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Misty Copeland - Divided Views

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Tapfan, not all criticism is vitriolic. Copeland is only famous outside the dance world because of her self-promotion and the public’s interest in anyone perceived to be breaking racial barriers – not, as of yet, because of her dancing.


On the one hand, many people in her position would promote themselves in the sometimes questionable ways she does, and she is also trying to encourage black kids, which is admirable. On the other hand, I think some of her self-promotion is unfortunate, as is her conflation of not being cast because she’s busty with racism. Perhaps the general preference for slimmer dancers is a taste that will change as more full-figured ones are cast, and she can help make that change. But equating a preference for the historical norm with racism is rather over-simplistic, wouldn’t you say? Copeland, like the rest of us, is a creature of her time, and so I can understand why she makes that charge, but that doesn't mean it's fair.


If I understand you correctly, you believe that black, female classical dancers face tougher hurdles than black, male classical dancers. Why would that be? Because they’re often built like she is, or would there be another reason?



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Tapfan, not all criticism is vitriolic.

A very good (and important) point. I don't see much (if any) vitriol on this thread, and it's better to avoid straw men.

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Perhaps the general preference for slimmer dancers is a taste that will change as more full-figured ones are cast, and she can help make that change. But equating a preference for the historical norm with racism is rather over-simplistic, wouldn’t you say? Copeland, like the rest of us, is a creature of her time, and so I can understand why she makes that charge, but that doesn't mean it's fair.

There is an ingrained bias for what you can call a European body type in classical ballet -- it's been a part of the development of the art form. We are, gradually, shifting away from those assumptions, and accepting a wider variety of bodies in ballet, for which I am grateful, but we are not at the finish line yet. Someone can certainly prefer the 'historical norm' but unless they recognize that it comes with inherent biases then the possibility for racism, however unintentional, is certainly there.

If I understand you correctly, you believe that black, female classical dancers face tougher hurdles than black, male classical dancers. Why would that be? Because they’re often built like she is, or would there be another reason?

I would imagine that, at least in part, for the same reasons that the hurdles in the ballet world are higher for women than they are for men.

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Someone can certainly prefer the 'historical norm' but unless they recognize that it comes with inherent biases then the possibility for racism, however unintentional, is certainly there.

Certainly racism can be a cover for resisting change, but preferences, whether for what one has gotten used to, or for change, aren't ethical matters. Were those people at ABT who supposedly didn't think Copeland's figure was right for ballet pushing white dancers with similar figures?

I would imagine that, at least in part, for the same reasons that the hurdles in the ballet world are higher for women than they are for men

In other words, women face more competition because more women take dance training? Interesting. Makes sense to me.

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I would imagine that, at least in part, for the same reasons that the hurdles in the ballet world are higher for women than they are for men

In other words, women face more competition because more women take dance training? Interesting. Makes sense to me.

That's certainly part of it. There are fewer boys and young men pursuing serious training, which means that there is more competition for those men that do persevere and become professionals. I'm not sure how widespread this practice is, but I know that at many summer sessions, the percentage of boys receiving scholarships is much higher than girls. (and in many cases, boys receive a living stipends as well)

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There is an ingrained bias for what you can call a European body type in classical ballet -- it's been a part of the development of the art form. We are, gradually, shifting away from those assumptions, and accepting a wider variety of bodies in ballet, for which I am grateful, but we are not at the finish line yet. Someone can certainly prefer the 'historical norm' but unless they recognize that it comes with inherent biases then the possibility for racism, however unintentional, is certainly there.

While I agree that there are many factors other than racism that contribute to the lack of black women in classical dance - lack of access, few black role models, cost - I feel that body type is probably one one of the elements that is emphasized too often.

Yes, most African American women are of West African decent, but it's not like that racial subgroup consists of only one heavily-muscled athletic build.

As the saying goes, "I've been black all my life," and I can assure you we have our share of ectomorphs who eat like lumberjacks and still look like Alex Wek.

Unfortunately, I'm not one of them. And those who are willowy or any other shape, don't seem to think about ballet

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I would imagine that, at least in part, for the same reasons that the hurdles in the ballet world are higher for women than they are for men.

Exactly. I read somewhere that in the U.S., ballet's ratio of male to female is the reverse of the military.

