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Dark skin as an aesthetic issue in classical ballet

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Why not? Unless you assume that making ballet more open/diverse automatically makes it worse, or demeans artistic integrity, why not say to AD's, and audience members, and Directors of schools, that they should think about looking outside the box? That they should consider that the art form has been and is shaped by history and white privilege (and other privileges as well but less relevant to this discussion) and that they should think about how to address that? Personally I think that looking at and addressing these issues would lead to aesthetic and marketing/audience development improvements too.

I cite Balanchine's work, and dancers, above in part to say that ballet can move away form its European roots and be great. And he's not the only example of this.

Of course it can be great. But if diversity is the goal, then halfway measures won't do, and the ideal, the real goal, is wide diversity and equal representation. So shouldn't NYCB have another Puerto Rican and/or Native American principal to replace Jock Soto? What about an Taiwanese-American male to replace Edwaard Liang? And how about Hispanic dancers? Wait, let's not be racist and say "Hispanic"to describe Chicanos, Cuban-Americans, Puerto-Rican Americans, etc., as if they're all alike. It needs them all. And what about sexual preference? Everyone knows that many dancers are gay men, but does the company have any lesbian dancers, and in the interests of diversity, shouldn't it have more than a few?

If you start along that road, where should the company be allowed to stop? Don't forget that precisely due to that history of white privilege, there is an extra high percentage of white dancers in the talent pool right now..

Following bart's idea - and, bart, I don't mean to presume we see things just alike here - if there are talented dancers in all those categories, and schools and companies are open-minded, they'll take their places. But a ballet company isn't an affirmative action program, it's an arts organization. It's goal isn't diversity, it isn't to rectify centuries of social injustice - it's to put the very best dancers and choreographer onstage, diverse or not.

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Why not? Unless you assume that making ballet more open/diverse automatically makes it worse, or demeans artistic integrity, why not say to AD's, and audience members, and Directors of schools, that they should think about looking outside the box? That they should consider that the art form has been and is shaped by history and white privilege (and other privileges as well but less relevant to this discussion) and that they should think about how to address that? Personally I think that looking at and addressing these issues would lead to aesthetic and marketing/audience development improvements too.

I cite Balanchine's work, and dancers, above in part to say that ballet can move away form its European roots and be great. And he's not the only example of this.

Of course it can be great. But if diversity is the goal, then halfway measures won't do, and the ideal, the real goal, is wide diversity and equal representation. So shouldn't NYCB have another Puerto Rican and/or Native American principal to replace Jock Soto? What about an Taiwanese-American male to replace Edwaard Liang? And how about Hispanic dancers? Wait, let's not be racist and say "Hispanic"to describe Chicanos, Cuban-Americans, Puerto-Rican Americans, etc., as if they're all alike. It needs them all. And what about sexual preference? Everyone knows that many dancers are gay men, but does the company have any lesbian dancers, and in the interests of diversity, shouldn't it have more than a few?

If you start along that road, where should the company be allowed to stop? Don't forget that precisely due to that history of white privilege, there is an extra high percentage of white dancers in the talent pool right now..

So, any effort to encourage diversity=quotas? I don't think that's true.

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So, any effort to encourage diversity=quotas?

Encourage diversity, but don't accept and promote on the basis of diversity, or at least primarily on the basis of diversity. Let diversity be the tie-breaker when other factors are equal.

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So, any effort to encourage diversity=quotas?

Encourage diversity, but don't accept and promote on the basis of diversity, or at least primarily on the basis of diversity. Let diversity be the tie-breaker when other factors are equal.

Is anyone advocating promoting bad dancers for diversity purposes? (Although there's an argument that bad dancers get promoted all the time for less noble reasons, so why not do it for a good reason for a change). I don’t think so.

What I would like to see is thoughtful expansion of the dancer/choreographer pool at all levels, and more mindful casting/promotion/hiring. Before you even get to using diversity as a tie breaker, question the standards by which you got to the tie. For example, can a dark-skinned dancer with an atypical body get treated the same as a white dancer with one? I’d say not now, unless at the least the person doing the evaluating is keeping a good eye on his/her internal stereotypes.

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Before you even get to using diversity as a tie breaker, question the standards by which you got to the tie.

