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


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#46 Herman Stevens

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Posted 29 April 2005 - 12:54 AM

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.


I'm completely puzzled by this. "Young people of color are not going to waste their time and money" training for ballet (it's your assumption), and nonetheless companies should hire iffy dancers and just turn up the PR machine a couple notches and people will love it?

If so why do ballet anyway? It only gets in the way of the PR...

#47 Marenetha

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Posted 13 May 2005 - 08:49 PM

Houston Ballet has several black dancers (including one, Cleopatra Williams, who went to my school for all but her last year of training!) and really -- I don't see the problem. They dance in the corps, they dance as soloists, Lauren Anderson danced both as Cleopatra (who they say looked Greek) and every other possible classical role.

I don't really think it's so much of an issue. Like Treefrog said--does La Bayadere ring a bell? What about any other number of ballets where clearly, there can be no historical accuracy with an all-white cast?

I really don't see this so much as racism; I see it more as talented black students who are interested in dance being turned to modern, jazz, and hip hop simply because of greater amounts of black role models there.

#48 bart

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Posted 14 May 2005 - 03:49 AM

Marenetha, thanks for your reply about Houston. Your last paragraph has a ring of truth and sense to it.

#49 Helene

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Posted 15 May 2005 - 09:17 PM

Yesterday I went to the recital for the Pacific Northwest Ballet Seattle School's Creative Movement and Pre-Ballet II classes at the Phelps Center (among other things, where the Seattle PNB school is located.) The Creative Movement kids are 5-6 years old and the Pre-Ballet kids are 7. Among them I saw a handful of Asian girls, 3 or so black girls, and two (maybe three?) boys out of 48 kids listed on the program. (And if I were the lone boy in the Creative Movement IV, and, indeed, I did have a little ball of white feathers stuck to the back of my tights for "Ducks in a Row," -- it was hard to tell for sure from the back row -- I would refuse to go back.)

After each group of children performed, they sat on the floor in front of the chairs set up in the main studio, where by the end, they had prime seats to watch 16 Professional Division students perform excerpts from Paquita. To me it looked like an all-Caucasian group of PD students. I raise this, because two of the points of the recital are 1. to show the parents how many of the PD dancers started in these programs and 2. to show the children what they should and could aspire to.

Edited by hockeyfan228, 15 May 2005 - 11:03 PM.


#50 bart

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Posted 16 May 2005 - 06:11 AM

Those interested in the implications of this topic for ballet should have a look at the London Times interview with Carlos Acosta (May 15, 2005, LINKS). He makes some interesting comments near the end. (It's a great interview, too.)

#51 sylphide

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Posted 16 May 2005 - 06:06 PM

Thanks Bart.
Quite interesting comments and article.

#52 Anne74

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Posted 20 May 2005 - 05:09 PM

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.

#53 Helene

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Posted 21 May 2005 - 03:12 PM

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.

#54 Anne74

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Posted 21 May 2005 - 05:40 PM

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.

#55 Treefrog

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Posted 22 May 2005 - 12:23 PM

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.)

#56 ToThePointe

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Posted 22 May 2005 - 03:39 PM

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.

#57 studio company

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Posted 06 July 2005 - 02:52 PM

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

#58 DancingPixie

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Posted 06 July 2005 - 03:14 PM

^ 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 :)

#59 studio company

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Posted 06 July 2005 - 04:48 PM

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.

#60 sylphide

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Posted 06 July 2005 - 05:13 PM

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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