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Sarah Kaufman and Diversity in Ballet Companies


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#16 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 22 June 2010 - 11:38 AM

No surprise, this is a touchy issue. At NYCB, the absence I really sense is of Asian dancers, particularly women. One was made an apprentice last year; it made the scarcity even more obvious.

When I've talked to black friends, they've occasionally said in as many words at times that ballet was for white people.

So to rephrase the question in a positive manner, how do we convince people that ballet is for anyone?

#17 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 22 June 2010 - 11:52 AM

If anything...I think that nowadays, even if discrimination based on racial issues still exist, perhaps one of the "advances" that have been made in this field is that instead of....

[size=3]"I was told that I had a very hard image for Giselle, that I could not deliver a fragile Willi and that I wasn't suited for the madness scene because of my hard hair"[/size]

...as black ballerina Caridad Martinez was once plainly told in her face, today's bosses are perhaps more "politically correct" and words-( if not thoughts AND decisions based upon them )- have been carefully muted. At the end...who wants a law sue and such a scandal...?
And no...roles will never be assigned democratically.

how do we convince people that ballet is for anyone?


How do we convince people that Hip-hop is for anyone...?

#18 E Johnson

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Posted 22 June 2010 - 12:00 PM

No surprise, this is a touchy issue. At NYCB, the absence I really sense is of Asian dancers, particularly women. One was made an apprentice last year; it made the scarcity even more obvious.

When I've talked to black friends, they've occasionally said in as many words at times that ballet was for white people.

So to rephrase the question in a positive manner, how do we convince people that ballet is for anyone?



I have never seen as many black audience members at NYCB as I did at Albert Evans' farewell on Sunday. The issues are intertwined. And it's not that black people don't attend dance performances -- the Ailey company disabuses one of that notion - -or even ballet -- DTH's shows had lots of black people in the audience. But those companies sucessfully marketed themselves to a very different audience than NYCB and ABT do, for example. And of course part of it was that those audience members could see people like them on stage.

#19 kfw

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Posted 22 June 2010 - 12:08 PM

When I've talked to black friends, they've occasionally said in as many words at times that ballet was for white people.

So to rephrase the question in a positive manner, how do we convince people that ballet is for anyone?

I wonder what they meant by that: "we don't feel welcome at the ballet," or "it's not our thing." The former is a problem. In my opinion, the latter is not.

#20 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 22 June 2010 - 12:24 PM

Identification is an issue, of course. It's still hard to swim against the currents of the fair-eyed, anglo-saxon features and eurocentric loveliness notions that made the very base of ballet in its beginnings, either as an audience member or a dancer. I can't think of anyone before Acosta who was able to take such a challenge with so much success. Determination and stubbornness was a key factor. I remember something he said when he first arrived at the RB...something like "I'm here not to dance secondary roles...I'm here to be Siegfried and Romeo"...both white characters.

This is the reason why somehow I never came to terms with the changing of the historical set for the "Creole Giselle" so it would appear "acceptable" in racial terms.

#21 abatt

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Posted 22 June 2010 - 12:34 PM

ABT seems to be a relatively diverse company, with a contingent of dancers from Argentina, Cuba, Brazil (Gomes). I forget where Ricetto is from, but I think she is from South or Central America. Additionally, Yuriko, Hee Seo, Misty and Stella are a diverse racial group of soloists. ABT seems much more diverse than NYCB right now.

#22 DanceActress

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Posted 22 June 2010 - 12:42 PM

ABT seems to be a relatively diverse company, with a contingent of dancers from Argentina, Cuba, Brazil (Gomes). I forget where Ricetto is from, but I think she is from South or Central America. Additionally, Yuriko, Hee Seo, Misty and Stella are a diverse racial group of soloists. ABT seems much more diverse than NYCB right now.


There's also Courtney Lavine, who I noticed dancing in the corps of "Sleeping Beauty" this weekend. She's an apprentice member of the company.

#23 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 22 June 2010 - 12:52 PM

ABT seems to be a relatively diverse company, with a contingent of dancers from Argentina, Cuba, Brazil (Gomes). I forget where Ricetto is from, but I think she is from South or Central America.


Hum...here we're basically talking about nationalities-(with a probable hint of ethnicity, which would be that of Hispanic descendants in all the cases above mentioned)-vs. race, which in all those cases would be Caucasian-(with the exception of perhaps Jose Manuel Carreno). Not too much racial diversity...really.

A look at ABT's website profile pics will give one the obvious sight of just light skin faces.

#24 Jayne

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Posted 22 June 2010 - 12:52 PM

ballet training is very demanding, expensive and time consuming, and if you don't have the family support or cultural approval, it's even more difficult. On top of all of this, if female, you have to fit a specific body type that 99% of the population cannot achieve. Small head, short torso, long limbs, natural musicality, and the abilty to weigh no more than 110 lbs so the Ballerines can lift you without blowing their backs out. The men should be taller than the ballerinas if possible, yet slim without too much bulk. The irony is that regularly lifting a 100-110 lbs object generally builds bulk.

