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Simon G

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Posts posted by Simon G

  1. 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.

    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 [ . . .]

    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.

    You say it's racist for whites not to want to see black dancers. Why isn't it racist for blacks to reject white Disney characters? In fact, as I said, young kids don't make those distinctions. Yes, Disney ought to create more black and Hispanic heroes and heroines. But that is, among other reasons, so that older black and Hispanic kids relate more, not because "there is nothing there to relate to" in the white characters.

    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.

    Nor can a lot of today's white fans really understand the inner city background of their hip-hop favorites. But they saw/see all these performers as images of proud manhood. So why can't a black girl relate to Snow White's virtue, or Odette's fear and longing? She can.

    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. But the case-(thread)-here is not about comparison on commercial market value, Simon. This is about artists who belong to a different race to that of the majority of their peers in their respective stage jobs and are trying to be looked at with a sense of equality by their audiences and treated with fairness and given the same opportunities as their prevalent race peers by their bosses, and both rap and ballet have representants that contain all of the above.

    So there's DEFINITELY a case here.

    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:


    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. 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 [ . . .]

    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.

    "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.

    Lastly you [Cristian] 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.

    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. Simon...here we have to agree to disagree. I don't think rap speaks to such a global/multicultural level. There is a huge, vast side of the globe for which this manifestation will be as alien and strange as ballet is for another and from which it will certainly feel excluded. Just take a look at the audiences of those Vienna's New Year's concerts of Andre Rieu. I doubt we could bet they could make for an important percentage of a rap concert. And the thing is that THAT audience-(Andre Rieu's)-is a real, live one...one that keeps multiplying and feeding itself in another type of culture and musical and artistic background...and certainly-(and this is my own guess...I haven't done any research looking for percentages or numbers)-one that could potentially feel up a hall for a night of Sleeping Beauty.

    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.

    Maybe with the Sugar Plum. But let's take a look at another example. Many people know the origin of the character of Aurora, Simon, even if it means just at its basic level of the Walt Disney movie. The image of Caucasian Aurora is ENGRAVED in people's mind...(just look at those huge theme parks we have here in Orlando). For many Sleeping Beauty-(Aurora)-is and will be the blond princess they've known since they were born from the film. You don't change that too easy, at least for the non connoisseur. Maybe we, at this point of ballet viewing, are able to bypass the ballerina's race and look at her beautiful balance and perfect arabesque, but let's be honest...this is not the first detail that the non connoisseur audience will look at if a ballerina as dark as and with the racial fixtures of, let's say, Whoopy Goldberg, would be given the role. (I had put Misty Copeland as an example, but I took her out, because I don't think she's the perfect example racially speaking. Her physical fixtures speak clearly about a mix here...). The same can be applied to Giselle, Swan Lake, Raymonda, Coppelia and La Fille Mal Gardee. They are not raceless candies as the Sugar Plum Fairy.

    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. Just as Ballet is esssentially a Caucasian art form which dates back to the Italian Renaissance courts of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries as a dance interpretation of fencing, quickly spreading to the French court of Catherine de' Medici and centered around dancing done by courtiers; it is also a corporal language and art form of storytelling and exclusion and deeply rooted in the white European cultural history...

    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. Identification is a fact for sure. Countries, cultures and ethnic groups have historically created, nurtured and identified with different things, including artistic manifestations. Ballet is simply one of them, and just as with everything else, it was created and developed withing specific groups, and just as the world and its societies have evolved-(or so we hope)-, it has greatly expanded and globalized, but that doesn't mean that it has ceased to reflect those initial cultures or ethnic groups. Just as how unusual for the Caucasian community could have been to find Carlos Acosta dancing Apollo for the first time has been for the black community to accept, let's say, blond Eminem trying to earn a rapping spot right next to Lil'Wayne, Kanye or Jay Z. His path has been a tortuous one...with the hardest/harshest criticism coming from the black community. He finally earned his place with hard work and talent, but his case, just as with Carlos Acosta, is an isolated one-(although not impossible)-, and we all know it.

    Just look at this list from a respectable site...don't wee see a racial pattern as well...?


