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Posts posted by Tapfan

  1. Here's link to an interesting interview with the sublime Debra Austin, former principle dancer with Pennsylvania Ballet. She has really lived the issue of diversity in ballet. I'm also taken with the remarks from Sherry Holmes who remarks that change as far as diversity is concerned, seems to be coming about because audiences are demanding it.



  2. Sincere thanks for this link. It's so great to hear from someone from the black ballet community other than Arthur Mitchell or Virginia Johnson. God bless those two. They're great people and very knowledgeable.   But just as Misty isn't the only or even best black female dancer of note, Arthur and Virginia aren't the only knowledgeable and important black former dancers.


    Ms. Howard really hit the nail on the head with her anecdote about people from San Francisco Ballet being surprised to see well-trained black students at Sandra Fortune-Green's dance school. As Theresa said, there have ALWAYS been well-trained black dancers out there. Even during the days of unabashed segregation when it was darned near impossible to find a school that would take black youngsters, some kids still defied the odds and managed to become good ballet dancers.  


    But too many people in positions of power truly believe that good black ballet dancers are more rare than unicorns and that the few that are good, are always male. And since Virginia has said that she has encountered SOME black dancers who didn't get the training they deserved, well, that just fortifies the prejudices of people who believe that NO black female dancers ANYWHERE are good enough. 


    Yet as Atlanta-based ballet teacher and choreographer Angela Harris says, when she choreographs  a piece, she never seems to have problem finding excellent dancers of all races to cast. And yes, the word on the street is that her standards are quite high.


    I think the myth of the excellent, black, classical ballerina being non-existent, became the conventional wisdom. It's understandable. AD's have so much on their plates that racial diversity just wasn't a priority.  But whatever you think of her ability - and she HAS suffered through major injuries that required a rod in her leg that robbed her of much of her jumping and turning ability   -  Misty has proved that black audiences are thirsty for representation on the stage. To those people who are so annoyed that Misty is better known than their own favorite dancers who they feel are more deserving, well, Misty's not the first person in the classical arts who learned how to use the press to reach stardom. There may be more deserving dancers, heck there are probably other BLACK women ballerinas who are more deserving, but I don't see anyone crying about the injustice to them, probably  because nobody has ever heard of them. 


    And if she does nothing else, Misty can stay on message as well as Bernie Sanders does when he's talking about the 1%.  Misty is tireless about promoting diversity. Unfortunately, the need to do so remains. . 


    One more thing. I'm impressed as hell and amused by the black female students from SAB that Ms. Howard interviewed. Not only are they talented, but based on previous quotes from some of them in print interviews, they are really shrewd. They have learned all too well the importance of code-switching, a type of behavior  that middle and upper class black folks learn in order to succeed in predominately white environments. It boils down to "Don't make white people uncomfortable." 


    When speaking about their instructors at SAB in a NY Times article, some of the young ladies went out of their way to say to the reporter how color blind their teachers are,  how they don't feel bias in the least and how they saw no barriers to how far they could climb through hard work and perseverance. Wow, how wonderful, a ballet school that is an egalitarian utopia!   Yet in an all black girl setting, they felt free to talk about the slights both small (snotty parents wondering what they are doing at a ballet school) and large(no black teachers) that they constantly experience in a setting where black women have always been rare.   


    That's why role models like Andrea Long are important. Come on SAB. Prove those folks wrong who bad-mouth you about your insularity. Hire a black ballet teacher. 





  3. Film director Darren Aronofsky  of "Black Swan" infamy, said that during the research and pre-production phases  for that film, he found the people in the ballet establishment to be very insular.  Of course, we should take what he says with grain of salt. He may have simply been disappointed that he and his Hollywood gang wasn't met with what he felt was a suitable amount of enthusiasm for the fact that he was spotlighting their "fringe" art form.


    But then, too many gatekeepers for the classical performing arts  are  pretentious and off-putting towards laymen when extolling the virtues of their art forms. We plebs get it.  We know  know that opera, Shakespeare, classical music and ballet are difficult arts to master and perform at the highest level.  Just be careful not to put people off with snobbery before they've had a chance to sample your art. 


    The culture at too many ballet companies, just doesn't seem to value what color and gender diversity in dancing, choreography and administrative talent might bring to their organizations. People in positions of power keep saying that they don't want to live in museums while being reluctant to change anything.


    And those statements by the powers that be about being willing to hire more  non-white female dancers and women choreographers if only they were out there,  is the equivalence of saying "Some of my best friends are black."

  4. It's good to see ballet people other than Virginia Johnson being asked to speak about lack of diversity in the art form. While Johnson is certainly knowledgeable, she's hardly the only person of color with worthwhile opinions on the matter. 


