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


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#106 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 01 October 2011 - 02:14 PM

... as the researchers tell us, we're all to some degree racist, sexist, and groupist.


I think this statement resumes the whole thing very well. :clapping:

#107 dirac

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Posted 01 October 2011 - 03:05 PM

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.


A highly debatable point, but leaving that aside, I believe other posters already responded adequately to this aspect of the discussion earlier in the thread.

#108 kfw

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Posted 02 October 2011 - 09:40 AM

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.

Simon, I neither ignore that testimony, nor deny that culture and ethnicity help shape identity, nor that African-Americans have been severely under-represented in the media. All those facts are clear and obvious.What I take issue with is the assertion that kids can't relate outside those boundaries, that black kids can't relate to stories about whites, that poor kids can't relate to stories about the rich.

There are other first person African-American testimonies, like that of the writer Albert Murray http://www.vqronline...-albert-murray/, who was a mentor to Wynton Marsalis.

I have never once said it's racist for whites not to want to see black dancers.

You've said it was institutional (white) racism that to this day holds black dancers back in the schools and in the companies, so if it's racist for white ADs not to cast black dancers, it's racist for white audiences not to want to see them. I personally prefer to get away from the term as often as possible, because its loaded, even when you put "benign" in front of it.

It's not racist to want to see your ethnic group represented. Nor is it racist to identify with characters you feel represent you.

Right. It's just ordinarily racist not to identify with any others, although as I say below, there is a great big mitigating circumstance in this case.

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?


Er, because you and I aren't casting directors? :-)

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.

If you're going to accuse me of benign racism, that's fine, because I value straight talk. But kindly do it for something I actually write. I did not say that all white kids who listen to rap are comfortably middle class. I said that many whites who are comfortable can relate to the less fortunate performers instead. Ditto for the other musical forms. The folk revival didn't start, nor did it really take hold, in the white working class, but in Cambridge, Mass. and Greenwich Village and at elite universities. To this day, it is educated whites who listen to Robert Johnson, Mississippi John Hurt, and the like, not the working class people who could most easily relate to their circumstances.

My only point here is that the gap can be breached. Of course black audiences have a hurdle to leap which whites don't, resentment at the fact that racism has, at least in the past, kept black dancers and would-be dancers off the stage. But racial healing has to involve both sides, including the side that's been wronged. I think that political correctness on this issue,well-intentioned though it may be, only hurts African-Americans by encouraging them to see racism under every rock. At some point, as Murray understood, that's counter-productive. Is that easy for me to say? Yes. Does that make it untrue?

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.

Of course, as I've agreed all along, they should be given the opportunity to dance it.

#109 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 02 October 2011 - 10:33 AM

... as I've agreed all along, they should be given the opportunity to dance it.


One little thing here...let's not shift the whole weight/responsability to the AD's side...it wouldn't be fair...

#110 bart

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Posted 02 October 2011 - 01:05 PM

One little thing here...let's not shift the whole weight/responsibility to the AD's side...it wouldn't be fair...

True, but you have to start somewhere. If not the AD (and the heads of the pre-professional schools), where else do you start?

Waiting for public opinion to change on its own rarely works in any political context. Talking about cultural traditions or aesthetic conventions as though they were fixed in eternity just tends to maintain the status quo.

The AD hires and does the casting. Has great influence over advertising. Has access to the local media. Has the ear of the Board of Directors, and the responsibility to advise it.

No one is better placed to initiate and foster change. IF, that is, he or she wants the change to happen and is willing to take chances to move it along.

#111 dirac

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Posted 02 October 2011 - 11:18 PM

The folk revival didn't start, nor did it really take hold, in the white working class, but in Cambridge, Mass. and Greenwich Village and at elite universities. To this day, it is educated whites who listen to Robert Johnson, Mississippi John Hurt, and the like, not the working class people who could most easily relate to their circumstances.


Reviving superannuated forms of pop and folk is often a form of academic excavation and it makes sense that it would appeal to educated bourgeois and aspiring bohemians.

#112 kfw

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Posted 03 October 2011 - 05:42 AM

The folk revival didn't start, nor did it really take hold, in the white working class, but in Cambridge, Mass. and Greenwich Village and at elite universities. To this day, it is educated whites who listen to Robert Johnson, Mississippi John Hurt, and the like, not the working class people who could most easily relate to their circumstances.