In the armed services, you have roughly 10 men for every woman. For people trying to make it as ballet dancers, you frequently have 10 women for every man. There's less pressure on the men because there's less competition. (That's not to say that the men don't work hard.)

I know that ALL women - including white women - who make it as classical dancers have it rough.

But you don't have to be wallowing in victimhood to acknowledge that women of color can have additional hurdles.

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As the saying goes, "I've been black all my life," and I can assure you we have our share of ectomorphs who eat like lumberjacks and still look like Alex Wek.

Unfortunately, I'm not one of them. And those who are willowy or any other shape, don't seem to think about ballet

You mean you're not an internationally known, 5'11", beautiful fashion model/designer? Alas, that's not me, either.

You are, of course, absolutely right with this

While I agree that there are many factors other than racism that contribute to the lack of black women in classical dance - lack of access, few black role models, cost - I feel that body type is probably one one of the elements that is emphasized too often.

Intersectionality is a popular topic in criticism right now, but I do think it's applicable here -- fundamentally it's rarely just one element that affects the development of the art form. In the past, some people thought you couldn't really be a ballet dancer unless you were Russian -- that there was an ineffible something in that heritage that was crucial to becoming a true dance artist. We're past that hurdle and on to other ones, and anatomy/biomechanics is one of the places we're examining now.

I've been trying to figure out how ballet still reflects its origins, and how central those elements are to how we define the art form. For me, it isn't about who can or can't dance, but what it is that they're dancing.

In the long run, I think the art form will be stronger for all of this discussion, and will be open to more possibilities, but right now we're in the messy middle part.

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Whatever resistance black, female classical dancers might find due to body type or racism is probably offset, in many cases, by goodwill from other quarters. Just as people on Ballet Alert root for Copeland because she’s African-American, there are surely teachers, choreographers and ballet masters rooting for African-American dancers.

But look at the way Copeland has charged that she faced extra hurdles. Imagine yourself as one of a handful of managers at a company, reading a public accusation by someone not of your race, that some of your company’s managers are racist. How do you defend yourself without making an awkward and embarrassing situation worse? Do you even have media access to all the people who’ve heard Copeland’s charges? What do you do, announce at your next dinner party that you’re not a racist? It’s wonderful that Copeland uses her position to encourage black kids. But she’s also made her race work for the advancement of her career, and not entirely, I don’t think, in an honorable way.

Intersectionality is a popular topic in criticism right now, but I do think it's applicable here -- fundamentally it's rarely just one element that affects the development of the art form. In the past, some people thought you couldn't really be a ballet dancer unless you were Russian -- that there was an ineffible something in that heritage that was crucial to becoming a true dance artist. We're past that hurdle and on to other ones, and anatomy/biomechanics is one of the places we're examining now.

Has this been written about online? I'd be interested in that discussion.

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Intersectionality is a popular topic in criticism right now, but I do think it's applicable here -- fundamentally it's rarely just one element that affects the development of the art form. In the past, some people thought you couldn't really be a ballet dancer unless you were Russian -- that there was an ineffible something in that heritage that was crucial to becoming a true dance artist. We're past that hurdle and on to other ones, and anatomy/biomechanics is one of the places we're examining now.

Has this been written about online? I'd be interested in that discussion.

Not sure which part of that comment you're curious about, so I'll give both a shot.

Intersectionality: I haven't really seen anything specifically about dance online -- most of the critics I've seen talking about this have been in music. The Wikipedia entry is pretty clear, as is this piece from the Telegraph, but this infographic is short and charming.

The issue of heritage has been discussed here on BA, at least tangentially. An older example -- dancers in the Ballet Russe generation often had to change their names to appear more "Russian" (Mark Platt became Mark Platoff) and therefore more appropriate to the company. Agnes deMille talks about this in Dance to the Piper, in the section describing her experience traveling with the Ballet Russe while she was making Rodeo.

Anatomy and biomechanics have been a growing focus in dance training for the last 20-30 years. The general readership magazines (Dance Mag and Pointe, in particular) have run multiple articles on the topic, but they are mostly interested in functionality (how do you get your leg rotated, how do you increase flexibility in your back for arabesque). There's less written about the intersection of function and aesthetics -- how can you achieve the specifics of ballet technique in a healthy manner, or what happens to the aesthetics when you factor good biomechanics into dance training?

