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Minorities in Ballet

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I just wanted to add something... even though you have all well debated on the subject.

Its the mom: How lucky you are to have a daughter with such determination.WOW, I am sure that she will go as far as she wishes in ballet since this path is one of many hurdles and it takes fierce determination to succeed.

I just wanted to say that when I took ballet for the first time at age 11, I did ask my teacher a year after beginnig classes why were there not any black ballerinas and she plainly replied that it was because they broke uniformity. Needless to say that for the fragile, insecure and dreamy child I was at the time, it was enough to send me home crying to my mother ...and never setting foot in a studio for the next 7 years of my life.

So, I think that a major non-economical reason why there aren't any more non-white dancers in classical ballet: pure logic makes me deduct that to be a pro in this field , you need to have uncomparable extremely rare human quality ( at a very early age) which is called determination and self confidence, 2 attributes I think a MINORITY of human being possess. So if you are a non-white young aspiring ballerina, this is a lot that is asked from you at a very young age, plus all the other issues and pressure you have to deal with (to sum it up:being always different in a field that converges toward classicism and uniformity).

In addition, I am sure that in various studios around the world, non-white children are not being corrected enough since their teacher does not see them as pro material which could lead to lack of improvement.

Also we all know that in the most prestigious ballet schools in this world, the decision makers attempt first eliminations by simply looking at the child(proportions, rotations, arches..etc) So we will never be sure if wether or not some children are not turned down simply because of their skin color. (Although this method is generally unfair to all anyways)

Any how, I could go on forever on this topic and I just wanted to say that we are all somewhat responsible as ballet lovers to make this beautiful art accessible to any soul that is drawn to ballet and this starts by making people like this teacher aware that it is a shame that in 2003 one could still make inappropriate comments like that.

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Sylphide - Thanks for your post. Just to let you know, my daughter has already made a decision that after (and during) her dance career, she would like to dedicate herself to making ballet classes more accesible to minorities. What she doesn't want to do is have some sort of "program" introducing inner-city kids to some ballet classes (which, don't get me wrong, can be wonderful). She hasn't seen one that's successful in integrating those children into the dance school after they've gone through the "program." I don't know how she'll do it, but if I know her, she'll find a way. Right now she's trying to concentrate on making herself ready for a dance career, which in itself is alot.

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I totally agree with you .

"What she doesn't want to do is have some sort of "program" introducing inner-city kids to some ballet classes "

Although I am not from the USA and have not seen any of those programs, which I know also exist in South Africa, it is a shame that most of them SEEM to consist more of recreational activities based on ballet and do not seem to have the rigor and discipline of ballet. As my Russian teacher said to me once in private class: The beauty and grace that comes out of ballet is due to all the hard work and physical effort you put in in every lesson. The rest is purely movement to music and therefore cannot be called ballet.

This is why we need more SERIOUS type training for those kids and not have them pretend that they are doing Ballet if we want more non-white dancers emerging on the classical dance scene. And this is just for inner-city kids ...If we start to talk about upper-class non-whites that have set a foot in a school but are discriminated on ....I will not start on that subject...

All the best to you and your daughter!

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It's incredibly horrible, but it still happens. I'll agree with yall about the difference between the classical companies and the neo-classists (NYCB, etc). Companies that mainly do new ballets tend to have a MUCH higher ratage of minorities, while those which do story-book ballets I've noticed almost never seem to have anyone of another color at all! It shouldn't matter what historically it would be. Historically, those peasants would not be in pointe shoes or tights. It's a matter of racism.

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Thank you for posting, Marenetha, and welcome to the discussion. Isn't it possible, though, that the firings you mention could be age-discriminatory in nature, and wouldn't that complicate matters a bit?

I'd also suggest that the companies who are doing those storybook ballets are more likely to be purely classical in style than those with a modern bent, and thus uniformity in look and strict classical technique might work against minorities in those troupes. That would not excuse discrimination, of course, but it does raise the barriers against certain kinds of diversity requirements.

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One thing I've noticed in both the ABT and NYCB seasons is how much more integrated both companies seem to be. I haven't run numbers; it's just that in both companies right now doing all ranges of ballet, there's a significant chunk of other-than-white dancers on the stage. It's nice to see.

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Hello there......I happen to be a minoity and a ballerina and I have to tell you,it's tough to be in this profession.First of all,in reference to the ballet teachers' comment at the beginning of the thread, I hope that she was truely unaware of the impact of her words.I grew up in a situation where I was one of maybe two African Americans in my ballet class and school and neighborhood and I didn't really know I was "different" until I got older.I suddenly had people telling me I had to be a better dancer than, and a more intelligent person than all of my friends in order to get anywhere and I didn't know why.I didn't know why I wasn't a party child in the nutcracker when all of my friends were....Fortunately for me,I listened to the advice and have had a rewarding career....However, As much as some companies have advanced with minorities, most of them still have a way to go.I have to commend Boston Ballet for never leaving their minority dancers out of Swan Lake or Giselle,or for never asking them to make themselves look less than black.I suppose Bruce Marks is to thank for that.His goals for the company had always included diversity....While the company still doesn't have any "ranking" black dancers,there are several Latino dancers in the upper ranks and a handful of up and coming Asians....And a good thing about the minorities is that you can tell they look different from others.I think that is a good thing.As long as a dancer can do the steps with the same quality as the rest of the people around him or her,it shouldn't matter at all what their ethnic origin is......

