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DefJef

Race, Culture and Ballet

206 posts in this topic

To me, the beauty lies not in a bunch of perfectly matched bodies, but how a group of diverse ones learns to move as one stylistically.

Helene, that's a very beautiful thought and exactly my own, although you said it much better than I ever could! :wub:

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To me, the beauty lies not in a bunch of perfectly matched bodies, but how a group of diverse ones learns to move as one stylistically. [...] Ironically, when I see a corps with a fairly rigid set of body types and heights, like in POB and the Bolshoi, my tendency is to look at all of the faces and movement to try to differentiate them.

If you observed those "perfectly matched" bodies of the POB or the Kirov off stage you'd see they are not perfectly matched by nature. They're all different women with different ways of walking and moving &c ad inf. The matching work is part of the technical artistry both of the dancers and the ballet masters. There are no cookie cutter dancers.

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Like Perky and Herman, I also was drawn to Helene's point about "learning to move as one stylistically." After all, ballet is essentially a matter of movement, style, and -- usually -- harmony with others.

Which wouldn't be a bad model for society in general, come to think of it.

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I think one issue of ballet that does have to be addressed is that some classical ballets do undoubtedly have some very old-fashioned and ugly racial stereotypes. Le Corsaire and Raymonda are two obvious ones.

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I think one issue of ballet that does have to be addressed is that some classical ballets do undoubtedly have some very old-fashioned and ugly racial stereotypes. Le Corsaire and Raymonda are two obvious ones.

Some may feel this way, but I think they should either be done as they were conceived or not done at all. Otherwise, it gets into sterilizing, and all this business of 'Huck Finn', etc. I know a girl who hated 'Blow-up', the Antonioni film from the 60's, because she thought it was 'sexist' for them to use the word 'chicks' for the girls. Nevermind she saw it in 1999 and thought new norms and mores should apply to old art--in this case a film from the 60's using 60's slang ought to be changed to suit her delicate sensibilities. Her own paintings reflect this sterilized ideal: They don't have an ounce of personality to them. Anyway, the ones that don't have 'obvious racial stereotypes' have plenty of less obvious stereotypes built into them, and certainly all sorts of 'class unfairness' to them. If people start applying the political correctness standards to old classics, they'll ruin what the piece was about to begin with.

Better to use all races even in the seemingly bigoted stories--yes, let the black ones play the white oppressors, etc., if necessary--but to change the text of an old-fashioned story is much worse

than just omitting it completely. There's already so much Orwellian sterilization going on. However, it doesn't always work: Some may have felt that 'The Wind Done Gone' was refreshing and would annihilate 'Gone With the Wind,' but it has had very little effect on 'GWTW's continued appeal when it came out 5 or 6 years ago. There are probably some that think 'The Birth of a Nation' ought to be banned completely, but among these you won't find a single film scholar.

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To me, the beauty lies not in a bunch of perfectly matched bodies, but how a group of diverse ones learns to move as one stylistically. [...] Ironically, when I see a corps with a fairly rigid set of body types and heights, like in POB and the Bolshoi, my tendency is to look at all of the faces and movement to try to differentiate them.

If you observed those "perfectly matched" bodies of the POB or the Kirov off stage you'd see they are not perfectly matched by nature. They're all different women with different ways of walking and moving &c ad inf. The matching work is part of the technical artistry both of the dancers and the ballet masters. There are no cookie cutter dancers.

I guess I have to disagree slightly here. When I saw the Kirov in Berkeley the last time around, one thing that struck me was the beauty in the uniformity of the corps (not in the cookie cutter sense). It was breathtaking. A corps with a diversity of dancers -- all colors and sizes present and accounted for -- has its own beauty, and it is not inferior -- but it is not the same kind of beauty.

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I seem to have opened something of a Pandora's box with my husting-style post. :)

I suppose the sad truth is that ballet will always be racially biased. I noticed and I'm sure this was a slip and not intentional that a previous poster described ethnic dancers as dancers of "colour" and this is the crux of race issues. The term colour to describe ethnicity is regressive if blacks, Asians, chinese etc are "coloured" what are caucasians, colourless?

The argument trotted out (and not here) by the regressive balletomane that one black face will be out of place in a line up of swans, is a non argument. Rather one must ask the stater of such a dubious truism, will it be out of place to anyone but you? And if so, why is this so if the black swan (no pun intended) has the dancing chops?