    Besides, the fact that she's practically the only black woman in classical dance that anyone knows about other than the heavily marketed  Misty Copeland, means Virginia's comments are frequently used not only as proof of the bias against black classical dancers, but also as an excuse for the frequently whiter than white status quo.


    After all,  she once remarked that some of the students showing up at DTH schools hadn't received the training they deserved. That's been taken by some to mean that NO black dancers ANYWHERE - especially females - are properly trained.   Therefore,  their near non-existent numbers at companies across the country is justified. After all, Virginia Johnson had said she'd encountered insufficiently trained dancers.  Therefore, it must be true that no black female dancers are up to snuff because surely, Virginia knows them all. 

  5. This article found in The Amsterdam News has a few notable factual errors like the one that gets the timeline wrong as to when New York's biggest ballet companies launched their diversity initiatives. ABT for instance, had established Project Plie two years before Misty Copeland became a principal, NOT as a result to her having been promoted as the article suggests.

    Also, City Ballet did not have representation at the International Association of Blacks in Dance-sponsored auditions for women of color that were held in January.

    Dance Theater of Harlem was the only New York-based company with representatives present, according to the IABD's own website.

    But these mistakes aside, what is most notable about the article is that a prominent leader in the arts community, Darren Walker, publically accused NYCB of bias against women of color. To those of us who follow black dance and dancers, the accusation itself was not surprising, but the fact that it was said publicly, was.

    For years, many black female dancers have quietly, but bitterly complained that they have been on the receiving end of a culture at City Ballet that fosters what comic Chris Rock has referred to as "Sorority Racism," a subtle, smile-in-your-face, hard to quantify type of racism that can frequently be found in liberal circles. It's the petty, cliquish kind of prejudice displayed in this statement; "We like you Rhonda, but you're just not a Kappa."

    Those folks who dare claim that such bias exists, are frequently dismissed as paranoids who love wallowing in victimhood or losers who can't face their own shortcomings.

    It's true that not everything is about race. Some of the black women who've complained about being rejected or overlooked by City Ballet may not have been good enough. But it's highly unlikely that none were.

  6. To those folks who use the argument that " Nobody complains about the NBA being too black, so why pick on ballet as being too white?," well, that is indeed a specious argument. Nobody before or since has systematically barred whites from being in the NBA. Indeed there was a time many, many, years ago when it wasn't a majority black league.

    Ballet like other classical performance arts, DOES have a history of denying access to training and employment to people of color in this country. That's not a fairy tale. It's a simple fact. Just snapping your fingers and declaring that the playing field is now level is absurd.

    I admire the stones of those folks who one minute complain that we're all just Americans and if ballet remains overwhelmingly white, it's only due to lack of interest, some sort of racial inadequacy or lack of finances on the part of people of color. Yet when folks of color form arts organizations of their own to prove otherwise, they get accused of being segregationists. Can't have it both ways.

    Also, why is ballet supposed to get off the hook for it's lack of diversity just because other art forms and sports do a poor job at diversity? That's hardly a mature attitude. It sounds like a thirteen year old complaining about being called on the carpet for getting into trouble because "Johnny did it too."

    And if diversity is unimportant, then why do all arts organizations pay lip service to it? Why give in to the "oppressive p.c. police" if diversity isn't important to the health and vitality of the art form?

  7. I'm not surprised to see that Hayward and Golding have a different attitude than Misty when it comes to navigating the world of identity politics in ballet. It's definitely a generalization to say this, but many black and and black/white mixed-race Brits seem to have much more relaxed attitude concerning race in the UK than most African Americans have in the U.S.

    Neither philosophy is wrong, They're just different. I think our vastly different histories and experiences have a lot to do with it.

    Golding and Hayward's comments remind me of Thandie Newton's remarks when she first gained attention in Hollywood. She, like Ms. Hayward has a black African mother and white English Father .

    Hollywood found this black version of the English Rose actresses they so love, to be fascinating. Quite a fuss was made over her beauty, talent, and posh education.

    I don't recall how the subject came up, but when Thandie was asked in an interview if she thought that being a woman of color might put limitations on the roles she was offered, she said "People in the U.S. are so race conscious. I wasn't raised that way."

    I understood what she meant and totally agreed that she shouldn't put limitations on herself and should go for all the roles in her age range. After all, most Ingenue roles aren't race-specific. And it a perfect world, it wouldn't matter. But neither Hollywood nor America is perfect and I'd seen far too many women of color who were just as beautiful, talented, well-educated and ambitious disappear without a trace because there were no roles for them to play and they weren't given the chance to compete with white actresses for parts.

