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why ballet is still so pale...

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Thanks Bart.

Quite interesting comments and article.

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I've been reading Joseph H. Mazo's 1974 book about New York City Ballet called "Dance is a Contact Sport". He makes some really astute observations about many aspects of the ballet world, including the issue of race. Even though it was written 30 years ago, I think his points remain very valid and true today. For example, he points out that people naturally gravitate towards what they are familiar with, and since the makeup of most ballet audiences is not racially diverse it should be no surprise that the same is true in ballet classes and companies.

He also points out that "Human rights movements are concerned with dignity and economics". (p.270) For the most part, the general population doesn't put ballet first on the list of "dignified" professions (well below doctor, teacher, lawyer, etc.), and we all know how ballet dancers fare on the economic scale.

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Perhaps because church-based singing holds such respect in the black community, the earlier successes of Marian Anderson and Leontyne Price made enough of an impact that Toni Morrison, whose libretto for the opera Margaret Garner recently premiered at the Detroit Opera, said in an interview aired on Detroit Public TV that while she had known about Price's career, until she worked on this opera she was astonished at how many black classical singers were in performing Europe and the US. Also reported in the piece was that thanks to this opera, 70% of new subscribers to Detroit Opera are part of the black community.

It's seems rather odd to me that similar inroads weren't made in ballet.

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Perhaps gospel singing provided enough of an example, role models, respect and passion to pave the way for black opera stars. Obviously there's a hugely rich tradition of African dance, but that is so dissimilar to the formality and structure of classical ballet that it seems like there is too much of a disconnect between the two for a similar pathway to unfold.

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Just back from the Regional Dance American Mid-States festival, and I can tell you that the future for diversity in ballet does not look rosy. Out of a couple of hundred kids, one could count on both hands the number of bodies with obvious African heritage. Five of them were in our company -- and four of those have one white parent. One the positive side, one of these dancers won a scholarship to the Craft of Choreography conference, and another was named first alternate for a scholarship to the Joffrey NYC summer intensive. (Side note: I did enjoy watching a woman stop by to compliment the performance of one of our dancers, obviously directing her comments to the African-American mom with our group. We had to redirect her to the girl's actual mom, who is white, one row back. Lots of assumptions are made about race in our country.)

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I would think that in the arts, we would be able to get past this issue. As a few have stated, the world of opera is very diverse.

Dancers have always been at the mercy of the whims of the AD's. Stories abound (true or not) of AD's who would only hire dancers with brown hair, or green eyes, etc. Let's face it, dance is still one of the few industries where you can be hired or fired just on the way you look.

Okay, so one black dancer in a corps of white swans might stick out, but what if half of them were black? There are other roles in Swan Lake as well, and to not hire ethnic dancers because of two or three ballets that require uniformity in the corps seems silly. I recently saw Misty Copeland in Giselle. She did not stick out in my opinion.

I do not believe that if a black dancer leaves a company, that she should be replaced by a black dancer. I think the best dancer period should get the job, regardless of race.

So here's my sad story. My old dance partner (who is black) and I went to a major ballet company's audition for their summer intensive in the early 1990's. He blew the competition away and was accepted into their program. When he went up to the judges to thank them, one of the judges told him that the only reason he was accepted into their program was that they needed to fill their quota. :) It was a very quiet car ride home. He was an amazing dancer, and was later offered a full scholarship to Ailey.

May 24:

Editing this to add that I just got the new Dance Magazine, and it addresses this very issue.

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Many dancers of the African descent do not have the traditional "ballet body" which many companies look for. This could be the reason for why there are not many dancers of color

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^ I respectfully beg to differ. I know many dancers myself who aren't caucasian and who have the same body type as the best ballet dancers.

Sadly, there really are far too few dancers of African and Asian descent in professional ballet. I do think, however, that the situation is changing - albeit too slowly for my liking - but it is changing. I really hope that dancers of diverse backgrounds will soon be represented throughout the ballet world :)

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I agree with you. It is impossible to make a blanket statement about body types and races. This is just a general conclusion which is not correct in all situations.

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Many dancers of the African descent do not have the traditional "ballet body"

There are alot of women of African descent with "long and lean" limbs: the problem is rather why aren't they drawn to enroll in ballet, that is what , I would hope, the discussion is about, ie finding and discussing positive solutions.

It is impossible to make a blanket statement about body types and races. This is just a general conclusion which is not correct in all situations.

And this is precisely why this is still an issue in 2005: because many people still make such a priori assumptions. :)

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For those interested, a similar topic is under discussion in the Cross Talk section of BT for Dancers

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Hi, this issue, very American I might say, is very interesting. I say very American because we live here in a complex society in which we have all the time be very careful to do not offend anyone.

