Cassa Pancho: The Driving Force Behind Ballet Black

Born in Kensington, London, Cassa Pancho’s heritage is a rich blend of Trinidadian and British roots. As a young woman, Cassa developed a profound love for ballet, but it was her academic pursuit at Durham University that ignited her passion for promoting diversity within the ballet world. Her research for her Master’s degree at the Central School of Ballet in London led her to delve deep into the lack of black women in ballet. This academic pursuit, coupled with her personal experiences and observations, became the foundation for her trailblazing journey in the dance world.


In 2001, with the aim of providing professional ballet opportunities for black and Asian dancers, Cassa Pancho founded Ballet Black. What started as a vision in West London rapidly grew into a beacon of representation and diversity in UK ballet. The company wasn’t merely a response to the industry’s lack of racial diversity; it was a revolutionary shift in how classical ballet could be reimagined.

Ballet Black began to flourish under Pancho’s guidance. By 2005, it transitioned from mainly training sessions to producing full-length ballet productions, redefining the classical repertoire with stories that resonated with a broader audience. Works such as “The Suit” and “Ingoma” were not just technical masterpieces but also profound narratives that tackled themes of love, societal expectations, and history.

The company’s inclusive approach, combined with its commitment to excellence, attracted collaboration with several esteemed choreographers, both emerging and established, like Christopher Hampson and Will Tuckett. This synergy of talent has resulted in Ballet Black’s distinctive choreographic voice that stands out in the ballet world.

In addition to performances, Pancho ensured that Ballet Black had a strong educational arm. The Ballet Black Junior School is one such initiative, introducing the younger generation to the wonders of ballet. Outreach programmes, workshops, and community engagement further expand the company’s impact, making ballet accessible to all.

The influence of Ballet Black under Cassa Pancho’s leadership cannot be understated. More than just a dance company, it challenges conventions, shatters stereotypes, and, most importantly, crafts a space where talent—regardless of background—can shine. Cassa’s dedication to promoting diversity within ballet has not gone unnoticed, with accolades such as the MBE in the 2013 Birthday Honours for her contributions to ballet.

In a landscape that often celebrates tradition, Ballet Black, led by Cassa Pancho, has etched its place as a pioneer, pushing boundaries and transforming the ballet experience for audiences worldwide.