Tapfan

Dark skin as an aesthetic issue in classical ballet

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

A great many are in the Russian schools. You can see them in various classroom clips. That is why I surmise they are into classical form and the ones who still do classical form the best (although I think they dance too slow at times) are in Russia.

The SAB auditions for children are also very stringent (unless you are the spawn of the super rich elites) regarding body requirements. This is interesting because once puberty hits, all bets are off. What was once a tall, skinny beanpole of a girl could turn into a small, muscular adult. That is the way hormones work on the body. And judging by the company now, I've seen all different body types some more suited to ballet than others. I've closely watched the corps in videos from Balanchine's time and I'm hard pressed to find a definitive uniformity that everyone accuses him of favoring. The women were just as diverse. I do notice that he favored a very athletic look.

Again there are many different factors and it isn't all due to racism. We need numbers, we need data which are not in supply. Making vague, sweeping arguments about someone, somewhere said they want everyone to match is not proof.

Also I feel if more minority students actually began study, enough as to not stand out like rare unicorns, there would be more minority dancers in the companies in general. But pushing companies to take minority dancers regardless of skill because they are rare is not going to work. Then you get into the awful situation where one group is guaranteed a career in dance when everyone else are held to different standards. That will not do.

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Amazing how white bodies that are not considered "ideal" are afforded consideration. Boys have always been given greater latitude outside the periods where competition at three or four imperial academies has been fierce.


Also I feel if more minority students actually began study, enough as to not stand out like rare unicorns, there would be more minority dancers in the companies in general. But pushing companies to take minority dancers regardless of skill because they are rare is not going to work. Then you get into the awful situation where one group is guaranteed a career in dance when everyone else are held to different standards. That will not do.

You've already argued that NYCB's policy of taking in children based on body type does not work once they hit puberty. That can be easily shown by the miniscule number of local students -- your number was 1500 -- who make it into the Professional Division, the even fewer who stay, and the microscopic number who become members of the company. Percentage-wise, PNB had has a better batting average with local students, once the school program became established and the company transitioned from hiring most of its Principals and Soloists from the outside to most of them having worked their way through the corps, after a blip of Boal's NYCB hires. If it's such a crap shoot, choosing to spread attention to minority students at young ages, or making it feasible for economically disadvantaged students to train in ballet, shouldn't make a difference to them in the long-run, despite the fiction of selectivity leading to post-pubescent success.

Given critical acclaim for Dance Theatre of Harlem and the exceptional training they received, hiring those dancers when they became unemployed at once could be called "pushing companies to take minority dancers regardless of skill."

The odds are low in general. The odds are non-existent when they are applied to zero.

Also, if you read the bios of many Asian dancers in North American companies, you will see that they were born in Japan or China and trained there. You will also see plenty of Asian American dancers in schools in San Francisco and Seattle, the 3rd and 8th largest Asian American population centers in the US, both in company-affiliated and stand-alone programs.

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Throwing money at a problem will not solve the deeper cultural issues at work. Truly changing anything requires honesty about behavior, family and culture. Again there has be a non-biased look at why other minorities are in ballet more than the black minority. It isn't just about money. There are plenty of students in training who are not rich.

As I've stated before, the numbers of youngsters in training have to be given a boost. But if there is no interest to enter training (unless they are given it free) then who are schools and after training, companies going to accept? This is a problem that is very likely beyond the capacity of the industry to fix. It is a cultural problem.

As far as the Dance Theater of Harlem dancers tragedy....we need more information. Who did they audition for? What reasons were given for their non-acceptance? How old were they? Were they strong enough for the particular companies repertoire? If they experienced outright racism, WHY didn't they publicize it? Isn't justice worth more than a career? For every stand against racism, opens doors for the future.

Again we are throwing around racism accusations with no further evidence than someone, somewhere did something really racist. We need proof. We need witnesses. The more we allow screams of racism without proof the more it hurts the cause. The more it looks like a lie. And we know it isn't a lie. But we need proof, we need the moral high ground.

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So the dancers who are on the record for having described what they were told to their faces or what they heard their teachers say to others weren't "real" witnesses? The racism that Michaela DePrince's mother described doesn't count? Virginia Johnson's descriptions of racism in ballet are nothing?

The female Principal Dancers that I'd seen at DTH should have been welcome at any company in North America, and the soloists and many of the corps members at any mid-sized American company.

When AD's are quoted to say that "they're just aren't any," the DTH example belies that. They are also as at least nominal heads of their company affiliated school in the position to encourage spreading the widest net possible in their children's programs, to make it possible for the most talented, rather than the self-selected, have the opportunity to study and are encouraged to continue, like they do boys.

