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why ballet is still so pale...black dancers/classical ballet co.'s


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#31 Helene

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Posted 25 April 2005 - 08:24 PM

Many thanks, rolande, for sharing your experience and your thoughts. Best of luck in your work with the Boston Ballet outreach program!

#32 sylphide

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Posted 26 April 2005 - 08:10 AM

Greetings rolande:
:huepfen024: :huepfen024: :hyper: :huepfen024: :huepfen024:
What an honor!
Thanks SOOOOO much for sharing your thoughts. Those are precious words from someone who many of us have as a role model.
Can I frame your post?
Wow, I must imagine how it felt when you said:

But I loved seeing the kids look at the picture and ask if it was me. That was their proof that they could start too...


That must indeed have been a special and heart warming experience and the very best of luck with your work. Seems to me you already started to plant the ballet seeds in some little heads.

A thousand thanks!

#33 bart

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Posted 26 April 2005 - 11:01 AM

Thanks, rolande, for your post. It is good to hear some positive remarks about what can be done to change the current situation.

I appreciate the insights into Boston Ballet's outreach program. I wish all companies -- especially smaller companies, who often do not have huge performance demands and should be looking for all sorts of alternative venues -- would make this part of their mission. And not only to inner-city schools. More and more kids of all sorts of social background are being deprived of the arts. Iin my experience, performance by even a few magnificently trained ballet dancers is always captivating to young people, even if the kids are initiall uncomfortable or even dismissive.

All kids can appreciate the physical difficulty of ballet, and the artistry involved in performing well. They also benefit from the lessons about the dedication and hard work needed to produce art, glamour, and illusion. This could also be a way to get Ballet Guilds, and even major contributors with social consciences, involved.

Bringing a few reporters and photographers along on these excursions would be great publicity. Scholarship tickets to productions could help fill seats and also bring much-needed vivacity and variety to the audience, something often needed as hard-core ballet goers become increasingly gray.

I also agree with your advice about auditions: "You''ll never know if you don't try." Negative self-fulfilling prophecies certainly play their role in keeping people back.

Good luck in your new endeavors! This seems to me to be so important that I am going to start another topic (in Anyhthing Goes) asking for input about what outreach activities ather ballet companies are undertaking in their cities.

#34 sylphide

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Posted 26 April 2005 - 02:00 PM

This seems to me to be so important that I am going to start another topic (in Anyhthing Goes) asking for input about what outreach activities ather ballet companies are undertaking in their cities.


Great initiative Bart!

#35 danceintheblood

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Posted 27 April 2005 - 08:59 PM

My five year old niece, a very enthusiastic and musical child, has begun pre-ballet classes. She is the child of a white mother (my sister) and a black father and is herself a black child.

Upon hearing that she was beginning ballet classes, my aunt, who was a professional dancer and is not by nature prejudiced, said "well - you won't see any chocolate drops in the corps of the Australian Ballet Company". She was not making a racist comment, but was simply making a statement of fact. There has never, to my knowledge, been a black dancer with the company and I don't expect to see one in the near future.

Do you place one black dancer in an all white corps, or as an AD, would you consider that this would be 'jarring' from a purely aesthetic viewpoint - just as you would not put one member of the corps in a red tutu when the rest are wearing blue? Is it more acceptable to place an Asian dancer in the corps as the lighter skin tone 'blends in more'? I don't have any answers here, but these were the types of questions that this personal situation raised in my own mind. I believe it is naive to claim that the colour of the skin doesn't matter when it comes to traditional classical companies. Companies have numerous rules when employing dancers regarding appearance - body shape, height etc - so why would the issue of colour be any different? Personally, I love to watch talented dancers of any colour, height, sex, race - but perhaps not everyone feels this way.

While the argument of economics and accessability may have some basis in fact, the same could be said for the cost of educating a lawyer or doctor.

#36 carbro

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Posted 27 April 2005 - 10:06 PM

NYCB presently has several African-American men in its corps and one (badly underutilized) principal. It has usually had one female corps dancer over the past 30 or so years, but does not at present.

Misty Copeland and Danny Tidwell, both of whom are black, are up and coming dancers in the corps of ABT. Danny, IMHO, has the makings of a fine prince. The interesting thing will be seeing if ABT's artistic direction shares my estimation of him and shows the courage (although it really shouldn't be considered that in this day) to push him in that direction.

