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Dark skin as an aesthetic issue in classical ballet

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What a wonderful video of Arthur Mitchell. Thank you, imspear. HIs feeling, at the time of his entry into NYCB, that "being the first, I was representing my people" was something I've heard from a number of other achieving artists, pioneers of integration, from that generation.

What comes out is how strong Balanchine's support for Mitchell was. To parents who said they didn't want their daughters to dance with a lack man: "... then take them out." To the producer of one of NYCB's first tv shows: "If Mitchell doesn't dance, New York City Ballet doesn't dance."

Leigh has raised the issue of Balanchine's motivation. Clearly he was influenced by aesthetics AND by some kind of deep seated sense of what was the right thing to do. Take that line to Mitchell: "I've always wanted 16 Nubian girls." This could mean a number of things and probably did. I was interested, though, when Mitchell moved immediately on to Balanchine's work with Katherine Dunham ("Cabin in the Sky") and the suggestion that one of the origins of La Valse may have been his memories of Dunham's idea for a Quadroon Ball ballet. With "16 Nubian girls" as the corps de ballet?

This video -- and material like it -- should be part of every pre-professional ballet dancer's training. "Ballet" is a highly traditional art, obsessed with its history. Social attitudes and policies are a part of "history" too.

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And while in the subject...does anybody knows who's the black female dancer in the Snow scene from Balanchine's "Nutcracker" DVD...? The inclusion stands out even more particularly because of the whiter than white nature of the sequence.

Cristian -- I believe it's Andrea Long. She danced with NYCB for about 8 years during the late 80's and early 90's then moved on to Dance Theater of Harlem.

:thanks:

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I do not think it is accurate to say that the reason there are so few dark ballerinas is that there aren't enough students/aspiring ballerinas out there. I've been taking my (white) kids to class at the Ailey school for a long time now, and I see plenty of dark-skinned young women in pointe shoes. They don’t seem to think that ballet is not "for them" or an unattainable career. Sure, lots of them don’t have the body type/talent for a top ballet company, but that is true of a lot of white ballet students as well.

Also, on the body type issue -- Monique Meuniere [sp?], who was Latina but not dark, had a very curvy/ voluptuous body and nevertheless was, for a while, an NYCB principal and also danced with ABT. She admittedly had a lot of body/weight issues while dancing but it didn’t stop her from advancing. The one black woman I remember in NYCB - Aesha Ash - was considerably closer to an "ideal" Balanchine body. It’s easy to generalize about black women's bodies, but it’s not really helpful. If the issue is darker skinned women, there are dark skinned women of Asian and Latin descent, as well as African descent, who aren’t built like the Williams sisters.

I definitely agree. I'm a multi-racial girl, and I guess in some ways I'm lucky that I look Latina. For me my weight will always be more of an issue than my skin. That's kind of unfair to some people because to an extent I have control over my weight. You can't really change your skin color.

That being said, it's also true that dancers can't change their bone structure. We can't tell our torsos to lengthen, or our skeletons to lose density. I believe that the "aesthetic issue" arises when you get an aspiring professional dancer whose body has too many contradictions.

Typically with white dancers, it would be unfair to ask a company to be lenient on them simply because their bone structure is the reason they are the way they are. How can one justly differentiate when an ethnic - especially one with strong African roots - dancer is auditioning for a job? That's one side of the story.

The other side is that in a way, we're not going to see diversity until companies become more open minded about body structure.

What bothers me is when people say things like it's understandable for [black families especially] to not push their children into ballet because pursuing a future in it seems futile.

I believe that at the end of the day, dark skin will be an issue as long as we allow it to be one. This means from all sides. It's unfair to put pressure on ADs and companies alone to make a change. The result of that often leads to dancers being hired to fill a quota as opposed to their talent.

The fact of the matter is that sometimes, even if it's unintentional, studios and parents negatively impact the mindset of younger dancers with darker skin.

Honestly, I think it's all a bit ridiculous. I'm pretty tall, and I've known since I was 13 that there will be companies who won't even consider hiring me because of my height. But if a company were to blatantly address skin color on the same grounds as height, (i.e. "females: 5'3" to 5'7" would turn into "females: no darker than the suntan shade of Capezio tights) people would go absolutely insane.

When really, I'd stand out just as much in say, ABT's corps as the tallest as I would with the Korea National Ballet Company or the Romanian National Opera Ballet for my super obviously different ethnicity.

Ballet is so political. Especially in America.