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Thanks, sandik. Good food for thought. I guess what I’m most interested in is the aesthetics. Does a certain kind of dance look best with a certain body type? If so, why? On a simple level, of course the answers can be obvious (on a tall dancer, for example, “we see more”). Would a company of good dancers far from the current ballet ideal change that ideal? If we could go back 200 years and watch ballet, would that change our ideal, or expand the spectrum of dancers that fit it? I would expect so. So to say it in another way, has our ideal evolved towards _the_ ideal for this particular form of dance (or just neo-classical dance), or are we just people of our times?

I think I can guess some people’s answers! smile.png

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The issue of heritage has been discussed here on BA, at least tangentially. An older example -- dancers in the Ballet Russe generation often had to change their names to appear more "Russian" (Mark Platt became Mark Platoff) and therefore more appropriate to the company. Agnes deMille talks about this in Dance to the Piper, in the section describing her experience traveling with the Ballet Russe while she was making Rodeo.

de Mille also writes about her own body not be an "acceptable" ballet body.

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How are ticket sales going for this tour? On the website it looks like you can still purchase good seats on all(?) of the Swan Lake dates. The 3 performance dates of Bach Partita, Seven Sonatas, and Fancy Free seem to be sold out?

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...change their names to appear more "Russian" (Mark Platt became Mark Platoff)...

Ditto opera singers. Recall that Zinka Kunc became Zinka Milanov. And--sort of tangentially, I admit--Diana Fluck was asked to change her name, and she did, to Dors, because if her name were up in lights and one of the bulbs blew out... ah well..

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Veronika Part in Swan Lake on the 29th the one Swan Lake to be simulcast regionally - too bad it will not reach us statesides

Hoping someone can and will tape and post...

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Veronika Part in Swan Lake on the 29th the one Swan Lake to be simulcast regionally - too bad it will not reach us statesides

Hoping someone can and will tape and post...

Wow - even if it's not with Gomes, I would be thrilled to be able to watch this. Fingers crossed!

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Veronika Part in Swan Lake on the 29th the one Swan Lake to be simulcast regionally - too bad it will not reach us statesides

Hoping someone can and will tape and post...

Do you have a link? Which channel? I have a friend there, he's not a ballet fan but I can ask if he can DVR the performance and transfer it to DVD for me. I'd be more than happy to share if he comes thru.

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Thanks, I thought it's simulcast on TV. Many simulcasts end up on DVD, I hope it will be the case. Blessed Aussies.

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Just thought I would say how excited I am to see the brilliant ABT come Downunder to perform in Brisbane. I am looking so forward to seeing Swan Lake and Three Masterpieces performed at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre. So looking forward to seeing Stephanie Williams perform once again on the Australian Stage.

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Just thought I would say how excited I am to see the brilliant ABT come Downunder to perform in Brisbane. I am looking so forward to seeing Swan Lake and Three Masterpieces performed at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre. So looking forward to seeing Stephanie Williams perform once again on the Australian Stage.

balaw: I hope you'll post your reviews here of the performances you see, for those of us who won't be fortunate enough to see the company down under!

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Five more reviews from the tour have come out. 4 of them are positive and raved about ABT, 1...not so much. The latter criticizes the opening night principals Seo/ Stearns for lacking chemistry and emotion in their dancing and the overall production left them cold. The 4 positive reviews praised the opening night's cast, the soloists, staging, and ABT's corps' unision, which I found funny since ABT's corp gets heavily criticized for not being together. They must have had extra rehearsal time for this tour since they were being broadcasted live throughout Australia. Tell me again why ABT can't do a live broadcast in its home country? Or hasn't released a recorded performance since 1999...

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/stage/kevin-mckenzies-swan-lake-leaves-heart-untouched-thenbspsoul-unshaken/story-fn9d344c-1227042994787

http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/dance/american-ballet-theatres-swan-lake-review-pointe-of-difference-pure-hollywood-20140831-10ajgj.html

http://performing.artshub.com.au/news-article/reviews/performing-arts/swan-lake-245596

http://dailyreview.crikey.com.au/swan-lake-review-qpac-brisbane/11331

http://blogs.abc.net.au/queensland/2014/09/612-breakfast-team-chat-american-ballet-theatre-mythbusters-springter-and-sprummer-.html

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Did any of our Australian correspondents go to see Misty's debut yesterday?

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I too would love to read reports of ABT's visit to Australia, Misty's debut and any other performances!

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