Reviving superannuated forms of pop and folk is often a form of academic excavation and it makes sense that it would appeal to educated bourgeois and aspiring bohemians.

Academic? Bob Dylan said that rock'n'roll songs "weren't serious or didn't reflect life in a realistic way. I knew that when I got into folk music, it was more of a serious type of thing. The songs are filled with more despair, more sadness, more triumph, more faith in the supernatural, much deeper feelings."

Eric Clapton called Muddy Waters a father figure.

I'll wager that for every fan who pursued a degree in ethnomusicology, 1000 took up the guitar. They weren't reading papers at Club 47 or The Kettle of Fish. They were singing and swapping songs and emulating their heroes. They were relating cross-culturally.

#113 lmspear

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Posted 08 October 2011 - 02:05 AM

This link is to an interview from Aesha Ash's blog that was posted yesterday:

Is There a Lack of Interest from the African-American Community for Ballet?: A Conversation with Dancer Ikolo Griffin

http://theblackswand...om-african.html

#114 dirac

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Posted 08 October 2011 - 10:51 AM


The folk revival didn't start, nor did it really take hold, in the white working class, but in Cambridge, Mass. and Greenwich Village and at elite universities. To this day, it is educated whites who listen to Robert Johnson, Mississippi John Hurt, and the like, not the working class people who could most easily relate to their circumstances.


Reviving superannuated forms of pop and folk is often a form of academic excavation and it makes sense that it would appeal to educated bourgeois and aspiring bohemians.

Academic? Bob Dylan said that rock'n'roll songs "weren't serious or didn't reflect life in a realistic way. I knew that when I got into folk music, it was more of a serious type of thing. The songs are filled with more despair, more sadness, more triumph, more faith in the supernatural, much deeper feelings."

Eric Clapton called Muddy Waters a father figure.

I'll wager that for every fan who pursued a degree in ethnomusicology, 1000 took up the guitar. They weren't reading papers at Club 47 or The Kettle of Fish. They were singing and swapping songs and emulating their heroes. They were relating cross-culturally.


A golden age, to be sure. I have heard of Clapton and Dylan.

#115 kfw

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Posted 08 October 2011 - 06:37 PM



The folk revival didn't start, nor did it really take hold, in the white working class, but in Cambridge, Mass. and Greenwich Village and at elite universities. To this day, it is educated whites who listen to Robert Johnson, Mississippi John Hurt, and the like, not the working class people who could most easily relate to their circumstances.


Reviving superannuated forms of pop and folk is often a form of academic excavation and it makes sense that it would appeal to educated bourgeois and aspiring bohemians.

Academic? Bob Dylan said that rock'n'roll songs "weren't serious or didn't reflect life in a realistic way. I knew that when I got into folk music, it was more of a serious type of thing. The songs are filled with more despair, more sadness, more triumph, more faith in the supernatural, much deeper feelings."

Eric Clapton called Muddy Waters a father figure.

I'll wager that for every fan who pursued a degree in ethnomusicology, 1000 took up the guitar. They weren't reading papers at Club 47 or The Kettle of Fish. They were singing and swapping songs and emulating their heroes. They were relating cross-culturally.


A golden age, to be sure. I have heard of Clapton and Dylan.


I don't see your point.




#116 bart

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Posted 08 October 2011 - 07:44 PM

This thread has covered so many aspects of this question. Thank you, all.

I wanted to post the following quote from a another thread started recently by Helene. (The thread did not show up on my "View New Content" page. I found it only by checking the "New Topics" box. Possibly others missed it as well,)

This post reviews a new documentary, First Position, about a group of 6 (+ 1) young dancers competing at the 2010 YAGP competition. It refers directly to points made in this discussion.
.

Race comes up several times in the film, and no one's pulling any punches. [Joan Sebastian] Zamora says that his idol is Carlos Acosta, because he was the first black principal at the Royal Ballet, and that he probably thinks of himself as black because he's from Colombia. His skin is no darker than most of the people with whom I grew up whose ancestry was from Sicily, so I think that says a lot. For the other two times, the subject is Michaela DePrince. The first time we see her mother, an older Jewish woman with a broad NY metro accent, she is dying straps and tutu panties brown and using a marker to darken the flesh-tone center "V" of a tutu, because commercially available "flesh-toned" is for white dancers. DePrince later lists all of the attributes that black dancers are supposed to have -- ex: bad feet, no extension -- and she's living proof that these are ridiculous assertions, because if anything, she has too much extension. When her mother says that people come up to her to tell her why her daughter can't be a ballet dancer, she asks, somewhat rhetorically whether they think their comments affect her less because her daughter is adopted or whether they're really that crass. Kargmann and [editor Kate] Amend let people make the points clearly and move on, the touch of masterful editing, because you don't forget it. I'm interested to see what will be in the bonus material. (Kargmann said if she used all of the footage she'd have a four-hour, rather than a 1.5-hour movie.)