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What bothers me is when people say things like it's understandable for [black families especially] to not push their children into ballet because pursuing a future in it seems futile.

I didn't say it in the context of a definite, I said it from a hypothetical standpoint of looking at the thousand or so dancers dancing within the top seven ballet companies with schools attached, there are currently two black male dancers, 1 mixed race female dancer and 1 asian male spread amongst all those companies. Given too that all three black dancers are now in their thirties and will conceivably be retiring within the next few years, there are almost no representations of ethnic diversity within those companies.

What I meant was were I a parent of a talented child and was being asked to put my child into professional training at one of the schools attached to the company, with all the hazards, intensity and sacrifices required, looking at the career options available to my child at that top tier of ballet I would be very very wary indeed loathe to encourage them within a career that seems plainly not to want them.

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Identification is a fact for sure. Countries, cultures and ethnic groups have historically created, nurtured and identified with different things, including artistic manifestations. Ballet is simply one of them, and just as with everything else, it was created and developed withing specific groups, and just as the world and its societies have evolved-(or so we hope)-, it has greatly expanded and globalized, but that doesn't mean that it has ceased to reflect those initial cultures or ethnic groups. Just as how unusual for the Caucasian community could have been to find Carlos Acosta dancing Apollo for the first time has been for the black community to accept, let's say, blond Eminem trying to earn a rapping spot right next to Lil'Wayne, Kanye or Jay Z. His path has been a tortuous one...with the hardest/harshest criticism coming from that same black community. He finally earned his place with hard work and talent, but his case, just as with Carlos Acosta, is an isolated one-(although not impossible)-, and we all know it.

Just look at this list from a respectable site...don't wee see a racial pattern as well...?

http://www.rapartists.com/top10/artists.php

Edited to add:

Just to answer to the OP question on "how do you make it a non issue...?", I think the most honest answer would be to realize that there will always be an issue about it, about it, like it or not, spoken or not, and as per the only way to bypass it we just need to look at what it took to Acosta or Eminem to do it. Hard work, talent and courage, and to be aware and understand-(not necessarily to justify or accept)- that there WILL DEFINITELY BE a hard path to follow.

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Identification is a fact for sure. Countries, cultures and ethnic groups have historically created, nurtured and identified with different things, including artistic manifestations. Ballet is simply one of them, and just as with everything else, it was created and developed withing specific groups, and just as the world and its societies have evolved-(or so we hope)-, it has greatly expanded and globalized, but that doesn't mean that it has ceased to reflect those initial cultures or ethnic groups. Just as how unusual for the Caucasian community could have been to find Carlos Acosta dancing Apollo for the first time has been for the black community to accept, let's say, blond Eminem trying to earn a rapping spot right next to Lil'Wayne, Kanye or Jay Z. His path has been a tortuous one...with the hardest/harshest criticism coming from the black community. He finally earned his place with hard work and talent, but his case, just as with Carlos Acosta, is an isolated one-(although not impossible)-, and we all know it.

Just look at this list from a respectable site...don't wee see a racial pattern as well...?

http://www.rapartists.com/top10/artists.php

Edited to add:

Just to answer to the OP question on "how do you make it a non issue...?", I think the most honest answer would be to realize that there will always be an issue about it, about it, like it or not, spoken or not, and as per the only way to bypass it we just need to look at what it took to Acosta or Eminem to do it. Hard work, talent and courage, and to be aware and understand-(not necessarily to justify or accept)- that there WILL DEFINITELY BE a hard path to follow.

Christian

Rap is essentially a black art form which dates back to West Africa over a century ago and centered around music made by slaves, it's a language and art form of storytelling and exclusion and deeply rooted in black cultural history, experience and exclusion. And indeed much of rap today is about the ongoing struggle of cultural identity, racism and essentially the black experience. That the music has a widefound appeal is moot, the running joke of wiggahs, white middle class boys keeping it real to Lil Wayne is pertinent because it's a wrongfooted approximation of what rap is about.

Eminem's rise was meteoric, and again it had it's own story that of poor "white trash" who'd had a pretty bad upbringing, by applying the form to his own experience which was non black he actually had something to say, something to add to the art form.

I think to make a case that the struggle of white rap artists to be taken seriously is on the same level as the tacit exclusion of black dance artists from the major ballet companies is a tad specious.