Acosta, for all his magnificence, is I'm afraid, I very much feel, not a good example of the rise of the black dancer, male or female. He came to prominence within Alonso's company, was selected as part of her gentrification or rather urban salvation ballet programme - and it was in this freethinking milieu that he became a star and was brought to international attention.

One wonders were he to have been selected within the criteria of a major international school POB, RB, SAB, Marinsky etc Would he even have made it to audition or had the will to go. And that is part of Acosta's mystique, his rise from crippling slum poverty. And by this I in no way denigrate him or his achievements, but rather we have to discuss the black dancer (and in terms of race and ballet black really is the issue) and their rise and place within the traditional structure of school and major company.

The list of black dancers whose careers were blighted by the colour of skin is a sad litany of missed potential, frustrated talent and careers ended far too soon. From the delectable Raven Wilkinson, (who I saw dance years ago as a soloist with Dutch National) to the contemporary careers of Aesha Ash, Andrea Long, Jerry Douglas - the common conclusion to all these fine dancers' blighted careers makes any counter argument sound hollow, I'm afraid.

One wonders what is to happen with Eric Underwood, whose career seems to be following the path of Douglas's, only in reverse. I sincerely, sincerely hope this young man does not spend years relagated to the back of the corps, as Douglas did, before calling it quits.

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Other variations on this theme are that the Western imperialist powers are also the ones usually expected not to demand racial purity. There are also sorts of reasonable arguments for why this might be (and have to be, given that privileged positions always get questioned, have matters of cultural guilt associated with them), although I have been through them in other venues and don't mean to get into that beyond just its mention. What I mean to say is that classical forms like Peking Opera, Kabuki Theater, Shanghai Opera and Noh Drama have not been hiring Caucasians and blacks, at last report. Nobody wants to see Peking Opera without Chinese or Noh without Japanese. I don't know that much about Reverend Moon's Universal Ballet, whether this is by now a greater mixture of Koreans and white and/or black Americans, although I do know that there was someone from ABT with them to give them an early boost a few years back.

I did know a dancer who did Bharata Natyam, the South India Classical Dance, but she was only technically proficient really and believed in reincarnation, which she thought would help, I suppose; she ended up as a 'laying-on-of-hands' nurse in an upstate New Age ashram. This was fortunate, as her Boston preacher's daughter background had not made it possible for her to become nearly as effective as the Indians I saw.

In more folkish forms, nobody wants to see Polynesian dance done by anyone but Polynesians. The girls from Queens and Brooklyn who did the entertainment at Hawaii Kai (on Broadway in 50's in the early seventies not far from the old Metropole) were not very convincing.

That's probably irrelevant, as we all know that if we see Armenian Folk Dance we actually want to be seeing the ethnicity, that's a big part of it. So it seems maybe that the Western Classical Arts are the only ones that are supposed to open their doors, and they do gradually do so. No matter what the complaints of unfairness are, it seems to be that there can be more opening into ballet and classical music than there can be a training of Caucasians and African-Americans for a life in Peking Opera or Indian Dance. I don't know a soul who wants to see an American in either of these. Maybe if they put versions in theme parks they can americanize it and make it less racist for white and black Americans alike, if only due to proximity. But this causes other problems.

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I suppose the sad truth is that ballet will always be racially biased. I noticed and I'm sure this was a slip and not intentional that a previous poster described ethnic dancers as dancers of "colour" and this is the crux of race issues. The term colour to describe ethnicity is regressive if blacks, Asians, chinese etc are "coloured" what are caucasians, colourless?

Kate, I believe I used that term and I used it intentionally, as a sign of respect, because it's a term often used by African-Americans and other non-whites in the West, particularly by people who often think they see racism where some of the rest of us see people just benignly being people. :)

One wonders were he to have been selected within the criteria of a major international school POB, RB, SAB, Marinsky etc Would he even have made it to audition or had the will to go.

OK, but why do you wonder? It seems to me that this thread has suffered from a lack of evidence and an abundance of speculation. If we had concrete examples of good dancers and choreographers denied the opportunity to work, we would have something to go on. You mention Raven Wilkinson, Aesha Ash, Andrea Long and Jerry Douglas. I hope you'll tell us why you think these dancers have suffered from racism.

