet Black founder.

Cassa Pancho, 40, is the founder and artistic director of professional ballet company Ballet Black. She lives in west London with her husband and pet cat.

My alarm goes off… 

At 4.30am when my cat jumps on the bed. I go back to sleep until 6.45am and, on a bad day, snooze until 7.15am. I make a coffee and cereal, then check the company’s four email accounts and social media. Most days I wear jeans and a jumper – I like J Crew and Whistles. I listen to audiobooks on the way to work. I’m now listening to Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman.

I’m responsible for…

Running Ballet Black. I oversee everything from financing to our repertoire. I’m responsible for our seven dancers. Many of them don’t have family in the UK, so I’m conscious of their mental wellbeing as well as physical.

We also have Ballet Black Junior School which consists of 15 ballet classes a week for 150 kids.

I got the job…

By creating it. I studied classical ballet at Durham University and wanted to speak to four black ballerinas about their experience in the industry for my dissertation, but I couldn’t find any. After my degree, I decided to set up classes for dancers of black and Asian descent, taught by a black teacher, which turned into a show. This led to working with venues like the Royal Opera House. Since 2016, we’ve been working with the Barbican. We just keep growing.

Ballet Black has seven full time dancers

My typical day… 

Sees me arrive at my desk at 9.30am. I answer emails and make calls as the dancers arrive. Then I’ll have a meeting with our producer and administrator to discuss things like ticket sales, financial deals or posters that need approval. Next I start rehearsals with the dancers. I sit where the audience would and note down any issues, such as a move doesn’t work or a prop that isn’t in the right place. Afterwards, we’ll discuss how to make it better.

A choreographer will have worked with the dancers on a piece for about five weeks, so it’s my job to protect their vision. The dancers break for lunch at 1pm and I’ll catch up with emails over a miso soup and some fruit. In the afternoon, we have rehearsals until 5pm. Auditioning dancers takes up a good chunk of my week. I also teach a class at our junior school every Saturday.

At Ballet Black, we do about 35 shows a year and 28 of those are outside London, so I travel a lot. On a normal office day, I try to be out the door by 5.30pm.

My most memorable moment… 

Is when I got my MBE. Outside the palace I got talking to a woman and it turned out she had tickets for the show the next day. Surreal!

Ballet pumps are a work essential 

The worst part of my job…

Is having to make hard decisions.

The best part of my job…

Is seeing the results of our hard work. There’s nothing like sitting in the audience of a sold-out show at the Barbican.

After work…

My husband and I will cook dinner and talk about our day. My father is from Trinidad, so I love West Indian food. Then we’ll binge watch a few episodes of a show. We love Line Of Duty. I’m a night owl and don’t go to sleep until about 1am. Before bed I read or do light work such as emails or Instagram.

Tell us about your achievements on social media using *the hashtag* #VisibleWomen and you could appear in Work/Life. Find out more here.

Images: Holly McGlynn

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Hannah Keegan

Hannah Keegan is the features writer at Stylist magazine.

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