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Why does City Ballet have so few dancers of East Asian descent?For once, an issue of race that is outside the black/white binary.


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#31 Helene

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Posted 03 June 2014 - 09:18 AM

I didn't realize that tutus came in vanity sizing.



#32 kfw

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Posted 03 June 2014 - 09:39 AM

Prioritizing diversity is only a purely political goal if the dancers don't meet the standard, and quotas work both ways.  Although we pretend that many things are meritocracies, particularly when standards are high in spite of racism and nepotism, these are two forces that undermine it by ignoring those of merit and creating an artificial elite.

 

Where is the evidence that dancers of merit are being ignored? That argument equates not actively seeking out with ignoring. It equates passivity with activity. 



#33 Tapfan

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Posted 03 June 2014 - 09:40 AM

Maybe tutus don't come in vanity sizes.  I think the point being made by the person who remarked that Michaela wore a size zero,

was simply that this young woman was tinier than people thought. The person making the remarks said size zero tutu, but she MAY have meant size zero street clothing.  I didn't think  or know to ask. 

 

I don't want to see bad dancers of color onstage simply for the sake of diversity.  That's condescending to minorities and it produces bad art. 

 

But not seeking to diversify the art form with qualified dancers,  just perpetuates the cycle of ballet being an art form that says it's for anybody but really isn't.

 

And it's not like ballet exists in some vacuum that can't possibly be tainted by any hints of bias, be it size or color. 



#34 Helene

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Posted 03 June 2014 - 09:44 AM

Where is the evidence that dancers of merit are being ignored? That argument equates not actively seeking out with ignoring. It equates passivity with activity.


I was speaking generally about racism and nepotism.  Certainly the latter is well-documented, but it is not illegal, unlike racial discrimination.
 
It is possible to assume that because no one can prove bias there is none.  I just don't buy it, because it assumes that AD's and schools are free from bias and live on a higher moral ground because of their art. There is enough documented evidence that this isn't so, and that they're mortal.

#35 Tapfan

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Posted 03 June 2014 - 09:49 AM

 

Prioritizing diversity is only a purely political goal if the dancers don't meet the standard, and quotas work both ways.  Although we pretend that many things are meritocracies, particularly when standards are high in spite of racism and nepotism, these are two forces that undermine it by ignoring those of merit and creating an artificial elite.

 

Where is the evidence that dancers of merit are being ignored? That argument equates not actively seeking out with ignoring. It equates passivity with activity. 

 

All the evidence I've run across has been anecdotal. Unless someone does a scientific  study, there will be no hard evidence.

 

As to diversity being political, well, what's wrong with that?  Since when does art have to be free of political content?   I'm sure Balanchine could have cast Agon with a white male dancer.  Surely he was trying to make a statement or many statements.  



#36 kfw

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Posted 03 June 2014 - 10:02 AM

 

 

Prioritizing diversity is only a purely political goal if the dancers don't meet the standard, and quotas work both ways.  Although we pretend that many things are meritocracies, particularly when standards are high in spite of racism and nepotism, these are two forces that undermine it by ignoring those of merit and creating an artificial elite.

 

Where is the evidence that dancers of merit are being ignored? That argument equates not actively seeking out with ignoring. It equates passivity with activity. 

 

All the evidence I've run across has been anecdotal. Unless someone does a scientific  study, there will be no hard evidence.

 

As to diversity being political, well, what's wrong with that?  Since when does art have to be free of political content?   I'm sure Balanchine could have cast Agon with a white male dancer.  Surely he was trying to make a statement or many statements.  

 

 

If there are stories of good dancers not being accepted into SAB or NYCB, those stories should be told. Anything less is just rumor.

 

Art doesn't have to be free of political content. But artists and artistic companies that don't have political agendas and don't make political statements are not for that reason irresponsible, failing in their duties to society. In a free society, people are free to be political or not. I'm sure Balanchine knew that casting Adams and Mitchell together would get him press and good will (and that they'd be great together). But if he ever paid much attention to civil rights issues (he supposedly voted Republican), I believe that's been lost to history.



#37 Helene

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Posted 03 June 2014 - 10:10 AM

Balanchine political reasons for voting Republican are well-documented and clear -- he despised Communism and the Soviet Union -- the Republican Party was the Party of Lincoln and far more moderate than it has become, and it was the southern Democrats who were so staunchly anti civil rights. His views on race are mixed in the few instances where they are documented, but even that doesn't always coincide exactly with a view on civil rights.