That's a tall order! no pun intended.

By the time 15-18 year olds are auditioning with the regional ballet companies, many kids who don't have the support system have ceased training. I do think most of the artistic directors care more about technique than skin color in 2010. But if only young people of races other than African American show up at auditions....who's fault is this?

We don't see too many Asian American football players, and yet we can attritute this to shorter stature, rather than going nuts about stereotypes and political incorrectness. We can easily talk about Samoan football players making great offensive linemen - without causing offense to sensibilities.

But we cannot do the same for ballet. I think meeting the ultra-slim esthetic is going to get harder, not easier, for ballet schools as the childhood obesity rates crash through the roof and fewer kids of any race meet Mr. B's esthetic (think Maria Tallchief eating half an apple per meal to please him)). However, kids who are not willowy thin but move beautifully may find more homes in modern dance companies.

BTW, many sports face similar challenges with "white bread" preconceptions; rowing, fencing, lacrosse and others struggle to attract African American participants. But sports writers don't repeatedly harp on this when they cover the NCAA championships.

#25 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 22 June 2010 - 12:59 PM

Honestly, it's not as if black dancers don't show up at auditions, or are in the schools. They are.

#26 Natalia

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Posted 22 June 2010 - 01:08 PM

....When I've talked to black friends, they've occasionally said in as many words at times that ballet was for white people.

So to rephrase the question in a positive manner, how do we convince people that ballet is for anyone?


The same thing happens with ice hockey. Here in Washington, DC, hockey is hugely popular, as the Washington Capitals is a very good team with some stars from Europe & Russia. This past season they played to mostly sold-out crowds. Nonetheless, for a city with 75-80% black population, we could rarely see a non-white face in the house. And the arena is smack in downtown (which was initially a concern to die-hard Caps fans who had to venture from suburban VA and MD into the "mean streets" of downtown DC!).

So what do the Caps do to develop non-white hockey fans? Creative outreach to the schools with players visiting inner-city institutions; occasional freebie tickets to games for groups from disadvantaged areas (but that doesn't help to build fans among the many well-to-do blacks in the city!); etc. Exposure is the only way to begin. It should be the same for ballet.

p.s. We cannot blame the economy & high price of tickets to the big pro sports. The price of tickets to Washington football, basketball and major-league baseball games are as expensive as they are for hockey games, yet there seem to be as many whites and non-whites in the audience. Hockey is, simply stated, still considered to be a 'white' sport. Just like the Winter Olympics are mostly white despite the rare inroads by the Jamaican bobsledders and a Debi Thomas in figure skating (and now the new French champ Florent Amodio or the German pair skater Szolkowy).

#27 SandyMcKean

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Posted 22 June 2010 - 01:21 PM

......how do we convince people that ballet is for anyone?

I don't think "convince" is the right concept. I suspect all of us ballet lovers convinced ourselves that ballet was for us once we saw it. A better question might be how do we get people from more diverse cultural backgrounds to give ballet a shot. (The suggestion of marketing is on the right track I think).

I am reminded of a situation we just had here in Seattle with the Seattle Opera. Seattle Opera commissioned a new opera "Amelia" this season (the first in over 27 years). In my judgment it is a wonderful opera, as well as being unique in one aspect. The opera deals in part with the Vietnam War, and uniquely contains some singing in the Vietnamese language (extensively in Act II). We have a large number of Vietnamese living in this diverse city. One rarely sees a Vietnamese person at the Seattle Opera, but not this time. There were lots of Vietnamese in the opera house (no doubt to hear what their native language sounded like in the western opera idiom). Indeed, I saw the opera 3 times, and it was clear to me that the number of Vietnamese in the audience increased with each proformance. They even came in families. I suspect the word spread within that community. My bet is that some of them even discovered that they liked opera and we are likely to see them return next season.

Indeed, I had my own personal experience with this "exposure" phenomenon: We use a painter on our house who came from Vietnam to America when he was a little boy. His whole life is entwined with his Vietnamese relatives (some of whom don't speak English). This guy has become quite successful in growing his business over the years due to his acumen with employee, client, and business management. He has some bucks now too. He was over here the other day giving me a bid to paint our trim. We got to talking -- as he and I always do (he's a very interesting person). I asked him if he had seen or heard of "Amelia". No he hadn't. In fact he knew nothing about opera at all. I preceded to tell him about "Amelia". I believe my words were fairly inspiring because I really, really loved this opera, and especially by how it showed the possibility of healing and understanding between Americans and Vietnamese who were directly involved in the war. He became very excited. He loved the idea that HIS language (he speaks perfect English too) was set to music (especially music that was specifically designed to reflect the tonal quality of the language). Had I spoken to John before the opera run was over, I'd bet dollars to donuts he would have attended. Maybe a large number of his family would have attended......who knows.


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