My second husband was black, and before we married I'd had a good thirty plus years of ballet going, and at the start of our relationship I tried to instill my love of ballet into him and I remember his first visit with myself, under duress, to the Royal Opera House. And his verdict - it's all white. There was nothing there which he felt spoke to him, to his ethnicity to his experience either on stage or off.

I wish your husband could have talked to Arthur Mitchell. But leaving aside the question of whether or not there was something there he could learn to relate to, I'm trying to understand why you see it as ballet's fault and problem if he didn't. Why are artists or why is an art form required to make a conscious effort represent everyone? Should soul food restaurants be required to serve Thai cuisine? Whites have taken an interest in blues, jazz, reggae, and other ethnic musics made by artists of color with no concern for white listeners, with no interest in representing whites. Were those artists morally obliged to take whites into consideration? Would that have made their art better? I'm really trying to understand this point of view. "Why is ballet overwhelmingly white?" is a legitimate question, even an important question. But "ballet is overwhelmingly white so the cause must be racism" is, in my opinion, one-diagnosis-fits-all presumption.

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kfw--I am trying to remember what documentary it is--it may be in the '6 Balanchine Ballerinas'--that the story of Raven Wilkinson is told. And that definitely is a tragic story of racism.

The term 'people of colour', as I've understood it, is considered an acceptable term, whereas 'coloured people' referred only to blacks, and so was dropped, even though the term itself is substantially not any different. I had still usually heard 'people of colour' used primarily for black and Hispanic, but it may also be used for Asians, even though I've never heard it.

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I am one who thinks the problem is no longer one of audience attitudes, at least in most of the US today.

Even in the area of national folk dancing, mentioned by papeetepatrick, I have seen audiences respond with enthusiasm and pleasure to an ethnic mix among the dancers.

The audience is well ahead of some of the schools, career advisors, and company managers on this one, it seems to me.

One other thought: I don't really know the personal details of all the dancers mentioned in Kate Lennard's post, or whether all of them have careers that have been "blighted by color of skin." This is possible. But it also might be an oversimplification that not all the dancers mentioned would find flattering. Not a few of these dancers have had remarkable careers (along with fine critical reviews) so far. :)

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Here's a piece of Ms. Wilkinson's story. In the documentary, it may have been told by Tallchief, but I can't remember. Any way, her career was cut short.

Grace Under Fire - dancer Raven Wilkinson

Dance Magazine, Feb, 2001 by Heather Wisner

All Raven Wilkinson wanted to do was dance. But as one of the relatively few black American ballerinas of her era, she found it wasn't always easy.

The time their tour bus pulled into Montgomery, Alabama, during a Ku Klux Klan rally, the dancers of Serge Denham's Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo had good reason to fear that this wouldn't be an ordinary one-night stand. It was the mid-'50s, and Jim Crow segregation was in effect throughout the South. After a Klansman boarded the bus and began throwing around the dancers' bags, the company decided that Raven Wilkinson shouldn't perform that night. Wilkinson, the only black dancer in the company's half-century history, had been warned by her parents about racism long before, but nothing quite prepared her for that evening's dinner in the hotel, where the dancers shared the dining room with a group of white men and their families. Wilkinson came to the startling realization that the men were Klansmen and the formless white sheets piled onto nearby chairs were their gowns and hoods. "The company told me, `Stay here, lock the door and don't come out' while they went to perform," she said. "I did, and from my window, I saw a cross burning outside."

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I actually would be quite content to see anyone doing any form of dance, if that dancer had the artistry, technique and desire to render authentically powerful performances that would appeal to audiences who had the expertise to evaluate "authenticity" as THEY (knowledgeable insiders) would define it. For me art is symbolic creation not a simple simulation or representation. The essence of it is this essential creativity and for me it inspires not through the literal representation, but something more sublime and transcendant.

I appreciate the numerous acknowledgements of my post this morning, but since I see less acknowledgement of the spirit of my suggestions than I would have hoped, I will try to clarify my position a bit.

First of all, as I suspected several posters have suggested inclusiveness and diversity as we have defined it here, are actually not high priorities. While this is not surprising, I do find it disappointing as I know the status quo will never change without a clear and conscious commitment to change. Ballet will not become more inclusive unless a strong firm commitment is made, and a high priority associated with this desirable change.