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Rap is essentially a black art form which dates back to West Africa over a century ago and centered around music made by slaves, it's a language and art form of storytelling and exclusion and deeply rooted in black cultural history

Just as Ballet is esssentially a Caucasian art form which dates back to the Italian Renaissance courts of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries as a dance interpretation of fencing, quickly spreading to the French court of Catherine de' Medici and centered around dancing done by courtiers; it is also a corporal language and art form of storytelling and exclusion and deeply rooted in the white European cultural history...

http://balletinyou.com/images/floor_tutorial/reverence.jpg

http://www.thinkgreatstuff.com/img100/100_6560.jpg

http://www.bustatoons.com/blog_images/blog_manefaces_unmasked.jpg

I think to make a case that the struggle of white rap artists to be taken seriously is on the same level as the tacit exclusion of black dance artists from the major ballet companies is a tad specious.

Mybe not on the "same" level...(I think the term "same", just as that of "everything" or "completely" and the like are always tricky to use, don't you think...?)-but there are definitely points of similarities here...

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Just as Ballet is esssentially a Caucasian art form which dates back to the Italian Renaissance courts of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries as a dance interpretation of fencing, quickly spreading to the French court of Catherine de' Medici and centered around dancing done by courtiers; it is also a corporal language and art form of storytelling and exclusion and deeply rooted in the white European cultural history...

Which makes ballet rather obviously not the product of an excluded (and historically degraded) minority. As you say - not the same.

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Just as Ballet is esssentially a Caucasian art form which dates back to the Italian Renaissance courts of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries as a dance interpretation of fencing, quickly spreading to the French court of Catherine de' Medici and centered around dancing done by courtiers; it is also a corporal language and art form of storytelling and exclusion and deeply rooted in the white European cultural history...

Except that as a caucasian art form it was one of the ruling classes, aristocracy, reactionary politics and excluding everyone except the exclusive. The stories told were fairytales, the audience unconcerned with greater societal issues and largely unaffected by them and the art intended for a very small sector of society.

Rap was a product born of poverty and strife, and the history of music making at a folk and roots level is about inclusivity, carrying on an oral tradition for generations. Certain genres of music are deeply rooted in ethnicity and the greatest proponents remain that ethnic group. In terms of that list of greatest rappers, they wouldn't be the greatest if people weren't interested in their music and most importantly buying the product. People vote with their feet and wallets, if ballet attracted the same kind of numbers as Kanye or Eminem it certainly wouldn't be in the dire straits it's currently in.

Rap music directly speaks on a global level and a multicultural level, which is the most important thing in relation to the ethnic make up of ballet companies, precisely because ballet doesn't speak to a multicultural audience. As Lauren Anderson said about the colour blindness of ADs and ballet, why should it matter what colour the ballerina is in Nutcracker, the sugar plum fairy is a piece of candy.

This is another major issue with ballet, in the past decade thanks mainly to the media, social media and most importantly the internet there's a multiculturalism that pervades the world, the entertainment world and societal interaction like never before. Indeed laws governing discrimination are prevalent and enforced rigorously, and curiously one of the few places this embracing of multiculturalism at least on an aesthetic level of skin colour is almost totally ignored is ballet.

Another issue the very title of this thread "dark skin as an aesthetic issue" is slightly skewed yet so pertinent. Dark skin isn't an aesthetic issue if you're born black, it's what you are, though the core of what a talented dancer is, physical and artistic aptitude is what the aesthetic issue should be.

The sad thing about the mentality of current top ballet companies, what it looks for in a ballerina, is the impact this is having on talent which doesn't fit the etiolated, pale mould of what is held most dear in ballerinas today. None of those incredible dancers from the 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s would get a look in today at a school audition, nevermind a company place. I really refute the notion that the talent isn't out there anymore, but the gene pool which is now considered mandatory before a promising dancer can even get a look in to be trained really cuts down the odds of finding talent.

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Rap music directly speaks on a global level and a multicultural level, which is the most important thing in relation to the ethnic make up of ballet companies, precisely because ballet doesn't speak to a multicultural audience.

Simon...here we have to agree to disagree. I don't think rap speaks to such a global/multicultural level. There is a huge, vast side of the globe for which this manifestation will be as alien and strange as ballet is for another and from which it will certainly feel excluded. Just take a look at the audiences of those Vienna's New Year's concerts of Andre Rieu. I doubt we could bet they could make for an important percentage of a rap concert. And the thing is that THAT audience-(Andre Rieu's)-is a real, live one...one that keeps multiplying and feeding itself in another type of culture and musical and artistic background...and certainly-(and this is my own guess...I haven't done any research looking for percentages or numbers)-one that could potentially feel up a hall for a night of Sleeping Beauty.