Well, of course. :-) Unless it's acknowledged that white skin has been preferred, diversity won't even be seen as an ethically preferrable option, other factors being equal.

For example, can a dark-skinned dancer with an atypical body get treated the same as a white dancer with one?

Again, if dancers of colors are being rejected on the basis of their skin, I'll call that racism. But when I go to the theater I want to see the best dancers, and in that respect I'm colorblind. I don't assume that if the company is all-white, it shouldn't be. I don't presume to know who auditioned and who didn't and whether a white dancer beat out an equally good dancer of color. I don't presume racism. If I'm not mistaken, the word of mine you objected to was "prescribed." I don't prescribe. To my mind, that's heavy-handed and presumptuous. And it's judgmental. I hope we can agree on this.

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Before you even get to using diversity as a tie breaker, question the standards by which you got to the tie.

Just so.

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For example, can a dark-skinned dancer with an atypical body get treated the same as a white dancer with one?

Again, if dancers of colors are being rejected on the basis of their skin, I'll call that racism. But when I go to the theater I want to see the best dancers, and in that respect I'm colorblind. I don't assume that if the company is all-white, it shouldn't be. I don't presume to know who auditioned and who didn't and whether a white dancer beat out an equally good dancer of color. I don't presume racism. If I'm not mistaken, the word of mine you objected to was "prescribed." I don't prescribe. To my mind, that's heavy-handed and presumptuous. And it's judgmental. I hope we can agree on this.

I'm not accusing people that run all-white, or overwhelmingly white, companies of deliberate racism. I have no way of knowing what’s in their hearts, and I don’t think it’s necessarily relevant. What I do presume is that just about everyone is affected by living in a society that is not at all colorblind, and specific to ballet, one that historically has not had many dancers of color. If people in power in the ballet world have never, or very rarely, seen a non-white Aurora or Odette or Giselle (or Siegfried or Desire or Albrecht), (through no fault of their own), there is an extra hurdle for a non-white dancer to get over. And it’s extra work to think about and try to overcome, no kidding. I don’t have a big problem saying I think people should do that work.

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So, any effort to encourage diversity=quotas?

Encourage diversity, but don't accept and promote on the basis of diversity, or at least primarily on the basis of diversity. Let diversity be the tie-breaker when other factors are equal.

Has this EVER happened in the world of dance? I would be amazed (and I could be completely wrong), if it has. A large part of the dance world is aesthetic, that will never change, and probably shouldn't. But I've yet to ever see a "non-white" dancer in ballet, or any dance ensemble, who I thought "well she/he's ok, but it's obvious they got in based not on talent, but to fill a quota".

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So, any effort to encourage diversity=quotas?

Encourage diversity, but don't accept and promote on the basis of diversity, or at least primarily on the basis of diversity. Let diversity be the tie-breaker when other factors are equal.

Has this EVER happened in the world of dance?

The question was, "should it?"

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Good point. And I don't think it should--as others have said, ballet is so stylized anyway, that I don't see a justification for it. My background is theatre and this comes up all the time, and the only time I, personally, see it playing a part is when the work is *about* race. I hope that one day even that can be beyond audiences' eyes, but it's not (IMHO) at this stage whatsoever. But otherwise it goes back to the whole thing--do people in Pharaoh's Daughter look Egyptian? And if they did would they even be dancing those steps?

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The question was, "should it?"

We could cross that bridge when we come to it, I expect.

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A story on Misty Copeland, with a video clip of a joint interview with Copeland and Virginia Johnson on "The Couch."

“I think we’re at the point now where classical ballet has to evolve with the rest of world or it’s not going to last,” Copeland continued. “And so we have to diversify it, diversify the people on the stage as well as the people in the audience.”

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Here's a link to a discussion about the lack of racial diversity in ballet. Especially concerning the lack of black females in the field.

It's titled, Black Swans: Solidarity beyond colored pointe shoes.

The sound quality is bad in spots, they should have had Viriginia Johnson on the panel, they didn't allow enough time to cover the issue in depth and they allowed the dance critic/historian to drone on and take up too much speaking time.

Still, they did discuss some matters that I and others have mentioned frequently on this forum.

I also was surprised to find out that I know more about the black women in ballet companies across the county than some of the so-called experts.