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So the dancers who are on the record for having described what they were told to their faces or what they heard their teachers say to others weren't "real" witnesses? The racism that Michaela DePrince's mother described doesn't count? Virginia Johnson's descriptions of racism in ballet are nothing?

The female Principal Dancers that I'd seen at DTH should have been welcome at any company in North America, and the soloists and many of the corps members at any mid-sized American company.

Yes, but the accusations stop at that. There is no follow up investigation. There should be investigations. A non-biased, most importantly, federal group should complete an investigation study. How many minority students on average? Where do they come from? What is their background? Why are the represented more in modern dance and pop culture dancing than ballet? Is this due to disinterest or a perceived racist environment? If there is a racist environment then the schools should be taken to task. How many minority students do they accept? How many actually audition at all? When faced with racist complaints do they investigate? Do they take action.

Why didn't Mrs. DePrince go to school authorities regarding the dancers who taunted her child or herself? I don't believe you can make this kind of complaint and then just stand around to let the fur fly expecting someone else to take action. Because a retaliation against her and her talented daughter would have been cause for a court case. It would have created a precedent and the law forcing change in the ballet school environment. Again, Virginia Johnson was a principal dancer. Her concrete accusations could have been investigated? Why weren't they? Did she name names? If you aren't going to sacrifice anything for the cause, then why should anyone change? A Prima naming names and giving up a career could have been an enormous force for change. Not only has she made statements about racism, she has also made strong arguments that the art is classist as well.

We have to get past the stage where we yell about something but stop there and hope someone else will do something. There is no incentive to take action. The action has to start with the accuser. The momentum will pick up supporters. Believe me, I believe the public would get behind a dancer standing up for minority rights.

In regards to the DTH dancers, there are dancers who fall out of the ranks of professional companies EVERY YEAR! How many of them are accepted into other companies? How many of them leave the art form because they are not hired? Just because you reach a certain professional level does not guarantee that you will stay there or that other companies must accept you because of your past jobs. Again naming names would have gone much further. Than the public could call out the companies to explain their reasons for not hiring these accomplished DTH dancers. Their hiring record could be examined as well as a history of who auditions for them.

Someone has to get the ball rolling on this. And since it will never be the industry, it must be the minorities but with firm evidence. Not just someone's mother/daughter said something racist to me or my daughter. It should be "Mrs. Smith/Miss Smith who attended A or B school during the years my daughter was there said that black/native american/hispanic/asian people don't belong in ballet". OR another example, "A or B School denied my daughter entrance to train because her skin was too dark". These accusations can be investigated. Vague accusations can not.

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I've never believed or stated that lack of racial diversity in ballet was due to racism only! There are many contributing factors, ALL of which must be addressed.

But race is such a thorny issue in ANY context, that when it's brought up, people get defensive and claim it's a problem that no longer exists in ballet or one that can't be solved without hurting the quality of classical dance.

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Seeing the way the ballet community vilified Gelsey Kirkland, to the point that only Edward Villella was the only major dance figure to come to her defense, and that was to ask the greater community for tolerance, you seriously propose that black dancers take on the ballet establishment with a discrimination suit, when the Supreme Court rejected a sex discrimination suit based on statistical analysis of Walmart hiring and promotion practices, where the numbers were much greater, but were someone unconvincing?

Copeland, DePrince, and Adams have described discrimination they faced, and Johnson has addressed the inadequacies of training in elite academies. The only encouraging sign I see may be -- "may be" because I don't have the previous rosters of the companies to which to compare the current -- that there are at least a dozen mid-sized to largish companies that have one black ballerina on their rosters, most of whom have been hired in this decade.

As far as change never coming from management, we've discussed Jackie Robinson on the Copeland thread. It was a deliberate effort by Branch Rickey, not only to expand the audience, but to expand the talent pool. Were the Brooklyn Dodgers a ballet company, he likely would have raided Dance Theatre of Harlem after the company closed. Maybe even before the company closed.

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Men often have that luxury. Unless they dance for the Trocks or Matthew Bourne, they're not white swans, wilis, sylphides, etc.

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The female Principal Dancers that I'd seen at DTH should have been welcome at any company in North America, and the soloists and many of the corps members at any mid-sized American company.

I've noticed that is rare when a dancer is let go at a ballet company that they find another job (unless they've chosen to leave on their own). I think one reason for that is that each company and Artistic Director has a specific vision and style - being a Principal (or Soloist/Corps) at one company does not guarantee you will be a fit for another company.

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Being a lauded Principal at a neoclassical company with a wide range of rep should mean that the dancer is a fit for another comparable company. The same thing is true for most Principal Dancers and Soloists at SFB, PNB, MCB, Pennsylvania Ballet, Boston Ballet, Ballet West, Ballet Arizona, Joffrey Ballet, Cincinnati Ballet, and Kansas City Ballet, just to name some. Houston Ballet may be the only stylistic exception, although the times I've seen the company live and on film, I didn't get the impression that Welch's rep had that many stylistic anomalies.