As Lauren Anderson said about the color blindness of ADs and ballet, why should it matter what color the ballerina is in Nutcracker, the sugar plum fairy is a piece of candy.

Maybe with the Sugar Plum. But let's take a look at another example. Many people know the origin of the character of Aurora, Simon, even if it means just at its basic level of the Walt Disney movie. The image of Caucasian Aurora is ENGRAVED in people's mind...(just look at those huge theme parks we have here in Orlando). For many Sleeping Beauty-(Aurora)-is and will be the film blond princess they've known since they were born . You don't change that too easy, at least for the non connoisseur. Maybe we, at this point of ballet viewing, are able to bypass the ballerina's race and look at her beautiful balance and perfect arabesque, but let's be honest...this is not the first detail that the non connoisseur audience will look at if a ballerina as dark as and with the racial fixtures of, let's say, Whoopy Goldberg, would be given the role. (I had put Misty Copeland as an example, but I took her out, because se is definitely mixed, racially speaking). The same can be applied to Giselle, Swan Lake, Raymonda, Coppelia and La Fille Mal Gardee. They are not raceless candies as the Sugar Plum Fairy.

The sad thing about the mentality of current top ballet companies, what it looks for in a ballerina, is the impact this is having on talent which doesn't fit the etiolated, pale mould of what is held most dear in ballerinas today. None of those incredible dancers from the 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s would get a look in today at a school audition, nevermind a company place. I really refute the notion that the talent isn't out there anymore, but the gene pool which is now considered mandatory before a promising dancer can even get a look in to be trained really cuts down the odds of finding talent.

Agree. The talent is out there, but so there are the preconceived notions and there is the urban myth on the air that those with the big pockets keeping the ballet companies alive are precisely a good percentage of those who still carry those notions. We can't ignore this fact.

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Simon...here we have to agree to disagree. I don't think rap speaks to such a global/multicultural level. There is a huge, vast side of the globe for which this manifestation will be as alien and strange as ballet is for another and from which it will certainly feel excluded. Just take a look at the audiences of those Vienna's New Year's concerts of Andre Rieu. I doubt we could bet they could make for an important percentage of a rap concert. And the thing is that THAT audience-(Andre Rieu's)-is a real, live one...one that keeps multiplying and feeding itself in another type of culture and musical and artistic background...and certainly-(and this is my own guess...I haven't done any research looking for percentages or numbers)-one that could potentially feel up a hall for a night of Sleeping Beauty.

Black popular music, rap, r'n'b, soul are billion dollar businesses. The influences of these music genres pervade all aspects of popular music genres, Adele, currently the best selling artist in the world, would be nothing without soul. Kanye, Jay Z, Beyonce, Eminem etc music is played in every country throughout the developing and developed world, with a few exceptions and the music and videos are viewed and downloaded globally. There is absolutely no way one can make an argument that in its own way the reach and affect of ballet on modern culture is as universal and influential as popular black music forms. It's a non starter.

Maybe with the Sugar Plum. But let's take a look at another example. Many people know the origin of the character of Aurora, Simon, even if it means just at its basic level of the Walt Disney movie. The image of Caucasian Aurora is ENGRAVED in people's mind...(just look at those huge theme parks we have here in Orlando). For many Sleeping Beauty-(Aurora)-is and will be the blond princess they've known since they were born from the film. You don't change that too easy, at least for the non connoisseur. Maybe we, at this point of ballet viewing, are able to bypass the ballerina's race and look at her beautiful balance and perfect arabesque, but let's be honest...this is not the first detail that the non connoisseur audience will look at if a ballerina as dark as and with the racial fixtures of, let's say, Whoopy Goldberg, would be given the role. (I had put Misty Copeland as an example, but I took her out, because I don't think she's the perfect example racially speaking. Her physical fixtures speak clearly about a mix here...). The same can be applied to Giselle, Swan Lake, Raymonda, Coppelia and La Fille Mal Gardee. They are not raceless candies as the Sugar Plum Fairy.

Here we have a massive massive problem and indeed to believe this argument, to hold it as valid can easily lead one to argue that ballet as a universally relevant art form is utterly worthless.

These Aryan images of fairytales are damaging, racist and absolutely exclusory. The majority of the world's population are non caucasian, a black child doesn't grow up with these Disney images, bleached white stories feeling that they in any way shape or form can relate, there is nothing there to relate to and it comes back to my point that culture and art forms become popular through identification between audience & artist. It's precisely why ballet is in such a parlous state regarding funding and finances because it's so completely excluded from real modern life as it's lived for the majority.

