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Simon G

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  1. 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 [ . . .] 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. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. "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. 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. 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.
  4. Black popular music, rap, r'n'b, soul are billion dollar businesses. The influences of these music genres pervade all aspects of popular music genres, Adele, currently the best selling artist in the world, would be nothing without soul. Kanye, Jay Z, Beyonce, Eminem etc music is played in every country throughout the developing and developed world, with a few exceptions and the music and videos are viewed and downloaded globally. There is absolutely no way one can make an argument that in its own way the reach and affect of ballet on modern culture is as universal and influential as popular black music forms. It's a non starter. Here we have a massive massive problem and indeed to believe this argument, to hold it as valid can easily lead one to argue that ballet as a universally relevant art form is utterly worthless. 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 and it comes back to my point that culture and art forms become popular through identification between audience & artist. It's precisely why ballet is in such a parlous state regarding funding and finances because it's so completely excluded from real modern life as it's lived for the majority. 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. Like that absolute moron of a ballet teacher who banned a child from attending her classes because she had her affro in corn rows - what's being said is that the essential you, is the antithesis of what this art form is about. You can't have it both ways, you can't say that ballet must be absolutely cloistered to maintain the "integrity" of what it was, caucasian, unpolitical, unthreatening and then complain that no one's going, no new audiences find it relevant, there's no ethnic diversity in it's makeup of audience & dancer. Do you know what was so brilliant about Dance Theatre of Harlem and its school? It wasn't that it was an "ethnic" company, but that ethnicity was secondary to ballet, that it rooted ballet as relevant and accessible within a community who had been disenfranchised from ballet. Lastly you 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. And another problem the connoisseurs are dying out, people aren't coming to ballet those new audiences aren't being recruited, and once those connoisseurs are gone who's going to be sitting in the seats? An art that can't reappraise itself, it's policies and how it represents itself is a dying beast.
  5. Except that as a caucasian art form it was one of the ruling classes, aristocracy, reactionary politics and excluding everyone except the exclusive. The stories told were fairytales, the audience unconcerned with greater societal issues and largely unaffected by them and the art intended for a very small sector of society. Rap was a product born of poverty and strife, and the history of music making at a folk and roots level is about inclusivity, carrying on an oral tradition for generations. Certain genres of music are deeply rooted in ethnicity and the greatest proponents remain that ethnic group. In terms of that list of greatest rappers, they wouldn't be the greatest if people weren't interested in their music and most importantly buying the product. People vote with their feet and wallets, if ballet attracted the same kind of numbers as Kanye or Eminem it certainly wouldn't be in the dire straits it's currently in. Rap music directly speaks on a global level and a multicultural level, which is the most important thing in relation to the ethnic make up of ballet companies, precisely because ballet doesn't speak to a multicultural audience. As Lauren Anderson said about the colour blindness of ADs and ballet, why should it matter what colour the ballerina is in Nutcracker, the sugar plum fairy is a piece of candy. This is another major issue with ballet, in the past decade thanks mainly to the media, social media and most importantly the internet there's a multiculturalism that pervades the world, the entertainment world and societal interaction like never before. Indeed laws governing discrimination are prevalent and enforced rigorously, and curiously one of the few places this embracing of multiculturalism at least on an aesthetic level of skin colour is almost totally ignored is ballet. Another issue the very title of this thread "dark skin as an aesthetic issue" is slightly skewed yet so pertinent. Dark skin isn't an aesthetic issue if you're born black, it's what you are, though the core of what a talented dancer is, physical and artistic aptitude is what the aesthetic issue should be. The sad thing about the mentality of current top ballet companies, what it looks for in a ballerina, is the impact this is having on talent which doesn't fit the etiolated, pale mould of what is held most dear in ballerinas today. None of those incredible dancers from the 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s would get a look in today at a school audition, nevermind a company place. I really refute the notion that the talent isn't out there anymore, but the gene pool which is now considered mandatory before a promising dancer can even get a look in to be trained really cuts down the odds of finding talent.
  6. Christian Rap is essentially a black art form which dates back to West Africa over a century ago and centered around music made by slaves, it's a language and art form of storytelling and exclusion and deeply rooted in black cultural history, experience and exclusion. And indeed much of rap today is about the ongoing struggle of cultural identity, racism and essentially the black experience. That the music has a widefound appeal is moot, the running joke of wiggahs, white middle class boys keeping it real to Lil Wayne is pertinent because it's a wrongfooted approximation of what rap is about. Eminem's rise was meteoric, and again it had it's own story that of poor "white trash" who'd had a pretty bad upbringing, by applying the form to his own experience which was non black he actually had something to say, something to add to the art form. I think to make a case that the struggle of white rap artists to be taken seriously is on the same level as the tacit exclusion of black dance artists from the major ballet companies is a tad specious.