I also do not want to get bogged down in terminology such as the term "people of color". Many contemporary activists find this a useful way to mobilize coalitions of nonwhite people committed to change, and this is good enough for me. I must confess that my top priority in selecting this term was not how it would affect "caucasians" who might suffer from a felling of colorlessness or color inferiority. The disadvantages for the white population should not trump our concern for the actual targets of discrimination, and a term like "non" white has obvious problems. For that matter, many also object to the term "Caucasian" as well. Contention over terms is endemic and paralyzing. I have learned to try to call people what they choose to call themselves while remaining as respecful and well informed as possible. Most important, however, must be the substance of the dialog and an attitude of respect, not some formalistic and doomed effort to please everyone all the time.

While we are on terminology, I know many who find the term "color blind" to be an undesirable term, since #1- our society does not really operate in this way anyway. #2-Often this means, let's ignore real or potential issues of discrimination and prejudice. Drop these issues at the door please; that's excess baggage, and stop being so oversensitive. Again, this usually proves counter productive in changing business as usual. Mostly it's effective at stymying agents of change.

Also on my second point in my initial post--the reality of underrepresentation, Let's face it, even when we trot out Arthur Mitchell, Carlos Acosta, Aesha Ashe, Raven Wilkinson, Jerry Long, Eric Underwood, and Misty Copeland, etc. and the list goes on--or does it? Even once we review these counter examples, if we are honest we must admit, we need only our two hands to tick off the number of prominent figures like this in the ballet world, and many of these figures themselves asserted that they had to fight against prejudice to achieve what they did. Again, we do not need absolute and total exclusion to reveal a serious underrepresentation. Demanding this totality, focusing on these exceptional cases muddies what is actually a pretty clear picture, and again works to impede change. There was and continues to be a problem in ballet that reflects and possibly amplifies problems found throughout American society.

We need to take people on their own terms. If a dancer is proud to be a member of a group with a heritage of resilience and triumph over discrimination, we need not insist on color blindness or treating them as individuals. Not everyone wants to be taken simply as an individual out of the context of a social community. Unless difference is used to stigmatize or divide people by rank, there should be no impediment to asserting an ethnic, racial, or cultural identity. I may not insist that the price of admission to the world of ballet is that a person appear as an individual stripped of their social identity because that identity makes me uncomfortable.

Difference can be embraced and celebrated. It is not bad by definition. If we mobilize all these different bodies and identiies in concert in stylistically coherent ways, we have the potential to achieve a beauty beyond the bounds of the homogeneous or predictable. Unusual and pleasing harmonies may be more desirable than a one note monotone, however comforting than steady drone may have seemed in the past.

I call again for a commitment to a more enlightened ballet future with room for many shades and sensibilities, rededicated to a creative reimagining of the art and a fond farewell to the stifling and exclusionary history of business as usual.

At this juncture I am not ready to concede ballet will always be racially biased. Ballet is what we make it. If enough of us commit ourselves to change it will happen. Sadly, if enough of us either give up hope, work wittingly or unwittingly to impede change, or worse yet, fight to maintain a system that injures, excludes, and punishes people based on their identity and heritage--in that case, we can and will perpetuate these negative aspects of the art far into the forseable future. The choice really is ours.

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papeetepatrick, thanks for the example, but one example of one ballet company backing down in the face of a racist town in the 1950's doesn't tell us anything about race in ballet today, does it?

As for acceptable terms, I don't think we'll have a colorblind society until any term not meant as a slight is accepted in the spirit in which it is used.

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papeetepatrick, thanks for the example, but one example of one ballet company backing down in the face of a racist town in the 1950's doesn't tell us anything about race in ballet today, does it?

It gives you an example of racism in ballet history. Historical racism in ballet is necessarily significant in any survey of 'race and ballet' today, even if the exact same circumstances no longer apply. And you asked Kate Lennard about racism as regard to those dancers she listed, so that's why I placed it here. So that I think if ballet history formed what ballet is today, all aspects of its history are part of all those aspects of what it is today even if things have changed--whether improved or gotten worse.

As for acceptable terms, I don't think we'll have a colorblind society until any term not meant as a slight is accepted in the spirit in which it is used.

