Children's Literature in Education

, Volume 50, Issue 3, pp 297–314 | Cite as

Contesting Controlling Images: The Black Ballerina in Children’s Picture Books

  • Dawn HeineckenEmail author
Original Paper


Though critics have debated the gendered ideologies at work in the ballet book genre, discussion so far has overlooked how race shapes the meanings of such stories and the ways that stereotypes about black females have caused them to be excluded from representation in both the world of classical dance and ballet stories. This essay provides a close textual analysis of seven recent picture books about black ballerinas that counter this history and employ the figure of the ballerina in ways that challenge social constructions of black female embodiment. While stories about black ballerinas share with the larger ballet book genre a sometimes troubling construction of femininity, they simultaneously embody the affirmative tradition of African American literature by asserting the beauty and competency of black girls and challenging what Patricia Hill Collins calls “controlling images” of black femininity.


Children’s literature Dance Gender Race Femininity White supremacy Controlling images 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Women’s and Gender StudiesUniversity of LouisvilleLouisvilleUSA

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