  7. I didn't say it in the context of a definite, I said it from a hypothetical standpoint of looking at the thousand or so dancers dancing within the top seven ballet companies with schools attached, there are currently two black male dancers, 1 mixed race female dancer and 1 asian male spread amongst all those companies. Given too that all three black dancers are now in their thirties and will conceivably be retiring within the next few years, there are almost no representations of ethnic diversity within those companies. What I meant was were I a parent of a talented child and was being asked to put my child into professional training at one of the schools attached to the company, with all the hazards, intensity and sacrifices required, looking at the career options available to my child at that top tier of ballet I would be very very wary indeed loathe to encourage them within a career that seems plainly not to want them.
  8. I've been to several jazz clubs over the years and every time there's been a far larger ratio of black to white punters than at many events I've been to. It's purely anecdotal, but to suggest that jazz a black art form doesn't have a strong, firm, committed and large African American or Afro Caribbean audience, I really have a hard time believing. There are thousands of Jazz venues throughout the US, considerably more than ballet or dance venues, can you or anyone honestly say they've been to EVERY jazz venue, concert and festival and been able to successfully note and quantify the audience and from that establish a mean ratio for jazz-going and habits?
  9. You find the same sort of thing in jazz clubs, at least in the U.S. - whites and Asian tourists, but very few African-Americans, even when everyone on the bandstand is black. And you base this statement on an exhaustive list carried out from surveys, polls and statistics from the thousands of Jazz clubs throughout the US, in every city, every performance 365 days year over how many years? Thank goodness for European & Asian tourists, without whom the doors of jazz clubs would be closing throughout the US.
  10. On the subject of Ash, here's a couple of interesting things: Her blog site talking a great deal about black women in ballet: http://theblackswandiaries.blogspot.com/ And a paper talking about black women in ballet, including Ash, Graf, Tai Jiminez, Anderson etc http://www.performingartsconvention.org/diversity/id=39 Interestingly there are several posts about how Ash was told repeatedly that her body was too muscular, too "black" and her dieting etc in order to try and conform to the white ideal. E said that he saw her as being a prototype Balanchine physique, her bosses didn't. I also think that it's important to stress that of course not all Black women are hugely muscular, but we're talking here about Copeland and DePrince who both do have very muscular bodies and a criticism and criteria in ballet schools, certainly the ones attached to major companies have of young black students is that they're afraid once late adolescence hits they'll become too muscular. Copeland is mixed race with very caucasian features, however DePrince is absolutely 100% African American - and much as I hate to say it, I do think she'll struggle to gain a corps position in one of the major companies. Of course schools like Ailey, Harlem which have strong links to multicultural, ethnically diverse companies and choreographers will have a large proportion of black,mixed race and ethnic pupils. However once you get to the schools linked to the main ballet companies, the number of black girls drops to near zero to absolute zero depending on the year. There's always one or two black boys now because ballet needs men. I think it's very naive people saying that if the schools took more black pupils then the AD would take more black dancers into the company. Schools feed the ethos and need and aesthetic choices of their company.
  11. Hi Vipa I wasn't suggesting that there was some kind of conspiracy of silence in place keeping Copeland away from principal status, I know full well that many dancers stick at certain levels, regardless of talent and that's their career. The reason why I discussed this in terms of Copeland is because she's the first and only black female dancer to be officially recognised with a title above corps in one of the world's top companies. This is the problem one's hardly spoilt for choice in finding examples of ballerinas - there have been four black female dancers in all the histories of those companies combined. I think it's not even a question of her becoming a principal but that should Mckenzie take a massive risk or leap of faith with casting and cast Copeland, just once as Giselle, Aurora, Odette/Odile, I think it would be the balletic equivalent of Rosa Parks, which is bizarre to say in 2011. Since this conversation is largely regarding aesthetics, this article might be of interest: http://www.columbia.edu/itc/journalism/gissler/anthology/webrhone.html This is an interview with Lauren Anderson, to date the only black female principal with a "white" company, Houston Ballet. From 14min to 20min she talks about weight, body shape and racism:
  12. You present as a fact your feelings and views regarding this issue. Whereas for someone coming from a different angle the "facts" as such are very different. As Leigh pointed out "feelings" have nothing to do with it, but empirical evidence derived from data would be the overriding concern within a court of law to prove any allegation. Perhaps it's sad how divorced ballet is from society that a culture of seemingly obvious discrimination has never been deemed important enough to be argued anywhere outside of ballet boards. For the record I don't think the state of ballet nor ethnic mix will ever change, certainly not in the top companies mainly because I don't think ballet will ever be important enough to the black communities to force an issue. I wasn't prescribing motive, merely saying that an issue has no one answer, no one defining view and the facts can be interpreted a myriad ways depending who you and and which direction you're coming from.