I have no opinion on these terms, in fact I find them all irritating. I wrote this about the difference in 'coloured people' and 'people of colour' because that is the Politically Correct stuff. Even if one doesn't subscribe to this, it is important to know, because some people are extremely offended by 'coloured people' but have agreed to speak of 'people of colour.' This is important to know for such kinds of communications as internet discussion, because there are so many dimensions left out that the 'spirit in which it is used,' while I agree that is the important thing, will often be missed with people who are only screens and typed words to each other.

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Thanks, dds, for your thoughtful and thoughtfully expressed post. I can't help agreeing with your central premise: that the world we live in, including the ballet sub-set of that world, would benefit from a major rethink, along with a serious program of changes, having to do with race.

May I just pick out three of your points (all of which relate specifically to ballet) and ask for a bit more explanation?

First of all, as I suspected several posters have suggested inclusiveness and diversity as we have defined it here, are actually not high priorities. While this is not surprising, I do find it disappointing as I know the status quo will never change without a clear and conscious commitment to change. Ballet will not become more inclusive unless a strong firm commitment is made, and a high priority associated with this desirable change.

I have to agree that the question of making an inclusion a "priority" seems to be missing in much of what is being suggested on this thread so far. I am embarrassed to admit that I never actually thought of it in this way before. Can you give some examples of specific kinds of priorities that need to be set? And how companies, schools, donors, governments, etc., might approach this? Given that these are artistic institutions, affirmative action, which works fairly well in certain settings, seems out. So what specifically should be done?

We need to take people on their own terms. If a dancer is proud to be a member of a group with a heritage of resilience and triumph over discrimination, we need not insist on color blindness or treating them as individuals. Not everyone wants to be taken simply as an individual out of the context of a social community. Unless difference is used to stigmatize or divide people by rank, there should be no impediment to asserting an ethnic, racial, or cultural identity. I may not insist that the price of admission to the world of ballet is that a person appear as an individual stripped of their social identity because that identity makes me uncomfortable.

I am with you on this one, but I am having trouble thinking how it word actually work -- for instance -- in the repertory of a ballet company. Would you expand the rep to make it reflect different cultural backgrounds? Change the look, or feel, or even the choreography of pre-existing ballets? How would the classics fit into this? Or are you talking about aspects of the ballet world that do not appear on stage?

Difference can be embraced and celebrated. It is not bad by definition. If we mobilize all these different bodies and identiies in concert in stylistically coherent ways, we have the potential to achieve a beauty beyond the bounds of the homogeneous or predictable. Unusual and pleasing harmonies may be more desirable than a one note monotone, however comforting than steady drone may have seemed in the past.
Here I only have difficulty with the concept of "one note monotone," which I simply cannot relate to the rich artistic tradition -- musically, visually, and in terms of dance -- of ballet over the centuries. I can imagine an largear, richer definition of "ballet" in the future. But I can't accept that what we have so far is so deeply crippled by its limiations? (I say this not to be argumentative, but because many who read this may also find it difficult to think of the art they love and admire so much can be seen by others as a kind of a "steady drone.")

Edited to add: Maybe what we need is a serious academic study of the role race places in the dance world, similar to Gunnar Myrdal's study of race in America in the 1940s. Myrdal's book freed people from having to depend on anecdotes, limited personal experiences, etc. It told us in well-documented detail about the structure of racism in the US and gave us measurable data to confirm its generalizations. As such, it had an enormous influence on the civil rights movement that developed in the 50s and 60s.

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Difference can be embraced and celebrated. It is not bad by definition. If we mobilize all these different bodies and identiies in concert in stylistically coherent ways, we have the potential to achieve a beauty beyond the bounds of the homogeneous or predictable. Unusual and pleasing harmonies may be more desirable than a one note monotone, however comforting than steady drone may have seemed in the past.
Here I only have difficulty with the concept of "one note monotone," which I simply cannot relate to the rich artistic tradition -- musically, visually, and in terms of dance -- of ballet over the centuries. I can imagine an largear, richer definition of "ballet" in the future. But I can't accept that what we have so far is so deeply crippled by its limiations? (I say this not to be argumentative, but because many who read this may also find it difficult to think of the art they love and admire so much can be seen by others as a kind of a "steady drone.")

I fully agree with Bart here, however I find that the other requirements also primarily come from a 'social problem' context and that these are not appropriate for reconstruction of the ballet world, although they could provide subject matter for creative work. I find them to sound a bit like a manifesto that is not first concerned with the matter of ballet as an art itself, and is rather a social prescription that grows from without ballet, not from within it.