Every time Cuban dancers defect, they are absorbed into US companies, most of them immediately. Stylistically, they are trained in ABT's rep, not Balanchine rep and not neoclassical rep, but that hasn't stopped AD's from hiring them and casting them. Angel Corella, for example, just hired three Cuban dancers who are stylistic anomalies to the rep the company dances. Promotions and/or Principal casting have been quick in many cases, and blending into the corps isn't an issue.

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Yes - ballet is more and more going the direction of athleticism - turns and jumps. Beauty too but not if you don't have the "tricks". I agree being an accomplished dancer should translate to being hired by other companies but I don't see that happening often. Many reasons for that I'm sure.

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from today's NY Times - interview with Amar Ramascar. “I have never really thought about race, just what I could do as an artist,”

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/17/arts/dance/amar-ramasars-unlikely-path-to-becoming-a-prince-for-city-ballet.html

Well good for him. And just because there are black ballerinas who have made mention of the additional hurdles they face because of race, doesn't mean that's all they think or talk about.

Most love their jobs despite the additional challenges.

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Seems they are many personal experiences and it's interesting to hear them all.

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

I saw several casts of NYCB's Nutcracker this season and 1 of the 3 casts featured an Asian Marie and Fritz.. Just because you can't read about them doesn't mean Asians aren't attending SAB.

I also attended last summer's SAB summer intensive performance, In the 2 works performed (1 by Peter Walker, the other by Silas Farley) several African American students performed. One had a featured solo. Again, this was not written about.

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Uh...Good for Ramascar that he doesn't think about race. Here's a cookie for him... But posting his statement doesn't mean there isn't a problem with race in the ballet world. Especially when it pertains to females of a darker hue.

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Yes, but the accusations stop at that. There is no follow up investigation. There should be investigations. A non-biased, most importantly, federal group should complete an investigation study.

...

Someone has to get the ball rolling on this. And since it will never be the industry, it must be the minorities but with firm evidence. Not just someone's mother/daughter said something racist to me or my daughter. It should be "Mrs. Smith/Miss Smith who attended A or B school during the years my daughter was there said that black/native american/hispanic/asian people don't belong in ballet". OR another example, "A or B School denied my daughter entrance to train because her skin was too dark". These accusations can be investigated. Vague accusations can not.

While I would be very interested in seeing something like that investigation take place, I'm not holding my breath. That kind of robust industry-wide research is not really happening right now, especially in the arts, where it is too easy to default to an aesthetic, "best fit of skills" explanation. I agree that it would be more compelling if we could produce statistics -- employment law seems to have the same hard-science envy that much of the social sciences have now -- but I can understand why someone who still hopes for a career in the artform is reluctant to raise legal hell.

Unfortunately, we have done the easy work as far as racial discrimination is concerned -- we have made it illegal. But in a society that is still awash in white privilege, the harder task is changing people's minds -- getting them to see that it still exists.

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from today's NY Times - interview with Amar Ramascar. “I have never really thought about race, just what I could do as an artist,”

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/17/arts/dance/amar-ramasars-unlikely-path-to-becoming-a-prince-for-city-ballet.html

I read the whole interview today in the NYTimes and thought it was worth giving a better sense of the context of that quote for those who may not have checked out the link--Ramasar certainly has thought about being a dancer of color:

"I have never really thought about race, just what I could do as an artist," he said, "But I would like to be looked at as a role model for young dancers of color. I hope that I'm looked at in that way in terms of breaking boundaries and showing this is possible."

The interview opens by describing his first glimpse of ballet--a video that made him want to become a ballet dancer and join New York City Ballet: Mel Tomlinson and Heather Watts in Agon. And a little later in the same interview:

"...even though the African-American Mr. Tomlinson had been his first glimpse of classical dance, Mr. Ramasar said it was often hard to believe in his future as a ballet prince. "I would look around and think, there are no other dark-skinned Puerto Rican-Indian guys around. Is it really possible?"

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I saw several casts of NYCB's Nutcracker this season and 1 of the 3 casts featured an Asian Marie and Fritz.. Just because you can't read about them doesn't mean Asians aren't attending SAB.

I also attended last summer's SAB summer intensive performance, In the 2 works performed (1 by Peter Walker, the other by Silas Farley) several African American students performed. One had a featured solo. Again, this was not written about.

Where any of these schools' black females? Because that is the problem within a problem. When people speak about African Americans that they see in schools or companies, more often than not, they are talking about MALE dancers.

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