    I pulled for Thandie to break through to major stardom. God knows I did. But when I saw her in that Eddie Murphy monstrosity, Norbert, I knew she just wasn't getting the chances she deserved. If you asked her today, she'd probably say that along with talent and ambition, a level playing field DOES make a difference. Other talented Black Brits who thought America was the acting promise land, have found the obstacles in Tinseltown to be frustrating. (See Idris Elba and David Oyellowo.)

    It's not because Hollywood is filled with racists. It's because the men who are in charge, make movies they want to see about characters they can relate to. People never think out of the box because of fear or simply due to a lack of imagination.

    Likewise, I think the overwhelming female whiteness of most ballet companies isn't due to blatant racism . Nor is it only due to a lack of exposure to the art form in minority communities, the high cost or the quality of training or because women of color supposedly don't show up to audition. I think many folks in positions of power, simply find it easier to say they never can find talented ballerinas of color. Unconscious bias wins because diversity isn't a priority.

    But as America becomes more diverse, that makes no sense.

  8. I'm hoping for more recognition for Ashley Murphy of Washington Ballet, She is a gorgeous classical artist who was with DTH for 13 years.

    Although I miss her at DTH, she definitely gets more exposure at WB.

    Poor DTH. They are frequently ignored by those who write about classical dance. And on those rare occasions when they are mentioned, it's only as that company that Arthur Mitchell founded and where Virginia Johnson danced. The end.

  9. Even if this film wins rave reviews, ballet insiders are bound to loathe it.

    Ballet has such a small, pop culture footprint, that many people who love it, tend to be bitterly disappointed when the few ballet films that are made, fail to be unadulterated hagiographies about the people of the art form they love.

    Many classical dance people remind me of some members of racial minority groups who become upset when Oscarbait films about minority lead characters inevitably fail to encapsulate the totality of that group's experiences in this country. (See The Help, Driving Miss Daisy, Dances with Wolves, The Joy Luck Club)

    Any honest film about a man as revered AND complicated as Balanchine, is just a crap storm waiting to happen.

    I suppose the film makers are counting on controversy to sell the film.

  10. This artlcle in Atlanta Black Star highlights other black ballerinas.

    Believe it or not, some of us black folks are interested in other black female dancers other than Misty, but because it's hard to get info on ballerinas of any color, for ballet dancers of color, it's next to impossible.

    I'm proud to say I'd heard about all these dancers except the young woman from POB. And even she was on the radar of some black ballet fans because we saw her in the POB defile du ballet.

  11. The publicity generated by Copeland's camp that some folks in these parts see as so intolerably vulgar, doesn't hurt ballet in any way.

    All your favorite performers are still dancing your favorite pieces and are still getting an overwhelming majority of the attention of those people who write about classical dance.

  12. Of course there are basic skills that everyone must master before they can call themselves a ballet dancer.

    But perfection of body isn't always paramount, Margot Fonteyne would never have had a career otherwise.

  13. I have enjoyed watching Misty grow as a dancer. I just saw her dance Peasant Pas in two performances of Giselle, and she is looking better than ever.

    I'm curious how people make so much over her status/ possible promotion and whether she "deserves" it, when little was said about Hee Seo, who, in my viewings has more technical shortcomings (but is perhaps more versatile in terms of casting?) If you go to performances where Hee Seo is cast, you will see more Asians in the audience just as if you see Misty you will see more Black audience members. The difference, from my perspective, is that Misty brings out the young dancers (of all colors) who are inspired by her backstory and her pop appeal. I think this is good for ballet, kind of like what happened in the 70s with Barishnykov. Misty has a slightly curvaceous body for dance, which I think inspires a lot of girls who don't fit the stereotypical waif-type. Moreover, she was a late-starter, as far as ballet goes. I think this inspires a lot of students who didn't get to start ballet at 6 or 7, because of geographic or socioeconomic limitations.

    One aspect of Misty's dancing that is overlooked is her epaulment. Her shoulders and arms are always carried beautifully. I saw her in Coppelia last year, and she was a fantastic comedic actress. I do hope that she can develop a partnership with Cornejo and though I'm not clamoring for her promotion right now (STELLLLLA!), I despise any suggestion that McKenzie would be promoting her *because* of her skin color or publicity efforts. As I said earlier, I find her much more technically assured than Hee Seo. And I wish Isabella Boylston, also a principal, would learn to control her hands and arms like Misty.

    We seldom hear from people on this board who like aspects of Misty's dancing.

    It's nice to be reminded that when judging art and artists, it's ALL just opinion, not fact.

  14. Hmmm. It came up when I googled NYCB videos.

    I thought Devin was into photography and twitter where he's pretty funny in a smug sorta way.

    And I thought City ballet had some control over what is posted concerning their organization, especially after Devin joked about Martins' DUI on social media.

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