    Edited to add:

    Just to answer to the OP question on "how do you make it a non issue...?", I think the most honest answer would be to realize that there will always be an issue about it, about it, like it or not, spoken or not, and as per the only way to bypass it we just need to look at what it took to Acosta or Eminem to do it. Hard work, talent and courage, and to be aware and understand-(not necessarily to justify or accept)- that there WILL DEFINITELY BE a hard path to follow.


    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. What bothers me is when people say things like it's understandable for [black families especially] to not push their children into ballet because pursuing a future in it seems futile.

    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 base that comment on 30+ years of club-going in Chicago, Boston, NYC, D.C. and elsewhere, and also on 30+ years of reading the jazz press. Other people are of course free to disagree.

    Speaking now as a moderator on this forum, I will remind you that Ballet Alert! has a tradition of frank but respectful discussion and debate. Snide and sarcastic questions are unnecessary and unwelcome. You can find Ballet Alert!'s Golden Rules here. Kindly observe them.

    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. I find the same sort of thing in England. For instance, a good proportion of the population in Bradford is of Asian ethnicity but there are very rarely Asian people in the audience.

    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. I do not think it is accurate to say that the reason there are so few dark ballerinas is that there aren't enough students/aspiring ballerinas out there. I've been taking my (white) kids to class at the Ailey school for a long time now, and I see plenty of dark-skinned young women in pointe shoes. They don’t seem to think that ballet is not "for them" or an unattainable career. Sure, lots of them don’t have the body type/talent for a top ballet company, but that is true of a lot of white ballet students as well.

    Also, on the body type issue -- Monique Meuniere [sp?], who was Latina but not dark, had a very curvy/ voluptuous body and nevertheless was, for a while, an NYCB principal and also danced with ABT. She admittedly had a lot of body/weight issues while dancing but it didn’t stop her from advancing. The one black woman I remember in NYCB - Aesha Ash - was considerably closer to an "ideal" Balanchine body. It’s easy to generalize about black women's bodies, but it’s not really helpful. If the issue is darker skinned women, there are dark skinned women of Asian and Latin descent, as well as African descent, who aren’t built like the Williams sisters.

    On the subject of Ash, here's a couple of interesting things: Her blog site talking a great deal about black women in ballet:


    And a paper talking about black women in ballet, including Ash, Graf, Tai Jiminez, Anderson etc


    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. The thing is that a number of female soloists in ABT have the technique to be principals. That is true of any company. I don't know if Copeland will or will not become a principal, but if she doesn't it might not be because of her skin color. Most soloists don't become principals.

    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:


    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. Yes, but I think we all do a lot better adjusting feelings to facts than defining facts by feelings. It's completely understandable and sad that African-Americans might see racism where only custom and custom-derived taste exist. But I think it's unwise, and it's positively unfair to the accused when they're innocent, to simply agree out of empathy. With respect, Simon, it sounds like you do think there is an element of standard, nasty racism at work here. Or if you really don't , then by using the word "racism" with all its historic potency, you're having it both ways.

    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.

    When you're defining motive, the only thing that matters is that motive, not someone else's perception or misperception of that motive.

    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. Yes, but that isn't racist if, as you've written

    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.

    The issue of body size & shape isn't racist

    I agree that discriminating in regards to body shape and size is not by definition racist.

    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.

    Bart, you make a great argument, but if we drop the word "racism," which indicates bad character, I think "unfortunate" is a better word than "indefensible."

    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. then where is the institutionalized racism?

    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 that's a bit like saying that it's a benevolent form of racism for white people to be chiefly attracted to whites, and black people chiefly to be attracted to blacks. Taste and aesthetics play a factor there as well. But p[/font]reference isn't even a "benign" form of prejudice unless it's accompanied by actual dislike of what's not preferred. African-American bodies are as beautiful as any other bodies, but ballet has evolved to a point where most companies (Arthur Mitchell's unfortunately dormant company is the obvious exception) have an aesthetic that prefers small and medium busts and bums to large ones. We can lament this – or not. But I think it deserves another word than "racism," which inevitably has an ugly tinge.

    I understand that. I understand that you're not calling particular people malicious and hateful. But there can be no institutional racism without racist people in them, and intentionally or unintentionally, the word "racist" trades on very ugly and vicious stereotypes. "Benign" racism never really sounds benign - in my opinion. :)

    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?