For instance, the panel had to be told about Courtney Lavine was at ABT and nobody even mentioned Olivia Boisson at City Ballet.

But then, sisters do tend to get lost at City Ballet.

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I don't think it is an asethetic problem of style or uniformity. I believe it is more a problem of scarcity of minority students. The only group that is making headway are the Asians.

Plus we have to keep in account that the artform requires many, many years of training for a career that is almost over before it can begin. Also with little hope of advancement. That alone heads off most curious students. Then you have to add the body requirements that not everybody meets both in style and in stamina. This isn't even taking into account the supply costs and travel costs of the training which doesn't end when a dancer becomes a professional. Toe Shoes are not getting cheaper.

If we consider all of this, it is no wonder that Ballet is only small cultural subset with a small number of applicants. Of which minorities are an extremely tiny group among their number. So to accuse companies of not hiring minorities is a bit unfair. Especially when they are few and far between.

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When Dance Theatre of Harlem disbanded, there were a number of beautifully trained experienced dancers on the market all at once. Very few were hired by established ballet companies. The school continued to train dancers, mostly minority dancers, even when the company was on hiatus. How many of the advanced students were hired?

For a number of years PNB has had a program for economically disadvantaged students for years called Dance Chance, which includes clothes and transport. One of its graduates is a member of the company. His brother was a PD who's been studying elsewhere and was exceptional in the student performance last year or the year before. There are two current PD's who are Dance Chance graduates. Not all members of minorities are economically disadvantaged, and it isn't a program that targets minorities specifically. However, it addresses the economic issues, and, of course, there's always been affirmative action for boys in terms of scholarships at higher levels of training.

If it is a priority to train and hire minority dancers, company schools and companies would do it. For the most part, they have not, and then complain that there just aren't any.

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I don't think it is an asethetic problem of style or uniformity. I believe it is more a problem of scarcity of minority students. The only group that is making headway are the Asians.

Plus we have to keep in account that the artform requires many, many years of training for a career that is almost over before it can begin. Also with little hope of advancement. That alone heads off most curious students. Then you have to add the body requirements that not everybody meets both in style and in stamina. This isn't even taking into account the supply costs and travel costs of the training which doesn't end when a dancer becomes a professional. Toe Shoes are not getting cheaper.

If we consider all of this, it is no wonder that Ballet is only small cultural subset with a small number of applicants. Of which minorities are an extremely tiny group among their number. So to accuse companies of not hiring minorities is a bit unfair. Especially when they are few and far between.

Kaskait - It's funny that you mention "minorities" being under-represented in classical ballet when, in fact, Asians are quite well represented. In fact, Asians won all but one medal at the last NYIBC contest, held 5 or 6 years ago. They are quite well represented at YAGP too. Hispanics are also quite well represented. The under-representation is with African Americans. I know what you meant, though.

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When Dance Theatre of Harlem disbanded, there were a number of beautifully trained experienced dancers on the market all at once. Very few were hired by established ballet companies. The school continued to train dancers, mostly minority dancers, even when the company was on hiatus. How many of the advanced students were hired?

For a number of years PNB has had a program for economically disadvantaged students for years called Dance Chance, which includes clothes and transport. One of its graduates is a member of the company. His brother was a PD who's been studying elsewhere and was exceptional in the student performance last year or the year before. There are two current PD's who are Dance Chance graduates. Not all members of minorities are economically disadvantaged, and it isn't a program that targets minorities specifically. However, it addresses the economic issues, and, of course, there's always been affirmative action for boys in terms of scholarships at higher levels of training.

If it is a priority to train and hire minority dancers, company schools and companies would do it. For the most part, they have not, and then complain that there just aren't any.

I couldn't find statistics regarding Dance Theater of Harlem's school size. Sites keep stating professional program as 14 which is can't be right. On Dance Theater's site it states its graduates also go on to careers that are not in ballet. But its hard to get numbers. Perhaps it is more in line with PNB's statistics on their Dance Chance program ( http://www.pnb.org/PNBSchool/Classes/DanceChance/#Facts)

There are 42 in the professional program. Only 83 children in the Dance Chance young students division out of the 1500!!!! screened. So perhaps a total of 125. Which is very small when compared to SAB's student total of 450.