Wasn't Sono Asato the last ethnic Asian woman to be hired during Balanchine's tenure?

#38 kfw

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Posted 03 June 2014 - 11:35 AM

It is possible to assume that because no one can prove bias there is none.  I just don't buy it, because it assumes that AD's and schools are free from bias and live on a higher moral ground because of their art. There is enough documented evidence that this isn't so, and that they're mortal.

 

The arts world is by and large pretty liberal though. Liberals, if anything, go out of their way not to be racist or give reason to be thought so. So much so that here SAB and NYCB are being presumed guilty because they haven't gone out of their way to seem so. We want a society free of racism, but we want it to be a society where minorities recognize it's free of racism, not where they suspect or presume it because of "anecdotal evidence" that will keep them from applying to SAB in the first place.  

 

Secondly, racism tends to be bound up with class prejudice. African-Americans and Hispanics, who are disproportionately poor here, might face some raised eyebrows as they attempt to enter elite institutions, but Asians are already well-represented in elite cultural and economic circles, Alan Gilbert being a good example. I'd be surprised to find people in the ballet world uncomfortable with Asian-Americans in the arts. Probably no one's free from bias, but many people recognize their biases and correct for them, and not everyone is susceptible to the same biases.

 

The southern racists found refuge in the Democratic Party, yes, until Johnson came along and then Nixon ran on “law and order,” all during Balanchine’s lifetime. Kirstein marched for civil rights, but as we know he didn’t do the casting. I knew Balanchine was, for obvious reasons, anti-Communist. Where are his views on race documented – “I Remember Balanchine”?


#39 kfw

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Posted 03 June 2014 - 11:47 AM

Tapfan, I'm glad you mentioned Michaela DePrince, since I just this past weekend watched First Position and was wondering about her career, and you reminded me to google her. I found this quote:

 

 I don’t feel that blackness as I dance. When I dance I am strictly a ballerina.

 

I think that's the ideal for audiences too - not to think of dancers, or to think of them only incidentally, according to their skin color. I imagine you share that goal. We disagree about how to get there.



#40 Helene

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Posted 03 June 2014 - 12:13 PM

There were short references in Duberman's bio of Lincoln Kirstein, and I also have a vague memory of a Ballet Review article on Raven Wilkinson and the racism she encountered on a Ballets Russes tour through the South that I think made reference to Balanchine and his action or reaction.

I don't ever remember Balanchine trying to be liberal in any way, at least deliberately. When he tried to argue Barbara Milberg out of her politics, long before he told Suzanne Farrell how to vote, it was before the Republican party shifted. Balanchine was happy to back a Czar-like anti-Communist politician, but he seemed to take politics on that meta-level and didn't expend much energy on domestic policy issues.

While I don't know the personal politics of any other artistic directors off hand, I know that their bosses, the Boards, come from the money and class that in general doesn't produce many bleeding hearts. The driving forces in the arts aren't uniformly liberal: there are still conductors who think women, for example, don't cut it and orchestras where women are still tokens. There are very few women AD's in ballet companies, hired with identical experience as men, even or especially when they have zero admin experience going into their first jobs and are hired because they were dancers, and, even now that fewer AD's are choreographers in their own right, an almost exclusively male group in ballet, which at once seemed to be a pre-requisite. Bruce Wells told Jeffrey Edwards, a finalist in the PNB AD race, he would never have been hired at PNB, because the straight men on the Board aren't comfortable having their photo taken with an out gay man. The men who direct and have directed the largest US companies are mostly straight/married. There are plenty of ceilings that are still in place in this so-called "liberal" profession.

#41 California

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Posted 03 June 2014 - 12:23 PM

Please also remember that when Arthur Mitchell started the Dance Theatre of Harlem in 1969, a year after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., Balanchine was very generous in providing repertory, coaching, even used pointe shoes, according to numerous reports.

 

As kfw and Helene have noted (and younger readers might not realize), the  Republican party of the 50s and 60s was very, very different from today's. 80% of the Republicans voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, while only 63-69% of the Democrats did. Many of those Democrats later switched to the Republican party. (Some documentation: http://www.theguardi...of-civil-rights) Gerry Ford was pro-choice and pro-ERA. Eisenhower was pro-tax to pay off the national debt, pro-building an ambitious infrastructure (the interstate highway system), etc., etc.