The Link to Helene's complete post is here:
http://balletalert.i...first-position/

And here's a key passage from the material Linked by imspear. Aesha Ash is interviewing dancer Ikolo Griffin: His response relates directly to several of the posts on this thread.


Fundamentally, ballet in America today rarely offers relatable programming for the African-American community, and there is not enough effort to attract new and diverse audiences. People go to the theater to see something of themselves; to see something they can relate to and feel a genuine emotional or cultural connection. You can't blame people for not being interested in something that is not emotionally, culturally, or artistically interesting to them. If ballet is to be a truly American art form, it should reflect all aspects of the American condition and thereby attract more interest and participation from all communities. The only place that I've really seen ballet inspire diverse communities was at Dance Theatre of Harlem, where despite financial setbacks there remains an active focus on building new audiences through educational programs and a repertoire that truly reflects American diversity. Another unique thing about my experience at DTH was seeing people on stage who looked like me, and knowing that young people from many cultures would see someone on stage they could relate to. It was very difficult to be a company member during DTH's struggle for financial support and eventual closing in 2004, but it heartens me to see the potential for a new company growing. Because it's not just about being the one black person in the corps, it's about being given an opportunity to succeed at higher levels and to become a principal dancer. That will truly make a difference in how the African-American community can look at ballet as an art form.



So many of these phrases relate to things we have been talking about here. For example -- "commercially available "flesh-toned" is for white dancers " -- "all of the attributes that black dancers are supposed to have -- ex: bad feet, no extension " -- "people come up to her to tell her why her daughter can't be a ballet dancer" -- "it's not just about being the one black person in the corps, it's about being given an opportunity to succeed at higher levels and to become a principal dancer."-- "the desire to see "people on stage who looked like me."


#117 Jane Simpson

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Posted 09 October 2011 - 02:27 AM

The ballet.co magazine has recently published an interview with Cassa Pancho, the founder of the London-based company Ballet Black, which has an obvious relevance to this topic.

"When I ask parents why they come from so far away to bring their children to our school in Shepherd’s Bush, that surely there are schools closer to them, they always say “yes, there are, but we don’t want our daughter to be the only black face in the class”. There are many little black girls who would like to learn ballet, but they don’t because they think they wouldn’t fit in. If you want to leave your precious 3 year-old somewhere, you want be sure they are ok. They are taught by me and by Cira Robinson, a black dancer, so they see from a young age that things are possible."

#118 bart

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Posted 09 October 2011 - 05:47 AM

[ ... ] so they see from a young age that things are possible."

That, I think, is what we owe all children. "To see what is possible."

Alas, that is just the beginning. Beyond that, it's up to adults, and especially adults who have the authority to turn the belief possibility into something real. This means those who run schools and companies, and those who fund them.

How do you make the "possible" really possible? For a start: color-blind recruitment and training; constant work to educate audiences; and color-blind hiring and casting beyond what Tradition tells us is sensible.

#119 kfw

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Posted 09 October 2011 - 06:23 AM

I'm not sure we can blame ADs for mostly casting dancers who look like them and have stereotypical ballet dancers looks if we agree that it's only when potential audience members feel they "see something of themselves," "something they can relate to and feel a genuine emotional [ . . . ] connection" to, that they'll buy tickets. My feeling is that both are natural, both should be resisted, and neither rise to the level of pernicious racism. Always casting black dancers for the "exotic" and bad guy roles . . . that's another matter.

When I go to the theater, I want to see good dancing, not "a truly American art form." It would warm all of our hearts to read that Alicia Graf had been given a principal's contract with ABT, but as an audience member I'm sorry I'll probably never see her as Terpsichore not because she's black, but because she's a beautiful dancer. I think black dancers should be encouraged in the schools and given plum roles onstage, but that's because it's clear they can dance. But if ballet companies shouldn't be casting dancers because they're white, they shouldn't be casting them because they're black either. That isn't the way to produce great art.