What is engraved on a black child's mind, a black adult's mind is that these cultural stories, fables and histories are not mine, that I'm living in a society where there's no shared experience. Like that absolute moron of a ballet teacher who banned a child from attending her classes because she had her affro in corn rows - what's being said is that the essential you, is the antithesis of what this art form is about.

You can't have it both ways, you can't say that ballet must be absolutely cloistered to maintain the "integrity" of what it was, caucasian, unpolitical, unthreatening and then complain that no one's going, no new audiences find it relevant, there's no ethnic diversity in it's makeup of audience & dancer.

Do you know what was so brilliant about Dance Theatre of Harlem and its school? It wasn't that it was an "ethnic" company, but that ethnicity was secondary to ballet, that it rooted ballet as relevant and accessible within a community who had been disenfranchised from ballet.

Lastly you talk of the connoisseur audience? I feel really uneasy with this word, like "unfortunate" to describe a policy of institutionalised racism, it's an anodyne misnomer disguising the fact that people don't want to see a black woman or man onstage. And another problem the connoisseurs are dying out, people aren't coming to ballet those new audiences aren't being recruited, and once those connoisseurs are gone who's going to be sitting in the seats? An art that can't reappraise itself, it's policies and how it represents itself is a dying beast.

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There is absolutely no way one can make an argument....

Well...I certainly can, Simon...technically and rightfully...or at least I can try... :thumbsup:

It's a non starter..

If it is a non starter, then it would be counter-argument unworthy, and I believe you just gave me one, right...? :thumbsup:

Here we have a massive massive problem and indeed to believe this argument, to hold it as valid can easily lead one to argue that ballet as a universally relevant art form is utterly worthless.

Agree...this has been the mantra for many, many critics for many, many years now, with the exception that there are many, many others which can validate it endleslyy, and which I suspect is the reason for which it still exist.

...a black child doesn't grow up with these Disney images,

To repost to this I will use, with your permission, one of your own statements, Simon. The words within parentheses are mine, due to the change of scenario. :thumbsup:

And you base this statement on an exhaustive list carried out from surveys, polls and statistics from the thousands of [black neighbodhoods] throughout the US, in every city, every [state]...?

And then you probably haven't seen the Dysneyworld-Orlando family audiences coming in masses from Atlanta lately Simon...! Just come and take a look ...! :D

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Thanks, Cristian, for continuing your posts. It's fun to see back-and-forth discussion on this topic. It's a topic with multiple angles, nuances, approaches, and points of view.

I don't mean to come across as espousing some kind of banal moral relativism on this important topic. But I DO enjoy seeing everyone having a chance to express himself or heself, which allows me to refine (or not) my own ideas. I learn from this process.

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Oh, then you haven't seen the Dysneyworld-Orlando family audiences coming in masses from Atlanta lately Simon...! Just come and take a look ...! :D

Or watched the parade of little Ariels on Halloween of all races. (I'm not sure if you have that dress-up/candy begging tradition in the UK, Simon.)

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This is a chicken / egg scenario. Little boys and girls of African heritage are not really encouraged by friends and family to aspire to careers in ballet. They might be encouraged to aspire to careers in modern dance, or broadway musicals. The friends and family can't see ballet as a viable career path because there are few examples.

I don't think most audiences care about the skin tone, as long as the dancing / acting is excellent. But many artistic directors have the influence of whoever trained them, regarding what a swan is "supposed" to look like, etc. I think the AD's are the biggest challenge from an organizational POV. And working with families to create support systems for non-traditional dancers is the biggest challenge from a talent pool POV.

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These Aryan images of fairytales are damaging, racist and absolutely exclusory. The majority of the world's population are non caucasian, a black child doesn't grow up with these Disney images, bleached white stories feeling that they in any way shape or form can relate, there is nothing there to relate to [ . . .]

What is engraved on a black child's mind, a black adult's mind is that these cultural stories, fables and histories are not mine, that I'm living in a society where there's no shared experience.

"I can't relate to fairy tales because they're full of white people" is the same feeling as "I can't relate to a black Sugar Plum Fairy." If one is racist, so is the other. In fact, young kids have to be taught that skin color matters. They're not natural racists.

Lastly you [Cristian] talk of the connoisseur audience? I feel really uneasy with this word, like "unfortunate" to describe a policy of institutionalised racism, it's an anodyne misnomer disguising the fact that people don't want to see a black woman or man onstage.