#42 California

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Posted 03 June 2014 - 12:37 PM

...I know that their bosses, the Boards, come from the money and class that in general doesn't produce many bleeding hearts. ...

 

Probably true now, but in the early 1980s, when David Stockman (Reagan's OMB director) wanted to cut both Endowments by 50%, some of the most vocal opposition came from wealthy, moderate Republicans on boards of art museums, symphonies, etc. around the country. (They were actually cut just 10%.) The single biggest increase to the NEA budget percentage-wise was with Nixon (although some speculated that he was just trying to show he was as "cultured" as JFK.) The NEA and NEH were established in 1965 with strong bipartisan support (Jacob Javitts-R and Claiborne Pell-D, e.g.). It's very difficult to imagine any of this with today's Republican party.



#43 kfw

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Posted 03 June 2014 - 12:54 PM

While I don't know the personal politics of any other artistic directors off hand, I know that their bosses, the Boards, come from the money and class that in general doesn't produce many bleeding hearts. The driving forces in the arts aren't uniformly liberal: there are still conductors who think women, for example, don't cut it and orchestras where women are still tokens. There are very few women AD's in ballet companies, hired with identical experience as men, even or especially when they have zero admin experience going into their first jobs and are hired because they were dancers, and, even now that fewer AD's are choreographers in their own right, an almost exclusively male group in ballet, which at once seemed to be a pre-requisite. Bruce Wells told Jeffrey Edwards, a finalist in the PNB AD race, he would never have been hired at PNB, because the straight men on the Board aren't comfortable having their photo taken with an out gay man. The men who direct and have directed the largest US companies are mostly straight/married. There are plenty of ceilings that are still in place in this so-called "liberal" profession.

 

OK, good points, but you don’t think the boards decide who to accept though, do you? I would think that, just as people of good will (and, for their time, enlightened minds) would have been happy to see Mitchell with Adams in Agon, a high proportion of today’s audience would be happy to see more minority dancers. And ADs (and boards) must know that, so, even if they had an unconscious bias against Asians and other minority members, they’d have a conscious bias for them. Racism is so demonized today. Standing up for minorities is so celebrated. I would think that would have effect here as well, and that SAB and NYCB would be happy to get Asian dancers.



#44 Tapfan

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Posted 03 June 2014 - 01:57 PM

The fact that there is if anything a positive prejudice towards believing that people of Asian descent excel at difficult-to-master, classical, Western performing arts, is one reason why the lack of several artists on the NYC Ballet roster struck me as odd. As my politically incorrect nana would say,  "Those Asian people love to do stuff not in spite of it being hard but  because it's hard!"    I felt that surely if East Asians were underrepresented at City Ballet then that could signal the fact the powers-that-be were at best,  indifferent to their company's lack of diversity. 

 

When it came to ballet,  I was definitely indifferent. I was much more concerned about African American under-representation in STEM occupations than in classical dance. If anything, I was dismissive of the classical dancers of color who complained that the unfair treatment experienced by people like Delores Brown was not totally a thing of the past but that still exist in ways that are much more subtle.  

 

Why, I thought, would you want to be part of an art form that according to you, has so many petty, lingering, little, biases? Why do that when you have so many more options open to you today?   I also had uninformed  and unfair opinions that  categorized ballet as a frou-frou  art form  that didn't actually mean anything to most people and that this fact was fine with balletomanes.  But having a child who has shown a serious interest in  ballet has changed all that for me. I'm trying to learn about the art form.   If she should choose this as a career, I want her to have as level a playing field as possible.

 

I believe Virginia Johnson when she said  that she frequently gets calls from AD's who are looking for her to recommend good, black, dancers.  But that tells me that  AD's want and expect brilliant black dancers to show up on their doorsteps, fully developed. When they don't they say, "Well, we tried."  In my opinion, they don't try hard enough.   

 

As to role models, we may want to pretend that having someone who looks like you onstage is unimportant, but it actually is important.  I've seen it work.

 

And the gate swings both ways.  My brother coaches basketball camps in the summer.  On several occasions he's been told by little, white, boys that they can't do something because they "have white man's disease" and they are therefore too slow or can't can't jump high.  Hearing that from a  nine-year-old is heartbreaking.  



#45 California

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Posted 03 June 2014 - 02:02 PM

The current issue of Pointe Magazine has a nice survey of racial issues in ballet by Gus Solomons, Jr., including the episode with the Ballet Russe and Raven Wilkinson that Helene mentioned: http://www.pointemag...14/moments-time




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