#120 bart

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Posted 09 October 2011 - 08:00 AM

But if ballet companies shouldn't be casting dancers because they're white, they shouldn't be casting them because they're black either. That isn't the way to produce great art.

Agree entirely. If anyone is proposing that, I haven't heard it on this thread.

I'm not sure we can blame ADs for mostly casting dancers who look like them and have stereotypical ballet dancers looks if we agree that it's only when potential audience members feel they "see something of themselves," "something they can relate to and feel a genuine emotional [ . . . ] connection" to, that they'll buy tickets

I have to disagree with the implication that there is some sort of one-to-one logical or ethical equivalency between the positions of conservative audiences and directors, on the one hand, and those who express criticism of an art form that systematically marginalizes them, on the other. Power brings lots of rewards. It should also bring a greater sense of responsibility for the consequences.

My approach to ethics tends to be situational. Leaders and audiences who have long benefited from an advantaged, even privileged, position have a responsibility to take seriously the criticisms of those who disagree with them, to examine their own motives, and to look more closely at the consequences (social, personal, artistic). Otherwise, why not just say ... "This is a non-issue. We are quite happy, thank you, with the status quo."

My feeling is that both are natural, both should be resisted [ ... ]

[Agree with "both should be resisted," but have some problems with "both are natural." As one who has read a great deal of conservative literature defending of slavery and segregation in the 19th and 20th century, I am wary of that concept: "natural." After all, there was a time when the "natural" condition of Africans was considered to be slavery, in the American South at least.

The history of so-called natural law is fascinating because experts in it have often been so wrong over the centuries, especially in matters having to do with race, gender, sexual orientation, medicine, crime and punishment, etc. Almost anything can feel "natural" (to some) if it goes on long enough and if rewards us in some way or other.

[ ... ]and neither rise to the level of pernicious racism.

Agree on the whole. But I have a problem with the way the term "racism" is used in our world. It's a common form of labeling. But how useful is it? "Racism" has had quite a number of quite different meanings over time since the term became fashionable 100-plus years ago.

Here's one of many possible examples. The Dictionary of Races or Peoples, issued by the U.S. Immigration Commission, was hugely influential on American thinking about racial determinism in the first decades of of the 20th century. A product of the nativist and anti-immigrant movement of the late 19th century , it argued in that "races" were absolutely and without exception determined by biology (the pseudo-science of the day) -- that there were well over 100 distinct races -- and, most strikingly, that races could be ranked as to quality.

A hundred years ago, not that long really in the history of humans, respectable people were proud to call themselves "racist" in this sense. We should not be surprised that the the Anglo-Saxon and Nordic "races" ranked at the very top of the pyramid. The various Italian "races" ranked way down as compared to other Europeans, but even here Northern Italians ranked significantly higher than the much-despised Sicilians, who were actually considered to be more "African" than anything else.

This kind of thinking was a dominant -- probably THE dominant -- popular and allegedly scientific position on "race" in America a hundred years ago, with many prominent clergy and business leaders among its advocates. The restrictive and discriminatory quota system for immigration, introduced in the late 1920s and still in effect through the 1950s, was a direct result of this kind of traditional thinking about what is "natural."

Here's a link to the book:
http://www.archive.o...age/n4/mode/2up

I'm NOT saying that there have been no changes since them. There have been huge changes in the way we think about -- and avoid thinking about -- what we still call race. But like self-protecting viruses, race-thinking has the ability to mutate. The idea that "biological race determines behavior" is no longer defended by serious people. But subtler versions remain, usually replacing the old biological determinism with a vague kind of cultural or way-of-life determinism, or one based on ethnicity. (In segments of the ballet world, however, there does appear to be a hold-over belief in racially-determined body types, if reports on this thread are accurate.)

The old "them" versus "us" world view -- with "us" on top or yearning to be there -- is alive and well on a good deal of the planet today. Indeed, the internet has revived this form of race-based thinking in an alarming way.

When I go to the theater, I want to see good dancing, not "a truly American art form."

Agreed. "Good dancing," something which transcends "race" I think, is non-negotiable. I confess I haven't a clue as to what "a truly American art form" might involve. Rodeo? :wink:


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