  13. I disagree. It's not racist to you, a white middle-class man. It is however an issue of race and discrimination to a black woman. This is such a contentious issue precisely because the institution of ballet uses the rigid current aesthetic of body shape to make a case that it's nothing to do with physical traits of a person's race. To the person excluded it's quite a different matter. Actually, I'd like to clarify my statement with a caveat "The issue of body size & shape isn't intrinsically racist" but it becomes so depending on who you are and which side of the fence you're on. Again it's important to note that these criteria aren't set in stone and are very much the product of an aesthetic for ballerinas which became the norm within the last 15 years of the 20th century. Although I don't want to go against Bart, who I love more than all the tea in China and I can see where he's coming from I think when we start to split hairs semantically it's best to discuss these issues with the most appropriate words. And when the very real issues of exclusion are watered down to merely unfortunate it is in itself make a defence for the exclusion. Sorry there's no room for you, it's just "unfortunate" that your bum sticks out, you have breasts, thighs that could crack walnuts, and dying pointe shoes to match your skin tone is too expensive. I'm not averse to passionate exchange because this is a passionate subject, but you can't argue it from the point of view solely of a white male balletgoer, the real issue is fought daily by black ballet students, or lack thereof. Interestingly modern dance was mentioned, but the one company where black women have never been represented is the Cunningham Company. In Chance and Circumstance Carolyn Brown wrote how Cunningham hated the intrusion of women's buttocks, thighs and hips on his choreography and choreographic line; he took Judith Dunn out of Nocturnes because of her derriere. I've often wondered if the reason why black women never entered the company had something to do with their musculature.
  14. Take it from the point of view of a black woman. You're told, the very fact of what you are makes you unemployable within our institution. Whether or not there's transparency is immaterial. And we're not talking "fat" "big boned" or any of those criteria which are used against white women, we're talking athletic, with breasts, a bottom that is quite plainly there. A whole ethnic group is excluded because of a "current" aesthetic which they are told will not change - but it can change, that's the issue. And of course for the very very few, indeed one, who has been allowed past the physical checkpoint Charlie there comes the vast gulf between what they CAN dance and what they're ALLOWED to dance. Look at Misty Copeland, she's incredibly athletic, curved, muscled, she has a chest, she bursts with health. When you think of Giselle, Aurora, Odette, she isn't the image that springs to mind, but then again neither is Ashley Bouder who has all these roles in her rep. Copeland, now nearing 30 is highly unlikely to make the transition to these roles, though it's clear she has the technique to dance them, what is needed though is a mindset from companies and audiences that they're willing to take an act of faith and reappraise who they see in the roles and the way they're interpreted. What we're talking about is radical shift in perception and a willingness to accept a new aesthetic which accomodates both the talents and aesthetics of a hiterto excluded group from the art form. It's a culture or mentality of internalised racism precisely because there's no willingness to reappraise or allow the art form to move on because it's never been done that way in the past. Yes, it's true black women and men don't come to ballet or the schools in anywhere near the numbers white boys and girls do, why should they? What they see tells them what they are isn't welcome. But then again for anything to change there has to be a willingness on both sides to put yourself out there, all it takes from a company or school is the decision to break the mould, for the young black dancer it takes years of backbreaking work, sacrifice and a great great deal of money - who would be willing to put themself and their family through that for a profession where there's almost no examples of people for whom all that sacrifice paid off?
  15. I think the thing is though, in order to fully tackle the issue one has to get away from the worst connotations of a racist individual carrying out an act of hatred, to the more fluid concept that racism is and often can be an internalised, normalised outlook from a specific institution. That while doesn't actively seek to promote marginalisation, nonetheless presents it as a norm. If we're talking about the "great" companies, who between them have a history of some 2000 years plus, with tens of thousands of dancers passing through their institutions over the years, to only be able to count the number of black dancers who've danced for those companies on two hands at best, whether by accident, design the ethos presented is one of institutionalised racism. Add to that with the notale exception of Arthur Mitchell none of those dancers appeared in the rosters till the last 15 years of the 20th century. The thing about Kimbell too is that even though she danced soloist roles I believe she wasn't officially a soloist, it wasn't until 2007 that a black woman was officially recognised with status above corps in any of those companies. The issue of body size & shape isn't racist but of course the unique qualities and shape of black female bodies becomes an issue as it is the antithesis of the enduring vogue for female ballet dancers today. But then judged by the criteria the vast majority of the greatest ballerinas of all time wouldn't even get past the selection process of most companies and schools. One reason why I love Misty Copeland is that she hasn't had a breast reduction operation - she is wonderfully, unapologetically herself. And also it's not just ballet, it's a two way street. Were I the parent of a talented black budding ballerina I would be extremely wary of allowing her to pursue her goals given the anecdotal and seemingly empirical evidence that there's no place for her or her talents. She or he could be president, secretary of State, Minister for Defence, a media mogul, a movie star, a doctor, a lawyer any of those professions where African Americans have smashed those barriers and glass ceiling - who in their right mind would choose for their child a profession which either intentionally or not, has no place for them?
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