  16. Michaela DePrince is no more muscular than say, Sara Mearns. Michaela is a size zero.

    With all due respect both to you and DePrince, DePrince is no Sara Mearns. I agree with Helen that she has some very bad habits and is stuck at the moment in that adolescent phase of thinking ballet is all about sky high extensions, often at the expense of everything else. She's a very young dancer who needs to develop her technique especially the use of her upper body and arms.

    Also using terms such as size zero isn't helpful, size zero being that egregious fashion term to validate borderline anorexia within models as being a desired norm "you're not nearing organ failure, you're a perfect size zero".

    DePrince isn't the slightest bit overweight, but she has extremely muscular arms, shoulders far more muscular than Mearns and again comparison is invidious they are totally different girls/women, dancers. She also has breasts, an arse her body is developing along the lines of many an African American athlete - if you look at images of her next to her white colleagues she has a very very different musculature. Instead of insisting there is no difference as if difference is somehow a bad thing, it's best to stop ignoring the elephant in the room and actively discuss the difference in black and caucasian musculatures.

    It's like a "benovlent" form of racism in insisting there's no difference, instead of embracing the difference as being equally worthy and beautiful and a valid aesthetic which deserves to be acknowledged on its own terms.

    The issue here is about whether or not ballet as it is right now is ready to embrace admission of a diverse range of body types which would allow a black female musculature to be included en masse within the corps de ballet, which is an entity about conformity and not standing out.

    This weeding out of disparate body types takes place throughout dance schools at every level especially in girls approaching their final growth spurt. I knew one girl at Royal Ballet School who at 16 it seemed overnight developed a massive bust, which given how thin she was made her look very Betty Page, she was thrown out of the school.

    I also don't think you can use New York City Ballet as guide line or example for this argument as the ethos, repertory and history of that company is absolutely unique and Balanchine did indeed seem to embrace non conformity - if you look at Gloria Govrin in her heyday, that woman was "big".

    Also when I say institutionalised racism I'm not implying a concerted, malicious conspiracy fuelled by hate - I'm talking about looking at the facts as is represented by the make up of these institutions. Many black people are turned off of ballet simply because they see it and there's nothing there they feel is relevant or represents them onstage.

    I don't think there's a concerted malicious conspiracy, that's not what I'm saying, however as banal as that argument would be, it's equally banal to surmise that the reason no black dance artist has risen to the top of ballet is because no black child ever presented itself for audition at a school with the potential or talent to go all the way.

    I also don't agree with the blame game of "it's the school's fault" "it's the ADs fault" "it's the audiences fault" etc Rather I think the issue here is to just look at it pragmatically as the fact of what it is, and not just ask should it change, but does it want to change and do hundreds of black kids really want to put themselves through the rigours of training for an art which doesn't appear to really want to employ them. It'll take generations to make any kind of concerted difference.

    Another "slight" issue I have is saying why should a black dancer settle for modern or contemporary ballet if she has the "chops" for classical ballet. Modern & contemporary forms of ballet are as intense, valid and worthy art forms as a three act classical work. Are art forms in their own right and deserve to be treated and appreciated for their own merits as what they are without being compared as poor cousins of dance for dancers who couldn't cut it in classical ballet.

    Also given the larger numbers of black men and women in conteporary, modern and jazz surely this can be seen as a positive thing that they've embraced a dance culture and dance form which is relevant to them, and speaks to them culturally and intellctually.

  17. I think the thing to actually just come and and say on the face of it the highest tier of classical ballet companies are instituionally racist, if not to the point of burning crosses and finding novel ways to use bedsheets, the figures speak for themselves.

    Well, institutions are made up of and directed by people, of course, so what you're doing here is calling all those ADs and their school directors racist. The number of successful dancers of color doesn't tell us anything definitively - we have to look at raw talent. So the best place to look for racism would probably be the schools

    Speaking of inclusivity and recruiting black students is one thing, however who in their right mind would push their child into a career, or encourage them in a career where there hasn't been a single documented case of any person from your ethnic group reaching the top.

    I think maybe someone who loves the art form and isn't surprised that white roots have produced a white trunk.

