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Dark skin as an aesthetic issue in classical balletHow do you make it a non-issue?


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#76 bart

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Posted 22 September 2011 - 10:22 AM

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.

#77 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 22 September 2011 - 08:50 PM


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:

#78 Incarnat

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Posted 28 September 2011 - 12:15 AM

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 donít seem to think that ballet is not "for them" or an unattainable career. Sure, lots of them donít 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 didnít stop her from advancing. The one black woman I remember in NYCB - Aesha Ash - was considerably closer to an "ideal" Balanchine body. Itís easy to generalize about black women's bodies, but itís 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 arenít 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.

#79 Simon G

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Posted 29 September 2011 - 10:42 AM

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.

#80 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 29 September 2011 - 11:17 AM

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.rapartist...p10/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.

#81 Simon G

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Posted 29 September 2011 - 03:00 PM

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.rapartist...p10/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.

#82 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 29 September 2011 - 07:25 PM

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.c...l/reverence.jpg

http://www.thinkgrea...00/100_6560.jpg

http://www.bustatoon...es_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...

#83 dirac

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Posted 30 September 2011 - 04:34 AM

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.

#84 Simon G

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Posted 30 September 2011 - 08:15 AM

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.

#85 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 30 September 2011 - 10:03 AM

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.

#86 Simon G

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Posted 30 September 2011 - 10:24 AM

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.

#87 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 30 September 2011 - 10:43 AM

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

#88 bart

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Posted 30 September 2011 - 11:36 AM

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.

#89 Helene

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Posted 30 September 2011 - 11:36 AM

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.)

#90 Jayne

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Posted 30 September 2011 - 11:55 AM

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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