Where is the evidence of racist balletgoers? I thought the problem was that ADs weren't casting black dancers, so audiences didn't get to see them. If there is a pool of black talent not getting onstage, that's everyone's loss. If a black dancer devotes her early life to ballet and skin color holds her back, that's a tragedy. But a preference, however narrow-minded, for art of one ethnicity over another is not by definition racist in the sense that everyone really uses the word, to mean a character fault. It undoubtedly is in some cases, but it needn't be. It just looks that way on the surface when there is a history of racism. If I go see a reggae band, I'd prefer they weren't from Kansas (there was some such band, as you probably know, and they were supposed to be great) - is that a racist preference? I think racism will be with us as long as human nature is, but the races will get along a lot better if we're slow to presume ill will.

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It's an assymetrical problem, a one-way street of the dominant culture taking their creative goods from the minority. The aftrican american musical community has long been the content provider for the caucasian community – Elvis Presley, Pat Boone, and Bill Haley all did white versions of the music of Arthur Crudup, Fats Domino and Ivory Joe Hunter; Fred Astaire and Eleanor Powell were doing the steps of John Bubbles (which they all acknowledged). The Rolling Stones' first two albums were mostly black american songs and came from the black experience, Under the Boardwalk, Carol, Walking the Dog, etc.

So after the 95% - 5% split/robbery, you can't go back and say let's go even-steven, 50-50 from here on out.

In the greater Americas, Alejo Carpentier addressed the hypocracy of the denial of black sourcres of the contradanza, the habanera - in Music in Cuba and Concierto Barocco and again and again. "The tango is Afro-Montevidean, the tango has black blood" says admits the ususally Borges against the revisionists. Carptentier:

La esposa del magnate azucarero se acordaba de haber visto bailar, en el Teatro Nacional, a Alejandro Volinine (“fue el partenaire preferido de Anna Pávlova”, dijo mi mujer), a Adofo Bolm, a Ruth St.-Denis (“¡bueno: una yanki con barniz de balinesa!”), habiéndose enterado por la prensa, además, de que Georges Balanchine acababa de estar en La Habana, con el ánimo de hallar algo interesante, coreográficamente, en las danzas de “cabildos negros” que aún subsistían en el país, para menoscabo de nuestra cultura –porque eso no era folklore ni era nada, sino bárbaras reminiscencias, si acaso, de viejos ritos africanos ...

Henri Matisse on a trip to San Francisco in 1931:

My train is called "The Chief" (the Indian Chief). The Americans who have exterminated the unfortunate Indians, only remember them for decorative purposes.

And look what anxiety about not having white-enough skin caused Michael Jackson.

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Oh, then you haven't seen the Dysneyworld-Orlando family audiences coming in masses from Atlanta lately Simon...! Just come and take a look ...! :D

Or watched the parade of little Ariels on Halloween of all races. (I'm not sure if you have that dress-up/candy begging tradition in the UK, Simon.)

How many of those Ariels are joined by Mulans, Jasmines, Pochahontases, and Tianas? It seems that the ethnically diverse Disney Princesses are marketed and popular for a year or two when the movies are first released and disappear from the collective consciousness shortly thereafter. When gift shopping for Disney fanatic children in my life I've noticed that the princess gift sets tend to include Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Belle, and Ariel and the others are usually missing. It seems that a European style ball gown is necessary to the continuing popularity of the characters.

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Oh, then you haven't seen the Dysneyworld-Orlando family audiences coming in masses from Atlanta lately Simon...! Just come and take a look ...! :D

Or watched the parade of little Ariels on Halloween of all races. (I'm not sure if you have that dress-up/candy begging tradition in the UK, Simon.)

How many of those Ariels are joined by Mulans, Jasmines, Pochahontases, and Tiana's? It seems that the ethnically diverse Disney Princesses are marketed and popular for a year or two when the movies are first released and disappear from the collective consciousness shortly thereafter. When gift shopping for Disney fanatic children in my life I've noticed that the princess gift sets tend to include Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Belle, and Ariel and the others are usually missing. It seems that a European style ball gown seems to be necessary to the continuing popularity characters.