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One of the factors that may be overlooked is that it is a great luxury to make one's living in the arts. I suspect -- and hope -- that as members of historically disadvantaged ethnicities move in greater numbers into the lucrative professions, their sons and daughters will not only pursue ballet careers seriously but do so without parental dissuasion to find something to "fall back on". More than any other career, ballet does not easily permit you to take six years off for college and an MBA and return to the thing you love. A family's financial security might be one factor.

One dancer who has not been mentioned is the ridiculously talented Danny Tidwell, late of ABT and now with the self-consciously multiracial Complexions. Danny, at age 20 and still technically a corps dancer, had just had a spectacular season a year ago -- barely dancing in the corps at all, and giving a beautiful rendering of among others, "Le Spectre de la Rose." His path up through the ranks seemed assured, And he left. We can only infer that for whatever reason, he was unhappy. As one of three black members of ABT (not including Acosta and the obviously mixed-race Carreno), he may have felt isolated.

I don't know if it's fair to accuse companies of bias, whether conscious or not. We don't know what kind of efforts they put in to recruiting in minority areas. Most major companies that I'm aware of have Education programs that visit public schools.

I think, too, that the definition of ballet today as Eurocentric is dubious. Yes, the 19th century classics were, and it would be silly to pretend otherwise. But once transported to American soil, it fell under the influence of all the cultures in this melting pot. Robbins' ballets are sometimes overtly jazzy or Latin, as are Balanchine's occasionally and more subtly. And it becomes even more complex when, for example, the European composer, Ravel, tries to imitate the American, Gershwin, who'd incorporated sounds he'd heard from black Americans. Robbins took the score and choreographed his own jazz-infused In G Major. Are we still talking about Eurocentrism? To a degree, but not completely.

This is a shrinking planet. We're not likely to see the kinds of stereotypes that canbelto mentioned in new works, and in older works we have to take them in their historical context. Things are changing all over. I expect that the next generation of ballet dancers in American companies (who are hired from around the world, not around the corner, it's worth noting) will reflect greater diversity than this one. And it may take a generation or two after that before we even begin to reach some sort of equity.

Do I like the look of a classical corps of perfectly matched bodies? I remember when Royal still had very tight height requirements, and boy, what a corps! But I guess they realized that they were losing too many dancers who were either too short or too tall. Darcey Bussell never would have been taken into the Royal Ballet as it was when I first saw it. But for more important reasons than a lake full of clone-like swans, that kind of corps is a thing of the past.

Height is just one of many characteristics. And while it doesn't apply to one demographic group over another, if you're the one who's cut, it's just as discriminatory. And no, I am not saying it is equally pernicious.

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A few quick thoughts.

Bart, I agree that audiences are ahead of the curve on this one. More innovative casting and rep should have a chance to get out without being pre-empted based on speculation. Like you, I think the audiences are there. For every purist we might lose, there is also a chance to pick up a few new fans.

Papeetepatrick, thanks for your extensive comments on the historical context of ballet as well as a concrete example (a frightening and ultimately tragic one at that) of racism's damaging effect on ballet during Ms. Wilkinsons's career.

I think I get the comment about sounding like a manifesto, but I think the point remains how to move from A to B. This gets to Bart's question about how exactly do we make inclusion a priority. At every step of the way. Arts and dance organizations can partner and hold joint events for ex. ballet folklorico programs and classical ballet programs could be coordinated in terms of dates and times to address the same audience and encourage exchange:--just off the top of my head; ditto ballet and liturgical (often performed by black churches); piggybacking on ethnic dance festivals; etc.

making sure outreach and entry level dancers from diverse backgrounds have opportunities to be retained and advanced--could this be facilitated by scholarship, workstudy, carpooling, personal contact (phone calls?) and encouragement, various forms ofmentoring and extra effort--paralleling the types of things done to attract and hold the rare (much less rare actually) but valued male dancers

approaching local ethnic organizations as sources of expertise to locate patrons, students, teachers, etc. who might want to collaborate

replicating successful efforts from other communities for. ex. the Colorado Ballet and the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble in Denver

Valuing and paying for consultants or other experts to facilitate this just like we would hire someone to brainstorm on fundraising, development, grant writing, recruitment, etc.