    Michaela DePrince seems very talented, certainly very talented athletically, but you can see she's already getting that exceptionally athletic physique which as much as skin colour is the antithesis of what ADs look for in ballerinas. It's not just the aesthetics of skin but body that are such a major issue in ballet and for that to change there is going to have to be such a major shift in the mindset of ballet. Muscular men have a place and are accepted, muscular women not.

    So you think that this particular aesthetic taste is racist?

    Do you honestly, honestly think that's what I'm saying?

  18. I don't think the supposed historical settings of ballets matter much when it comes to casting because there has to be such a suspension of disbelief anyway.

    Dancing spirits? People dying of a broken heart? Murdering people by dancing them to death? Come on!

    LaBayadere is almost always cast with white dancers. How historically correct is that?

    I think sadly this argument also carries a strong counter argument. Sadly race and specifically skin colour is an issue in itself, you can't say it shouldn't matter when the very crux of the argument is that ethnicity is the issue.

    With suspension of disbelief also comes the crux that ballet has never concerned itself with socio/political and economic realities. Neither in much of the content of the classical canon, nor it's audience members, who if they are to believe they're watching a temple dancer, ghost of a maiden, princess turned into a swan etc also don't want to focus on what actually is going on in the world outside the theatre.

    Put a black woman on stage and suddenly there's a race issue by mere fact of her being there. Of who she is and what she represents.

    Also it's hardly unique to ballet this bizarre misrepresentation of historical fact. Just think of the most famous Jewish man of all time, Jesus Christ, given the geographical, ethnic and historical situation of his birth, it's most likely that were he to walk onto a bus in Georgia circa 1950 he'd have been made to sit at the back, not the anodyne blond hippy he's routinely portrayed as being by the church throughout the world. Even in African countries.

  19. I think the real question here is will a black ballerina ever dance with one of the world's top companies: Paris Opera, Mariinsky, Bolshoi, Royal Ballet, Royal Danish, ABT, New York City Ballet.

    In all those companies histories combined there have been two black women corps members and one black soloist.

    Two black male principals, two black male soloists, 1 black male sujet and three or four black male corps de ballet members. (Not counting Carlos Accosta whose position is fairly unique in the ballet world.)

    Of those combined numbers six belonged to NYCB, one to ABT, and 2 who both belonged to ABT & the RB and one to Paris Opera.

    I think the thing to actually just come and and say on the face of it the highest tier of classical ballet companies are instituionally racist, if not to the point of burning crosses and finding novel ways to use bedsheets, the figures speak for themselves.

    Speaking of inclusivity and recruiting black students is one thing, however who in their right mind would push their child into a career, or encourage them in a career where there hasn't been a single documented case of any person from your ethnic group reaching the top.

    Michaela DePrince seems very talented, certainly very talented athletically, but you can see she's already getting that exceptionally athletic physique which as much as skin colour is the antithesis of what ADs look for in ballerinas. It's not just the aesthetics of skin but body that are such a major issue in ballet and for that to change there is going to have to be such a major shift in the mindset of ballet. Muscular men have a place and are accepted, muscular women not.

    There are no easy answers however one could equally ask not just, "when will ballet accept black women" but why would a black woman want to be accepted by an art form which resolutely refuses to acknowledge her existence.

  20. Besides, black women and other women of color have been singing lead roles at the world's most prestigeous opera houses for over 50 years and nobody thinks a thing about it. Why? Because people have become accustomed to seeing it.

    I think that the issues surrounding black men and women in opera are far more complex than just audience familiarity. Black culture is indelibly linked and ingrained with music. Moreover there is a richness and timbre to many black voices which is unique and crosses race boundaries or perceived boundaries within the high arts.

    And where do you see the most non-traditional casting of Shakespeare? In the land of his birth. The Brits don't seem to think that you can do damage to Shakespeare with imaginative casting.

    I can't remeber the last time I've heard of a high profile British production of Romeo and Juliet that didn't have the Montagues and Capulets cast as families of different races.