This is true also. My whole point goes as far as to just to acknowledging that the situation does exist, and is plainly graphic for everyone to see, and that there is also the fact that this is a situation that has traveled beyond the borders of the Caucasian-based European countries-(let's look at Quiggin's examples or the one I provided with real, valid testimony of a black ballerina in one Company that certainly "looks" and "acts" as being completely integrated...that of Alonso's). We all see it every time we go to the ballet, or the opera, for that matters, and probably, if in a lesser scale, to a concert hall. Dancers within the troupes are more exposed to the troubles and frustrations that this situation can carry, but the bottom line is that ballet companies are structured in a pyramidal, non democratic, centuries old casts system full of well preserved traditions that are unlikely to change because they are an essential part of the very skeleton of the art form...down to the simple custom of that final class reverence, which I still find beautifully amusing and outdated...but still enchanting.

I can't really come up with a solution in a personal level because this is a grand scale situation and also I don't think AD's have the total power to change all this though...

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These Aryan images of fairytales are damaging, racist and absolutely exclusory. The majority of the world's population are non caucasian, a black child doesn't grow up with these Disney images, bleached white stories feeling that they in any way shape or form can relate, there is nothing there to relate to [ . . .]

What is engraved on a black child's mind, a black adult's mind is that these cultural stories, fables and histories are not mine, that I'm living in a society where there's no shared experience.

"I can't relate to fairy tales because they're full of white people" is the same feeling as "I can't relate to a black Sugar Plum Fairy." If one is racist, so is the other. In fact, young kids have to be taught that skin color matters. They're not natural racists.

Lastly you [Cristian] talk of the connoisseur audience? I feel really uneasy with this word, like "unfortunate" to describe a policy of institutionalised racism, it's an anodyne misnomer disguising the fact that people don't want to see a black woman or man onstage.

Where is the evidence of racist balletgoers? I thought the problem was that ADs weren't casting black dancers, so audiences didn't get to see them. If there is a pool of black talent not getting onstage, that's everyone's loss. If a black dancer devotes her early life to ballet and skin color holds her back, that's a tragedy. But a preference, however narrow-minded, for art of one ethnicity over another is not by definition racist in the sense that everyone really uses the word, to mean a character fault. It undoubtedly is in some cases, but it needn't be. It just looks that way on the surface when there is a history of racism. If I go see a reggae band, I'd prefer they weren't from Kansas (there was some such band, as you probably know, and they were supposed to be great) - is that a racist preference? I think racism will be with us as long as human nature is, but the races will get along a lot better if we're slow to presume ill will.

This is completely taking my responses to Christian's posts out of context. I was responding to the assertion that fairytale characters are white and perceived as such by audiences who expect to see caucasian dancers in those roles.

Christian, if any of the top seven companies could post end of year post tax profits equal to or exceeding those of Jay Z, Def Jam, Kanye or Beyonce then there might be a case for ballet and rap/r'n'b having comparable or equal stature and commercial market value.

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Christian, if any of the top seven companies could post end of year post tax profits equal to or exceeding those of Jay Z, Def Jam, Kanye or Beyonce then there might be a case for ballet and rap/r'n'b having comparable or equal stature and commercial market value.

But the case-(thread)-here is not about comparison on commercial market value, Simon. This is about artists who belong to a different race to that of the majority of their peers in their respective stage jobs and are trying to be looked at with a sense of equality by their audiences and treated with fairness and given the same opportunities as their prevalent race peers by their bosses, and both rap and ballet have representants that contain all of the above.

So there's DEFINITELY a case here.

Edited to add:

... having comparable or equal stature...

And this is depending on which scale are you using to determine that said stature, BTW.

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Here's a take on the issue from the preachy pop culture tv series Fame circa 1982:

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But the case-(thread)-here is not about comparison on commercial market value, Simon. This is about artists who belong to a different race to that of the majority of their peers in their respective stage jobs and are trying to be looked at with a sense of equality by their audiences and treated with fairness and given the same opportunities as their prevalent race peers by their bosses, and both rap and ballet have representants that contain all of the above.

So there's DEFINITELY a case here.

Well, no, rap is predominantly a black genre discussing black issues and history, certain white rappers who have a contribution to make have succeeded within the genre, however popular music is such a large genre that there are many genres within pop music which are exclusively white. Taking rap out of context to be the whole of popular music and equating the understandably predominant black focus of the artists and equating that with an institutionalised culture of not allowing black ballet artists on stage with the major companies, is a bit crass. And given that the majority of the music industry is run by white men to equate poor "white boys" suffering and being excluded as a form of racism on a par with the cultural history of the black community and exclusion is dodgy.

You say looked on with equality by audiences? Well the audiences for music are there and are worth billions, it's the audiences who make stars of musicians who buy their music, there have been many white rap, ska soul artists who've failed miserably because the audiences didn't buy what they were doing, ditto black artists who've failed miserably, but what makes music stand apart from ballet is exactly that it's profitable. Ballet doesn't make money.