I was principal dancer for ten years in good regional company in the south east and according with the administrative staff was easy promote me because I am Hispanic. Sounded odd to me at the time I was just arrived in the US. At the same time in the company it was a black dancer that I will confess was very demanding and hard to work with. But the management refuses to let him go because the company was affraid to be accuse of discrimination. It sounded very odd to me at the time. I believe in the world of ballet or in any of such of specific profession we should just use what we need for our vision regarless anything, sexual orientation, color, etc. I direct a company that preety much have a little bit of everything and anybody will dance what the company needs. I refuses to believe of an artistic director that have issues about colors I don't believe that is possible.

If it are less blacks today on the stage are less white too. 70% of my colleges from the time I was a dancer quit ballet went back to college and got a"REAL JOB". I believe this happend because ballet pays really bad and today isn't enough good artisitc directors who inspired you to dance no matter what, they are all "Good managers" they spend more time with sponsors having executive lunchs that in the studio developing young people, they left there dancers with assistants who don't have the depth of the artist to keep dancers motivated so blacks and whites are quitting. And those spots are taking by Asian or Hispanic like me whom the bad American pay is 6 times more than what in our countries can get. We know what bad pay really is.

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Sunpacy, I agree that this issue is very very American and can be very confusing to non-Americans, especially as most of us arrive here assuming that this is a land of equal opportunity and are very surprised to find that it just isn't so.

However, while I agree that dancers seem to be extremely underpaid compared to other professions and compared to their intensive, lengthy and ultra-competitive training, I think that blacks and other 'people of colour' are clearly under-represented in the ballet world, as in many other workplaces. This certainly isn't a matter of salary. I started working for a large corporation 6 months after I arrived in the US, and I was quite taken aback at how 'white' the company is compared to the general population in the large NE city I live in. I come from a very multi-cultural and (at present) divided country, and yet there you don't see the kind of racial/national origin disparity in the workplace that you see here in the US. Every country has its problems - racial discrimination is a real problem in the US.

I hope no-one takes offense at the above - it's just one alien's view.

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I also beg to differ about what some people are saying regarding black body types having a stereotypical "look". I could think of a handful of black girls WITH a ballet body right off the top of my head. I think that the reason there are so little blacks dancing in ballet is the lack of role models for blacks today. I myself am mixed (black mother & white father) and find it VERY discouraging only seeing the same light faces, although many are very talented dancers. I haven't been really interested in ballet until recently. I used to be a mainly jazz/tap dancer because of the lack or role models, but I've just recently realized how much I loved ballet a few months ago. I'd like to see more colored faces, but I'm not going to stop my dream or give up because of that. Who knows, maybe I can be a role model for mixed girls, and maybe even blacks. I think it'll take time, but people need to push themselves and not NOT do something because of not seeing people like them doing it.

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Every country has its problems - racial discrimination is a real problem in the US.

I hope no-one takes offense at the above - it's just one alien's view.

I totally agree with that statement, well said. And I think it's time for Americans to realize this instead of acting like we're living in a perfect society. There is still heaps of racism between both races, and no one seems to be doing anything about it.

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May I take this opportunity to welcome you, Kela, to BalletTalk! I think there are many shades of racism, and sometimes people don't even realize that their words or deeds are racist, how hurtful they can be.

As a ballet lover myself, I am glad you found your own love for that form. Role models take many forms. If you find yourself in that position (and not necessarily as a star), it would be nice to think that your example will inspire girls of all backgrounds.

Meanwhile, please stop by our Welcome Page and tell us a little about yourself and how you found your way to BalletTalk!

Incidentally, there is a quick link at the top of the page, far to the right, to our sister site, BalletTalk for Dancers. You may find much of interest there, too. If you register there, though, please keep the same name, making it easier for readers of both boards to keep you straight.

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"There are arguments that a black ballerina wouldn’t suit the corps de ballet ( the members of a ballet company who dance together as a group) as the dancers should all appear as one. 'As long as they’re unified, the costumes are the same and they’re around the same height who, in 2009, is really going to stare at a brown face and say it stands out? It’s not even about race, it’s just ridiculous.' she [Ballet Black’s founder Cassa Pancho] says." Here is the link to article.

Link to website of Ballet Black.

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I just noticed a beautiful black ballet student from the sister site when someone posted the audition sites for the Washington School of Ballet summer intensive. So much for the generalizations about racial body types. She's classically gorgeous.

http://www.washingtonballet.org/_pdf/SI.3.pdf

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