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Ballet has long suffered from a diversity problem. “Classical ballet celebrates pale princesses and fair swans,” Olivia Goldhill and Sarah Marsh wrote in The Guardian in 2012. “It’s a world where dancers cake their limbs in white powder, and where performers with darker skin don’t always feel welcome.”

Ballet has a lily-white reputation,” Pointe Magazine reiterated this year.

Take one look at the dance landscape of the world’s most popular ballet companies and it’s not difficult to see that white men and women dominate the field. Before Misty Copeland, there hadn’t been a black soloist at the American Ballet Theater (ABT) for 20 years. Critics have taken notice, urging mainstream choreographers and directors to readdress their recruitment practices for black and Asian dancers.

Beyond race, ballet dancers have been held to tyrannical body standards. The sport is physically demanding to be sure, but the industry has had a reputation of favoring impossibly tall and thin figures over the muscular, athletic types. And retirement comes too early for most. “Dancers usually receive oblique indications that their time is up, like not being cast for roles they once danced or seeing younger dancers chosen in auditions,” Maroosha Muzafaar wrote in The Atlantic. “Most know that’s a sign to let go and move on to something else.”

While ballet has a long way to go in addressing these issues, there are plenty of dancers in the contemporary realm who are actively working to change the white-washed, body oppressive world of ballet. Behold, 17 ballet icons who are changing the face of dance:

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