But I have to say, making a case for the exclusion of black artists within ballet for whatever reasons as justifiable or equating with the relative lack of white rap artists is right up there with The Chewbacca Defence in South Park:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l1QI4P0YqtM&feature=related

I'm also getting a bit tired with this argument that if the schools gave the company black dancers the AD would take them then there'd be black artists on stage and the audience would accept them. It's buck passing. Schools feed companies. They take students they know the company will potentially want onstage, ADs give the audiences what they hope will sell, somewhere in the equation here not spoken is the fact that black kids are not seen as being good bets and indeed why would a parent want their child to go through the rigours and hardships of a full ballet training for non existant job opportunities?

I also find very odd implying that black children are guilty of a form of "racism" by not "relating" to white characters within fairytales? As if identification is racism. All I meant and which is backed up by years of anecdotal and first person testament by black men and women is that growing up they saw little to identify with within the popular culture of storytelling within society - which equated white, caucasian heroes and heroines with goodness and beauty and stories which had no ethnic diversity. Which leads back to many black men and women finding ballet has little to speak to them directly as there's no ethnic diversity.

Also another issue is that in those hugely rare cases in which a black dancer has made it onstage with a major ballet company what they're given to dance has a silent and tacit form of racist undertone (and I'd like to stress I'm not saying this is a malicious, brutal act) but they're given the whores, the pimps, animals, jazzy solos, in the classical works they'll get the jazzier small solo if at all, new works calling on athleticism. They don't get the cornerstones of the classical rep.

I remember one of the most uncomfortable sights I've seen onstage was Jerry Douglas, a black african american who danced first with the Royal in the corps, got fed up moved to ABT, got fed up and then quit. He was the last boy upstage right in the corps of Raymonda. All the other men had pageboy wigs and a cap in tones that matched their skin and colouring; instead of just letting Douglas go on in his cap, they put him in this dirty blonde brown pageboy wig which looked ridiculous against his skin, and made him look foolish and comical in the extreme when he danced. I know it was absolutely not intended as a malicious act but it came off as seeming cruel in the extreme, designed to humiliate. If you are going to have a very different physical type within your company, by trying to make them "blend" in the opposite effect is often achieved.

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Also another issue is that in those hugely rare cases in which a black dancer has made it onstage with a major ballet company what they're given to dance has a silent and tacit form of racist undertone (and I'd like to stress I'm not saying this is a malicious, brutal act) but they're given the whores, the pimps, animals, jazzy solos, in the classical works they'll get the jazzier small solo if at all, new works calling on athleticism. They don't get the cornerstones of the classical rep.
An example is the NYCB premiere of the Martins/McCarney Ocean's Kingdom. Joan Acocella, in The New Yorker, points out that, among other cliches of 19th-century story ballet, there is a color coding for "good" and "bad." The heroine is blond; the hero is "pale-skinned:; the villain is "dark-skinned." In the absence of an African American, NYCB cast an American dancer of South Asian extraction.

I've read a number of reviews of this production, and Acocella's is the only reviewer who mentions the color coding quite so frankly.

We've all seen that kind of casting. Like you, I doubt that such racial stereotyping, in the contemporary world at least, is not malicious and probably not even intentional. But cultural assumptions (what "looks good"; what people are assumed to expect; etc.) are complicated. Unintentional stereotyping can be insidious, because people of obvious good will are doing it.

I tend to agree with Jayne that changes need to come from the top (AD's, choreographers who have a say in casting, etc.).

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But the case-(thread)-here is not about comparison on commercial market value, Simon. This is about artists who belong to a different race to that of the majority of their peers in their respective stage jobs and are trying to be looked at with a sense of equality by their audiences and treated with fairness and given the same opportunities as their prevalent race peers by their bosses, and both rap and ballet have representants that contain all of the above.

So there's DEFINITELY a case here.

Well, no, rap is predominantly a black genre discussing black issues and history, certain white rappers who have a contribution to make have succeeded within the genre...

Exactly, just as ballet is a Caucasian-European genre which also discusses the past, customs and tales of their people, and also there have been certain black dancers who have had too a contribution to make and succeeded within the genre as well.

So yes, actually.

And talking about powdered wigs on black dancers and athletic solos here's all of it contained in this clip. Let's see ig Gounod will ever be given the Albrechts and Siegfrieds...

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