The numbers don't seem to be present. Not only in the Minority schools but also in the bigger schools. Not all current SAB students will go on to ballet careers. There are many who will try to build a career but not be accepted by any company. The rates of success are brutal in this art form.

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That is hardly news. It takes many, many students starting ballet to end up with the very low numbers of dancers who have professional careers.

So the former Dance Chance student overcame 83:1417 odds to get a professional contract.

If there are so black students who make it to the elite training ranks, then the very top-ranked companies should be able to have their pick of the ambitious top black students, as most ambitious top students want to go into the companies with the best contracts and most prestige, and this would be reflected in their company rosters. But it isn't.

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If it is a priority to train and hire minority dancers, company schools and companies would do it. For the most part, they have not, and then complain that there just aren't any.

I would think it should be a priority to train and hire an individual minority dancer when he or she is as good as a competing white one. Hire the minority dancer over the white dancer in that case, as a way of making up a history of discrimination. But what would be the artistic rationale behind making it a priority period? Perhaps there is an economic rationale, increasing the size of the audience by drawing more minority members.

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What would be the artistic rationale behind making it a priority period?

Black ballerinas have been excluded from "integrated" companies. Taking the official reasons that dancers have been told and have witnessed, "They just get fat." Not this ballerina got fat (or "fat") or that dancer got fat, but "They" all get fat, so why bother. Also, "They break up the uniformity of the corps," which has no recourse, when it is an "aesthetic" decision.

If companies were truly committed to hiring the best, the selection pool would be as inclusive as possible. Companies don't have to, because they're content with the self-selection that comes to them eagerly.

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So an 84% attrition rate in Dance Chance means only about 20 students will try to make a career in dance. If you add SAB to the same rate, only 74 students will try to make a go of a professional career.

20 against 74 is a hard requirement. Plus there are other major schools adding their own into the mix.

Even the small number auditioning for companies is still too much for the business. When Courtney Lavine was accepted to ABT, only 2 other dancers were accepted with her. So 3 out of an example size of 94.

I hesitate to force companies to give minority dancers priority over their own artistic requirements.

The only recourse would be to pump up the applicant numbers from Dance Chance's 125 to compete with SAB's 450. More numbers in the game means more success.

Also we have to examine why Asian and Hispanic students are in ballet in greater numbers over Black students. It isn't skin color. A great many Asian and Hispanic minorities have very dark skin.

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So an 84% attrition rate in Dance Chance means only about 20 students will try to make a career in dance. If you add SAB to the same rate, only 74 students will try to make a go of a professional career.

20 against 74 is a hard requirement. Plus there are other major schools adding their own into the mix.

Even the small number auditioning for companies is still too much for the business. When Courtney Lavine was accepted to ABT, only 2 other dancers were accepted with her. So 3 out of an example size of 94.

I hesitate to force companies to give minority dancers priority over their own artistic requirements.

The only recourse would be to pump up the applicant numbers from Dance Chance's 125 to compete with SAB's 450. More numbers in the game means more success.

Also we have to examine why Asian and Hispanic students are in ballet in greater numbers over Black students. It isn't skin color. A great many Asian and Hispanic minorities have very dark skin.

I disagree that a great many Asian and Hispanics in classical ballet have very dark skin. Most of the dancers of Asian descent are as fair or fairer than many Caucasians, as are many of the Latin dancers who consider themselves to be "brown." And of course many Latin dancers ARE Caucasian like Tamaro Rojo and Angel Corello.

And you might be surprised to know that some of us who champion the ideal of racial diversity in ballet, aren't about greater black representation only.

I'd like to see more people of all races and ethnicities in major companies. And I truly believe that artistic integrity need not be compromised to do so.

Seeing an encouraging number of Asian and Asian American dancers in companies in Western Europe, the Antipodes, Canada and across the U.S., led me to ask in this thread, why there wasn't better Asian representation in NYCB. Not because City Ballet should want to look politically correct, but because people of Asian descent are over represented elsewhere.

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Seeing an encouraging number of Asian and Asian American dancers in companies in Western Europe, the Antipodes, Canada and across the U.S., led me to ask in this thread, why there wasn't better Asian representation in NYCB. Not because City Ballet should want to look politically correct, but because people of Asian descent are over represented elsewhere.