Include such questions on audience surveys

Exploit all local connections with broker/facilitator type individuals

Once the prorities are established there is no limit to the ways committed individuals can be mobilized

new choreographic initiatives for contemporaryor even new classical rep, etc.

Be careful though when trying to get too much expertise for free when organizations would show their commitment to other initiatives by hiring and fully funding these initiatives while these diversity efforts simply rely on the goodwill of often already overburdened community members

Growth will have to come from within and without ballet to make sure we are breaking out of old habits

I should also clarify my analogy about monotone and steady drone was a purely figure of speech to free up ideas about uniformity and corps de ballet, the "look" of certain dancers and appropriateness of certain groups in certain settings. I was suggesting these women who are not actually birds or swans, but fantasies--could easily be unified in their movement not necessarily in their skintone--only in this way did I suggest a monotone drone in ballet. This speaks to the notion that a stereotypical look would describe a particular character, Odile, for ex. in a way that would preclude certain dancers. Only that

The business about including dancers on their own terms was only referring to the idea that dancers should not be forced to appear as sanitized individuals with no room to be a black or Asian dancer--this could be something as simple as making holidays appropriate to different religious and cultural heritages or understanding or even anticipating that a blackface tradition like that in a recent performance imported from Russia might be unwelcome. Basically just a sensitivity that doesn't celebrate colorblindness. This works better for those who do not see their ethnic and racial heritage as essential, less well for those who embrace such a heritage. Some of this is workplace sensitivity, creative casting, expanding rep--again multi pronged. The key is to realize color blind is not a goal for a person who is happy an comfortable with an identification that includes pride in heritage.

Sorry, this is very slap dash and reflective of the hour, but hopefully begins to address some of the queries

Also Defjef, I appreciate your reality check this is about practices not just feelings or imagined slights "institutionalized exclusionary practices" is a perfect description.

I caution everyone (myself included) to be wary of acecdotes about a subject on which there are many real and concrete examples as well as expertise. The issue of Dance magazine dedicated to this topic has a lot of wisdom and examples. Plus this can become an aspect of many current discussions: for example how can we understand (causes, remedies, consequences) the current hiatus of Dance Theatre of Harlem and what has been the fate of its company members?

As we come up again on the reality of underrepresentation and actual discrimination we need to pretend we are all people of color who necessarily have not got the luxury of ignoring this issue, it is a vital and daily reality from which there is no escape. This is not about anything other than leveling the playing field and making sure that everyone who wants to (whether they know it or not) or needs to have ballet in their life has an equal opportunity to do so.

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At this juncture I am not ready to concede ballet will always be racially biased. Ballet is what we make it. If enough of us commit ourselves to change it will happen. Sadly, if enough of us either give up hope, work wittingly or unwittingly to impede change, or worse yet, fight to maintain a system that injures, excludes, and punishes people based on their identity and heritage--in that case, we can and will perpetuate these negative aspects of the art far into the forseable future. The choice really is ours.
For every purist we might lose, there is also a chance to pick up a few new fans.

This sounds really scary. Who is "we"?

There are not many companies in the world dedicated to classical ballet. There are about a million dance groups who do other kinds of repertoire. There have been many many discussions on BT about the precarious existence of this tiny minority of more or less purist ballet companies. That's what I sympathise with.

Ballet, like any form of high art, has always attracted a lot of resentment, whether it's about "all those tutu girls" being unable to express themselves, or about "ballet = anorexia," and the "ballet = racism" is yet another manifestation of resentment IMO.

Having given my views on a previous page, I think I'll leave it at this.

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carbro, thanks so much for the insights.

dds, your list of pro-active (hate the term, but love the concept) steps that might be taken is excellent, and one of the few times I've seen a plan of action on this topic actually presented. I have to be out the door in a few minutes, but just wanted to thank you for it. I'll go over the details (especially things like liaison with community leaders, including this matter in questionnaires, etc.). Awareness can often come quickly if those in charge just raise the question, show good will, and do this consistently.