    That's a slight exaggeration. There have been several productions with interracial casts and really they have been non starters for exactly the reason that it's a director imposing a racist issue on a play that isn't about race. The Capulets and Montagues can't even remember why they hate each other, the interfamilial loathing isn't there to highlight differences in race or class but to give counterpoint to the main point of R&J - the absolute overwhelming power and thrust of love, specifically young, first love.

    As soon as you have a family of caucasians hate irrationally a family of blacks, Asians etc (both ethnic groups I've seen in R&J) you have a race issue, a play about race, with sadly the white family coming off worse as they fall traditionally into the mould of racist oppressors.

    It destroys, not heightens or ameliorates the message and point of the play.

  21. Simon, I understand and tend to agree with your point about "new choreographers" as a generalization.

    Do you exclude, in Scarlett's case, the promise of growth? What, for example, if you move from a company you know well (like Scarlett at the Royal) to another company with a very different spirit and style (like MCB)? Do you think that Scarlett has the capacity for growth of vision, structure, significance, etc.? I've twice heard Edward Villella -- and artist and a canny showman -- speak about how impressed he was by Scarlett on a visit to London. He decided quickly that he wanted him for Miami.

    As for the music -- "set it to either screechy violins or pop music scored for a classical orchestra" -- are you referring to a generic type, or to specific choices made by Scarlett in the past? Poulenc's Double Piano Concerto seems of a rather different order than what you describe.

    Hey Bart,

    The music part I was generalising. Jokes and frolics aside, what I've see of Scarlett's work is really pretty, he knows how to make a nice dance, admittedly I've only seen two of his works, but then he's only done two or three.

    I think the problem is you compare the one act works which are being produced today and often they're put on bills with a Balanchine, an Ashton, Robbins etc and the "contemporary" work is just left in the dust. You see why Ashton is Ashton, Balanchine, Balanchine etc there's just a genius that courses through the work, whether or not Scarlett is given the time and opportunities to really do something visceral I suppose is up to Mason and whoever else hires him. He can make dances that's for sure.

  22. The problem with Scarlett's work is that it suffers from that generic "meh" politeness that a lot of choreography by new choreographers tends to do.

    It's like ballet chow mein, a bit of fancy footwork to show you've got Ashton down, (especially important if you're Royal Ballet trained) a pas de deux or two where people seem to be having a really hard time of it for no clear reason in a nod to Macmillan, some fancy syncopated jazz groups to give it that Robbins flava, the obligatory gynaecological crotch splitting camel-toe extensions and a couple of lifts turning women upside down with their legs split to show you know your Balanchine.

    Mix it all together with some full cast shenangigans and set it to either screechy violins or pop music scored for a classical orchestra and you have a nice piece of modern choreography, inoffensive and guaranteed to sandwich nicely in betweeen a Balanchine, one act Ashton or if you want to be edgy a Mcgregor.

    And if you're British everyone loves you, because we have that great accent and dry sense of humour.


  23. Sorry to go to scary. Maybe I have just read too many scary cases, and learned too much about the sad abuses of power that people face. It had nothing to do with "Black Swan". I have seen the vulnerable suffer without adequate or any support, or even anyone to stand up for them, and that is why I felt I had to continue to respond when your question and comment became purposely "obtuse". (This is ingrained in post-Holocaust generations.) I prefer to talk about ballet, itself, and so, I am glad to end this line of discussion. At least I didn't ask you any overly broad, difficult questions this time, Simon :wink:

    WINNING at Godwins Law

  24. You misunderstand. I was discussing the person in power/director hiring an attorney to protect him from allegations of harassment or other misconduct through any means, including blacklisting via spreading false rumors, threats, and financial incentives; we were not discussing the impoverished victim/dancer hiring counsel to slander the person in power. If you are asking why would an attorney practice slander, I would only suggest that people in power and lawyers they hire engage in negotiations. This may lead them to make all sorts of threats and use money to protect themselves or promote their goals, sometimes within the proper boundaries and sometimes overstepping those boundaries.