That is a good question.

But I think it is related in a way to the question of why there aren't more Russian or Eastern European dancers with NYCB?

I think there is only one Ukrainian dancer at NYCB but she never promoted out of the corps. And there is one man from Albania. Also I see there is only one Asian female dancer in the Corps. All of them received the bulk of their formative training at schools other than SAB.

Russian dancers are all about the classics. And although I see Balanchine works gaining popularity with stagings in Russia...no one is really clamoring for more. And I think Asian dancers share the same desire of pure classical dancing. NYCB just isn't on their radar.

But then again...should it be? Maybe we are biased. To everyone in New York, NYCB is the end all and be all. But it probably isn't. And since they don't tour all that much (a company of happy NY hermit crabs), most people only know them from old ballet videos they see on TV or youtube.

I must say the last time I attended a performance at NYCB there were a lot of Asian ballet fans present. I didn't notice a lot of Russian fans. It could be true that our view of NYCB is inflated...greatly.

But no one is going to be able to tell me they aren't the best! yahoo.gif

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That is a good question.

But I think it is related in a way to the question of why there aren't more Russian or Eastern European dancers with NYCB?

I think there is only one Ukrainian dancer at NYCB but she never promoted out of the corps. And there is one man from Albania. Also I see there is only one Asian female dancer in the Corps. All of them received the bulk of their formative training at schools other than SAB.

Russian dancers are all about the classics. And although I see Balanchine works gaining popularity with stagings in Russia...no one is really clamoring for more. And I think Asian dancers share the same desire of pure classical dancing. NYCB just isn't on their radar.

But then again...should it be? Maybe we are biased. To everyone in New York, NYCB is the end all and be all. But it probably isn't. And since they don't tour all that much (a company of happy NY hermit crabs), most people only know them from old ballet videos they see on TV or youtube.

I must say the last time I attended a performance at NYCB there were a lot of Asian ballet fans present. I didn't notice a lot of Russian fans. It could be true that our view of NYCB is inflated...greatly.

But no one is going to be able to tell me they aren't the best! yahoo.gif

I've wondered why more Asian and Asian American ballet students aren't attending SAB.

Also, if pushes for diversity are nothing but politically correct fascism from the left as some maintain, why do the people who don't like it and their supporters, capitulate? After all, most major U.S. companies at least claim to have some type of diversity initiative.

For those folks who think such initiatives are a waste of time and money and are patently unfair, well, claiming that they are afraid of being called racists by opposing such programs, is a pretty lame excuse. Since they claim they are being called racists anyway, why not stake out the high moral ground and fight the good fight?

Since they don't care about or even see color (which I guess means that they, like Stephen Colbert, don't see color because everyone defaults to white) they should be happy in the knowledge that nowadays, everyone that is hired and promoted by a ballet company is absolutely the best dancer because they've all been hired using that numerically measurable and universally accepted criterion for classical dancers that totally exists.

Whew! What a relief to know that everything will always be merit-based in ballet.

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I've wondered why more Asian and Asian American ballet students aren't attending SAB.

I know we've hashed that one out a couple of times here before, so I won't repeat, except to say that I think that Asian dancers come with a different set of expectations from their home culture than Asian Americans.

Since they don't care about or even see color (which I guess means that they, like Stephen Colbert, don't see color because everyone defaults to white) they should be happy in the knowledge that nowadays, everyone that is hired and promoted by a ballet company is absolutely the best dancer because they've all been hired using that numerically measurable and universally accepted criterion for classical dancers that totally exists.

Brief divigation -- I miss the Colbert Report...

Whew! What a relief to know that everything will always be merit-based in ballet.

Hearing your satire here, but I've been reading lately about intersectionality -- the idea that there are multiple issues at play in most endeavors, so that it's not just race or just gender or just "the economy, stupid," and I have a feeling that we're dealing with multiple issues in this situation as well. Cultural institutions are a product of their heritage, certainly, but they are also vested in a community, supported by a particular cohort, and a part of their time. There's a lot going on, just on a normal day -- over the course of a season or a career, things are just that much more complicated. I agree that merit plays a bigger part in an arts institution than it does in a school or a public agency, but in the end, it can't be just any one thing.

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