One more question re the following:

The business about including dancers on their own terms was only referring to the idea that dancers should not be forced to appear as sanitized individuals with no room to be a black or Asian dancer--this could be something as simple as making holidays appropriate to different religious and cultural heritages or understanding or even anticipating that a blackface tradition like that in a recent performance imported from Russia might be unwelcome. Basically just a sensitivity that doesn't celebrate colorblindness. This works better for those who do not see their ethnic and racial heritage as essential, less well for those who embrace such a heritage. Some of this is workplace sensitivity, creative casting, expanding rep--again multi pronged. The key is to realize color blind is not a goal for a person who is happy an comfortable with an identification that includes pride in heritage.

I see the point, but cannot see how it could be incorporated into a functioning company. Haven't we already had the sad situation in which someone says: "oh, that's for a so-and-so ethnic type. Let's s give it to X. She's a so-and-so" That could happen. And it would be awful.

Color-blind is a concept with its own illusions and problems. But so is the opposite: the idea that people should be encouraged to express their ethnic or any other kind of self-identification in virtually every situation, and that the individual alone has the right to choose.

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A sidelight on the Wilkinson/Klan incident: The Klukkers actually invaded the stage of the theater after the performance, looking for "the nigra gal", but all of the members of the company suddenly had become either French or Russian. "Je ne comprends pas" and "n'ypanymayou" became the only thing they could get out of the dancers.

Ms. Wilkinson went on from Ballet Russe to a long and happy career as a dancer and character artist in the New York City Opera.

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A sidelight on the Wilkinson/Klan incident: The Klukkers actually invaded the stage of the theater after the performance, looking for "the nigra gal", but all of the members of the company suddenly had become either French or Russian. "Je ne comprends pas" and "n'ypanymayou" became the only thing they could get out of the dancers.

Ms. Wilkinson went on from Ballet Russe to a long and happy career as a dancer and character artist in the New York City Opera.

Mel,

This is a somewhat sanitised version of events. Wilkinson never reached the status of principal, one which both she and most importantly her colleagues in the Ballets Russes felt should have been hers by right by dint of talent alone. Zide speaks feelingly and angrily even of this fact. Wilkinson stopped dancing, and joined a convent, so traumatic were her experiences of battling the ingrained race and class barriers. Barriers she never wanted consciously to fight against, she wanted to be a dancer. And this is the crux of this argument and thread, even though ballet may not actively be racist or promote a racist agenda, by the mere fact of the ethnic make up of all major ballet companies in the US and Europe.

True Wilkinson did return to dance, in the more liberal Netherlands, where she rose to soloist and there it stopped. Those many happy years were not "happy" in the sense of a fair and just conclusion, they were contentment in the form of compromise. "This is what it is, and sadly all it will be, so at least settle for this."

As other posters have rightly said the number of black dancers dancing with companies who've made any kind of impact, regardless of talent is tiny. Tidwell is another example. It's not fair to say dancers such as Mitchell and Acosta have smashed race barriers within ballet. If this were the truth the ethnic make up of ballet companies would be far more eclectic than it is. The success of these dancers would have led to reform and restructuring - the only fair thing to say is that these dancers challenged the barriers. Their success is personal, sadly not a universal reflection of reform.

I was castigated for semantic jiggery pokery a little earlier, as I took up the gauntlet of a remark "colored dancers". I'm not disputing the term "people of colour" is a reclaimed but to colored as a collective adjective isn't. And I'm sure Hans meant this in the term of "people of colour".

At the end of the day this is a debate that one can choose to enter into if one wishes to see a more diverse ethnic mix within ballet or not if one is happy with ballet the way it is. However, the fact is that if one does wish to enter the debate than one has to take on face value the make up of ballet, both company and audience. It appears by its very state of existence to be racist, any organisation, not just ballet with such a huge predominantly white make up both historically and presently is.

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Just a few things:

First, I never said anything about "people of color." In a thread such as this where we are treading on eggshells, it is important to read posts carefully, especially when quoting.

Also, I don't think the example of a soul food restaurant being required to serve Thai cuisine is valid, as that would be more like asking whether a ballet company should be required to perform tap. A more valid comparison would be to ask whether a specialty restaurant should be required to hire chefs of various heritages/lineages/&c, to which I would answer that it depends on how good the chef is. Same with dance (I'm sure we all agree on that!) :)

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Just a few things:

First, I never said anything about "people of color." In a thread such as this where we are treading on eggshells, it is important to read posts carefully, especially when quoting.

Sorry Hans,

It was Herman who wrote that, I apologise.

KL

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