When I look at a stage full of swans or shades, wilis or nymphs, I have never found a black one (or two) any more irregular or distracting than the occasional red head.

#37 Herman Stevens

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Posted 28 April 2005 - 12:49 AM

Do you place one black dancer in an all white corps, or as an AD, would you consider that this would be 'jarring' from a purely aesthetic viewpoint - just as you would not put one member of the corps in a red tutu when the rest are wearing blue? Is it more acceptable to place an Asian dancer in the corps as the lighter skin tone 'blends in more'? I don't have any answers here, but these were the types of questions that this personal situation raised in my own mind.


In the companies I see, this happens all the time. In the Dutch National, for instance, there are Asian dancers in all ranks, there are two fairly prominent Latin-American dancers, straight from the San Francisco Ballet, and a couple of dancers whom you would describe as black.

I think it's one thing to say "there aren't that many black dancers." It is however an entirely different thing to say ADs are deliberately keeping them out.

As I said before, I suspect companies, expecially US companies would love to have good black dancers in their line-up, for reasons of inclusiveness.

#38 nysusan

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Posted 28 April 2005 - 01:07 PM

I forget if it was during ABTís last Met Opera house season or the one before, but Misty Copeland was cast as a shade in La Bayadere, and during the part of the kingdom of the shades scene when they are all lined up doing those long balances she was front and center, right in the first row of dancers. I must admit that it was a little distracting, simply because your eye was constantly drawn to her rather than taking in the sweep of the whole scene on stage. But no more so than if she had been exceptionally tall or, as carbro said, a redhead! And what a beautiful dancer. One of the great pleasures of the past few ABT seasons has been watching her take the opportunities management has been giving her and make the most of them. At City Center she and another young dancer (maybe Grant DeLong?) were given the leads in a late season performance of Amazed in Burning Dreams and the audience just loved them. For some reason there were a lot of teenagers sitting in my vicinity and they just went wild for them. I still remember one girl behind me saying to another ď I wonder if she knows how beautiful she is, and how much we all love herĒ. I didnít notice if the girls were black or white or another race entirely - but it was great to hear the excitement and adulation in their voices...

#39 canbelto

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Posted 28 April 2005 - 01:26 PM

I think this isnt only an American thing. For instance I comb the corps in the POB videos to find anyone remotely Mediterranean looking (olive skin, curly black hair) and I see none.

#40 bart

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Posted 28 April 2005 - 02:13 PM

Upon hearing that she was beginning ballet classes, my aunt, who was a professional dancer and is not by nature prejudiced, said "well - you won't see any chocolate drops in the corps of the Australian Ballet Company". She was not making a racist comment, but was simply making a statement of fact. There has never, to my knowledge, been a black dancer with the company and I don't expect to see one in the near future.

Do you place one black dancer in an all white corps, or as an AD, would you consider that this would be 'jarring' from a purely aesthetic viewpoint - just as you would not put one member of the corps in a red tutu when the rest are wearing blue? Is it more acceptable to place an Asian dancer in the corps as the lighter skin tone 'blends in more'?


Thank you, Danceintheblood, for your report, which shows that the old "aesthetic" argument in favor of lily-white (or at least pale) classical ballet is still alive, at least in Australia. If your aunt is correct, and this is artistic policy, shame on the Australian Ballet Company.

This is the same argument raised frequentlyat the time of Balanchine's integration of NYCB with Arthur Mitchell -- and which has finally ceased to be respectable in this country. Red tutus are things. No human values are violated by requiring that a professional dancer wear that a color. Skin color, on the other hand, is a human quality that cannot be changed (unless we're going to require white make up was done earlier in the 20th century). There is NO "purely aesthetic viewpoint" possible, given the damaging history of the world as regards to "racial" distinctions. It's time for fans of classical ballet to get over it, as others have in virtually every other area of artistic performance, worklife, education, and so many other formerly segregated fields.

Edited by bart, 28 April 2005 - 03:25 PM.


#41 Treefrog

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Posted 28 April 2005 - 04:05 PM

Perhaps the difficulty you had in imagining a black dancer in a 19th century role, Drew, had to do with the fact that all the ballets that have come down to us from that time are very European.  Maybe imagining someone of African descent as a European was too jarring.


