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


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#91 kfw

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Posted 30 September 2011 - 01:05 PM

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.


#92 Quiggin

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Posted 30 September 2011 - 02:40 PM

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.

#93 lmspear

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Posted 30 September 2011 - 03:21 PM




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.

#94 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 30 September 2011 - 04:04 PM





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...

#95 Simon G

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Posted 30 September 2011 - 06:06 PM

[font="Arial"]


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.

[/font]
[font="Arial"]"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.[/font]

[font="Arial"]

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.

[/font]
[font="Arial"]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. [/font][font="Arial"] 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.[/font]
[font="Arial"] [/font]



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.

#96 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 30 September 2011 - 07:24 PM

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.

#97 lmspear

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Posted 01 October 2011 - 01:23 AM

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

http://www.hulu.com/...-0,vepisode,1,0

#98 Simon G

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Posted 01 October 2011 - 05:41 AM

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.

#99 bart

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Posted 01 October 2011 - 06:31 AM

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.).

#100 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 01 October 2011 - 07:02 AM


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...



#101 kfw

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Posted 01 October 2011 - 07:52 AM

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.

I didn't imply that at all, I said it was the logical import of your (false) claim that

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.

You say it's racist for whites not to want to see black dancers. Why isn't it racist for blacks to reject white Disney characters? In fact, as I said, young kids don't make those distinctions. Yes, Disney ought to create more black and Hispanic heroes and heroines. But that is, among other reasons, so that older black and Hispanic kids relate more, not because "there is nothing there to relate to" in the white characters.

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.

Very few of those white college kids in the late 50's and early 60's who sparked the folk and blues revival in America could directly relate to being either white hoboes or black sharecroppers in the Jim Crow South either. Nor could a later generation of white kids who made stars of Bob Marley and Peter Tosh directly relate to being black slum dwellers hounded by the police in Kingston, Jamaica. Nor can a lot of today's white fans really understand the inner city background of their hip-hop favorites. But they saw/see all these performers as images of proud manhood. So why can't a black girl relate to Snow White's virtue, or Odette's fear and longing? She can.

#102 Helene

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Posted 01 October 2011 - 08:06 AM

Most of the population in the US and Canada immigrated to North America as peasants. Few of the dancers in the royal companies anywhere were aristocrats. I don't identify with Aurora personally any more than I identify with Beowulf, but the underlying conflicts and group/power dynamics in the ballet in the ballet are universal, which is why "Giselle" dropped very nicely into the Bajou.

I suspect most people who've ever worked for their "betters" can identify with Petipa The Lilac Fairy, expected to do all the work and clean up the messes of those betters, who looked at their portrait in the ballet and were flattered, and while the doers "Make it work" as the philosopher Tim Gunn says, with grace and aplomb, regardless of the circumstances.

#103 Simon G

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Posted 01 October 2011 - 08:38 AM

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.


I didn't imply that at all, I said it was the logical import of your (false) claim that
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.
You say it's racist for whites not to want to see black dancers. Why isn't it racist for blacks to reject white Disney characters? In fact, as I said, young kids don't make those distinctions. Yes, Disney ought to create more black and Hispanic heroes and heroines. But that is, among other reasons, so that older black and Hispanic kids relate more, not because "there is nothing there to relate to" in the white characters.



I'm basing this on first person testimonies I've read many times from countless black men and women talking about growing up black within a white society. But since you wish to speak of logic it wouldn't be illogical to take on board the "notion" that people are taught and identify with stories and images through the media and literature as they grow up, that we relate to images of ourselves our culture and ethnicty - it's what cultural diversity is about.

I find it odd that you choose to want to ignore the plethora of first person testimony throughout the media and literature by black people talking about no recognisable imagery of their race being represented in the culture in which they live. But still that's your choice, it's wrong, as you insist I am wrong.

I have never once said it's racist for whites not to want to see black dancers. Christian spoke of a connoisseur audience and I was responding to that, that is not something I believe in, and I do believe that the issue is far greater within the big companies between school, AD, what the AD thinks the audience wants etc.

Why is it not racist for blacks to reject white Disney characters? I am a bit dumbfounded at this question. Who said anything about rejection? How can you "reject" a cartoon character? What I was saying is that there are no examples of black characters or ethnically diverse characters within popular children's media, Christian was the one who insisted Aurora should be white as she is in the Disney Sleeping Beauty. It's not racist to want to see your ethnic group represented. Nor is it racist to identify with characters you feel represent you.

Moreover I'm not saying that it's the moral character they're not "relating" to, but ethnicity but then again why are the morally right characters predominantly white the beautiful heroes, princes, princesses white? Why must white equal moral rectitude? Again if you want to do some research all questions black men and women ask themselves when analysing the imagery they've grown up with.

Nor can a lot of today's white fans really understand the inner city background of their hip-hop favorites. But they saw/see all these performers as images of proud manhood. So why can't a black girl relate to Snow White's virtue, or Odette's fear and longing? She can.



Firstly, you don't have to be black to live on the poverty line, in an inner city or ghetto, a great deal of those white fans aren't living in Scottsdale or the Hamptons, they can relate to the tales of violence, struggle and class warfare just fine. This is an example of benign racism, the immediate stance that a white kid listening to rap is doing so within the comfort of a middle class milieu.

It's not about relating to the moral character of these characters, it never was, it's about representation, if they can relate to Odette or Aurora, why the hell can't they dance it.

#104 dirac

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Posted 01 October 2011 - 11:35 AM

It's not at all uncommon in pop culture and the arts in general for the mainstream to pick up on and celebrate art forms and trends created by marginalized groups such as blacks and gays. This attention is not without its ambiguities and has its negative aspects. I too have read interviews with African-American dancers who mention the importance of children and young people being able to recognize and relate to who's on stage and what's happening up there, and it seems like a very reasonable, indeed obvious, point to me.

#105 kfw

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Posted 01 October 2011 - 12:50 PM

It's not at all uncommon in pop culture and the arts in general for the mainstream to pick up on and celebrate art forms and trends created by marginalized groups such as blacks and gays. This attention is not without its ambiguities and has its negative aspects.

It's not uncommon at all, and blacks understandably have mixed feelings when whites pick up a black art form, water it down, and make a whole lot more money off of it than its creators did, at the same time bringing those creators wider recognition and more money. But "Love and Theft," to quote the name of a Dylan record that quotes a book by a black writer and borrows/steals from a myriad of black and white sources - the appropriation is a form of appreciation and respect. In other words, it has nothing to do with that marginalization, and goes a good ways towards countering it.

I too have read interviews with African-American dancers who mention the importance of children and young people being able to recognize and relate to who's on stage and what's happening up there, and it seems like a very reasonable, indeed obvious, point to me.

Well, the ideal is for us all to look for what we have in common, so if kids can't relate - and again I think that's a problem older kids have, when they have it at all - that's an opportunity for adults to teach. Justified black resentment is a understandable barrier to identifying with whites, but it is no longer true that most white people are racist, except in the sense that, as the researchers tell us, we're all to some degree racist, sexist, and my groupist. To the extent that black students believe or fear that the ballet world is racist, black examples are important.


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