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I'm ashamed to say that I haven't been keeping my eyes open to all the different discussions on all the forums here - and I'm truly sorry that I've only happened upon this one now. :)

Many thanks, Its the mom, for bringing this up with your daughter's story. I'd be interested to hear what sort of reaction you received from the teacher when you followed up? I want to believe it was an unfortunate mistake on her part. :(

Eland, I really appreciate your posting on this topic - it is always wonderful when people take the time to really read through the different forums and comment on subjects that are important to them. I have no doubt that there are others, like me, who missed this topic when it first came up.

And by the way, eland, welcome to Ballet Talk - I have no doubt that you have much to offer in the various discussions. And I'm with you when you say:

As long as a dancer can do the steps with the same quality as the rest of the people around him or her,it shouldn't matter at all what their ethnic origin is......
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Ash's departure follows that of Andrea Long, who is now a principal with the Dance Theater of Harlem. This leaves the company with no African-American women on its roster, though there are a handful of black male dancers. For that reason, Ash said, "Leaving was a hard decision for me. I felt I should stick it out, that it was my responsibility to be a model for kids coming up."

ash's interview with saratogian

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Hi there.It has been a while since I have posted on this topic and I feel the need to do so now.

I have been observing Boston Ballet lately and I wonder what happened...

There used to be a time when the obvious minorities were used in that company and now they aren't.

Is it really possible that every choreographer or stager that comes to set pieces in the company doesn't envision black or hispanic dancers in their ballets?There are a couple of hispanics who are used,btu not the ones who have been in the company a while..

When Bruce marks and AnnaMarie Holmes were the directors,you saw every dancer they had in some capacity.In the past year or so the same few dancers have performed.Not to belittle their talent,because they are all great,but I worry that Mikko and Valerie are missing the Big Picture.

Boston Ballet has billed itself as a diverse company for many years.Diversity includes acceptance of everything ,including Race,Age and Sexual Orientation.A large portion of the city of Bostons' population is either African American or Latino and yet they aren't fully represented onstage.

What message is that really sending to the minority community?or to the hundreds of students who go to their school looking for a chance?

There are some minority dancers who have been in the company for a number of years..They aren't any less talented than the other dancers, but they are older...

I wonder if it is a coincidence that the minority dancers who aren't used ,are also the same minority dancers who have been there for a while...

That would be a shame...I mean,if they are good dancers,use them.So what if someone has never invisioned them in a role.The year is 2004.Ballet is an Artform.It doesn't have to be true to life..Use your imaginations...

I feel a change in the air for the company and it worries me that some more familiar faces will not be returning to the company next year :flowers: :shrug: and that the little black and Latino students might have to look elsewhere for inspiration...

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I don't know, Eland, I have been watching the company this year. I have gone to each run of performances several times, and saw The Nutcracker seven times. I felt that there was a very good racial representation on stage. Boston Ballet is a very diverse company, with several Cubans, several Venezuelans, several Russians, several with Hispanic backgrounds, several Asians, several Pacific-Islanders, and a good representation of people throughout the U.S. As I watched each performance, I was impressed with the use of everyone in the company. I even commented that one evening at The Nutcracker, it looked as if half the stage was minority, between company members and children. I can say that because my son and daughter are both minorities. One is in BBII and one is in the school. Having been the originator of this thread, and having had my daughter been told that true ballerinas are white, I can totally empathize with your challenges. I also know that I haven't been around Boston Ballet for a long time. However, I do feel that for at least this season, minorities have been well-represented.

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Yes,there are alot of Asians in the company and they are very well used.The newer "latino" dancers are also being used,but the older ones aren't so much and the only African American the company has, is not used ..Yes,she is used for basic corps roles in Nutcracker,but she is capable of doing much more and has, under the previous directors...As have a few other dancers there...There is a great degree of Diversity in the school and fortunately Nutcracker gives them all a chance to perform. I don't see a huge difference in ablilty amongst the dancers in the company,so it puzzles me that the same ones are left out.If it truely is a question of ability,were Bruce Marks and AnnaMarie Holmes wrong all of those years?I am just really trying to figure something out .Perhaps I am missing something,so if anyone can help me figure this out,I'd appreciate it.

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Eland, I could be wrong, but I believe the use or non-use of minority dancers at Boston Ballet is probably not the issue. I believe the use or non-use of dancers may be an issue of a new Artistic Director's preference. There have been other threads on BA discussing this issue. You could check those out.

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