    To answer your question, in certain cases, one may risk a job for principle. For example, people in the arts have lost jobs rather than naming names. Perhaps people do things to protect other, more vulnerable people. Perhaps the issue is intolerable racism, or something similarly venal. Courage and/or beliefs has lead many people to take risks or make sacrifices at times. Maybe other, more clever methods exist to protect people or achieve change, but I can imagine a naive person seeking help from HR or a superior and then being ostracized when the management closes ranks. By the way, complaining about sexual harassment does not make one a whiner. Telling HR that one heard about an alleged rape or abuse of power is not being a whiner or whistleblower. Refusing to protect an alleged rapist over a rape victim is, perhaps, not being a "team player". Maybe the employee thought he was doing the right thing by so doing. Anyway, this is going off-topic, but I wanted to clarify because I thought your response both misinterpreted what I said and drew a conclusion that ignored many factors

    I didn't misunderstand. I was choosing to be a bit obtuse. In truth though this strain of argument went from 0 to scary in sixty seconds. Rape, gross misconduct & severe sexual harassment, conspiracy cover ups and cultures of silence - I'm not sure if we're talking about ballet or the Catholic church here.

    There have been a few cases of gross misconduct and harassment and in all cases the AD was fired very quickly, I think it's also worth noting that an AD is an employee of his organisation an arts organisation which couldn't afford huge lawyer fees to keep rapists instated in jobs even if they wanted to.

    In cases where dancers willingly sleep with ADs for roles, well it's a bit crusty but it's quid pro quo, legal and there's a pay off for both parties. But that's very different scenario from being fondled or raped in the ADs office. Again, I do think it important not to take one's major frame of reference from Black Swan.

    If you want examples of dancers frozen out by ADs who've lost interest in them, don't like them as performers, have taken over as AD and decided to clean out what they perceive as "dead wood" we could give you hundreds. Likewise if you want examples of ADs who've had relationships with dancers who they've gone on to marry, partner with or set up home with again there are many.

  25. To Puppytreats' question about whether a director has the power to impact a dancer's career outside his (or her) control of his own company: Farrell more or less accused Balanchine of blackballing Mejia and herself with other ballet companies when they left NYCB--hence she ended up with Béjart, by no means a traditional ballet director. It's hard to know all the ins and outs of that particular story. I rather suspect Balanchine would not have had to 'do' anything for companies to be wary of hiring her if they wanted permission to dance his ballets. But there are other issues as well. She was a great dancer, but an especially extraordinary Balanchine dancer.

    That's an issue in itself and has often been discussed that for a Balanchine ballerina there are (or were) few options once she'd left Balanchine for no other reason than she'd been trained in such a specific style, school to dance such a specific repertory that without that company & repertory she wasn't viewed as a ballerina. In those lists that people draw up of the world's great ballerinas etc Farrell if or when she appears more or less always comes with a caveat that being so deeply identified with Balanchine's rep she can't be properly assessed. Kirkland also wrote about how career opportunities were limited outside of NYCB, that Balanchine didn't have to actively blacklist as his dancers just had no cachet outside of him and his rep.

    To take a partly related Modern Dance example, when a documentary film about Paul Taylor's company came out and included a scene concerning the laying-off/firing of a dancer, there were a number of viewers in the dance world who thought it unethical to include the episode since it could adversely affect that dancer's career elsewhere. Taylor was not accused of doing anything directly or deliberately, but the film was seen as a problem. (I don't know what actually happened to that dancer...)

    That was Jill Echo & yes that was pretty rough, especially when she was quoted as being "pretty lazy and no one else liked her", which may have been true but that didn't need to be aired. Actually this is more pertinent to the question of unethical firing, I found this on the internet, a direct statement from Echo:

    During the documentary we see Taylor fire one of his dancers, expressing his reasons in a somewhat callous manner. In the March 14 arts section of the New York Times the fired dancer, Jill Echo, explains that while Taylor offered reasons behind her firing in the documentary, he never provided her with any explanation. In a letter to the editor she writes: "Unfortunately, in the modern dance world, the dancer has a limited voice and rarely a union or even a contract and therefore no job security. One can be fired on the spot for any reason. Dancers take what they can get because they are always aware that they are expendable. I realize this will not change, but it doesn't mean we can't say what needs to be said and must take it all in silence.

    This at least is true, the way hirings and firings happen in the modern dance world is brutal and in certain cases akin to a bloodbath when a choreogapher tires of his dancers. Cunningham's much documented firings two years ago.

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