Nobody seems to have any trouble with dancers of European descent dancing La Bayadere, which, last I checked, was not set remotely close to Europe. There are other examples as well.

This whole issue is so complex I don't know where to begin. And I suspect that's the basic problem: no one knows where to begin, and everybody is afraid that if you just begin somewhere it won't do any good because there are too many influences.

But, I'll hazard a guess and say the best solution is for companies to hire more diversely, even if they perceive they are "dropping their artistic standards" at first. They need to create a market, or of course young people of color are not going to waste their time and money getting trained. Will this turn off the patrons? If so ... they need to find some new patrons. I'm guessing that some expert PR would take care of this anyway.

Finally, I'll say that while it is not what I'd call racially balanced, the Joffrey has a noticeable number of non-white bodies on stage, and every year it seems to bring at least one or two dancers of color into the apprentice program. I really, really appreciate this commitment.

#42 Alexandra

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Posted 28 April 2005 - 05:45 PM

A historical note. One of America's very first male dancers, trained well enough to partner Fanny Elssler in the 1840s and later a noted teacher, was George Washington Smith, whose ethnicity is recorded in history books as "mulatto." Audiences of the day accepted him as Albrecht and James. (Apologies if Smith has already been mentioned on this thread.)

#43 carbro

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Posted 28 April 2005 - 06:03 PM

When I look at a stage full of swans or shades, wilis or nymphs, I have never found a black one (or two) any more irregular or distracting than the occasional red head.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Forgive the self-citation :blush: , but I had an afterthought :smilie_mondieu: :

The nature of ballet is changing. ABT aside (infuriatingly so, but that's a different topic), most American companies depend less and less on the rigidly heirarchical ballets in the 19th century style with a corps of 24 "perfectly matched" ladies. The tendency in new ballets seems to bend toward either small corps deployed in less regimented choreography or ensemble works in which each dancer is a distinct individual. The (mis)perceived need for pigment conformity is less and less relevant, anyway.

#44 Alexandra

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Posted 28 April 2005 - 07:05 PM

National Ballet of Cuba, at least, performs the 19th century classics with an integrated corps. It's not as integrated as it was when I first saw the company in the late 1970s, but it's a lot more integrated than any American company I know. (It's not the ballets that are the problem.)

#45 Helene

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Posted 28 April 2005 - 11:01 PM

National Ballet of Cuba, at least, performs the 19th century classics with an integrated corps.  It's not as integrated as it was when I first saw the company in the late 1970s, but it's a lot more integrated than any American company I know.  (It's not the ballets that are the problem.)

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Cuba has long been a mixed race society, and the ranks of National Ballet of Cuba show this well. The Company, exquisitely trained by Alicia Alonso, has been losing dancers to companies worldwide over the last half dozen years. Among them are the Feijoo sisters (Lorna in Boston and Lorena at SFB), Carlos Acosta, and Karel Cruz, a gorgeous, tall, elegant dancer in the PNB corps. Three of the 14 principal dancers in Miami City Ballet are from Cuba. (Three more are from Latin and South America.) While this is sad for Alonso, it is a privilege for the audiences who have "stolen" them. It's hard to imagine that the NBdC can hire everyone from the school, even with the "defections." And the opportunity that companies in the US and Europe can offer is immense, particularly when a dancer can support not only him/herself, but also help to support his/her family and the school that trained him/her. (Even if the value of the US dollar has diminshed.)

Dance Theatre of Harlem has a roster of 45, and has had a number of difficult times over the past few decades. It's hard to believe that at any of several points, at least some DTH dancers wouldn't have left for the opportunity to dance in other companies that are more stable -- and in places less expensive in which to survive than NYC -- and given the small number of places in the Company available to each graduating class, that there aren't well-trained black dancers (particularly women) who, while their first choice is DTH, wouldn't want to dance with other classical companies.

All companies with schools want to train their own dancers, but looking at the rosters of Companies across the US, most have hired European and Asian dancers as well as American dancers who've performed with other companies. They comprise dancers from every level of the hierarchy, including, most significantly, the corps. It's not entirely a matter of "not invented here" (or "until we can grow our own.")


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