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Misty Copeland


Helene

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My point was not about Courtney's comment but regarding Tapfan's post:

That Ratmansky, a man who comes from a country that is infamous for its cultural insularity and casual racism, has given more chances to black and brown dancers than some supposedly more enlightened Westerners, is beyond ironic.

I think it is a leap in assumption to say that he has "given more chances to black and brown dancers..." as that implies that having a darker skin color influences Mr. Ratmansky's decision making.

My point was that people who use color blind casting DON'T allow color to influence their casting choices. They cast despite color. Not because of it.

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With all respect, that is my point - to say Ratmansky casts "despite" color assumes that his artistic judgment somehow "sees" the color of a dancer's skin. It also assumes that dancer/artists with darker skin are somehow "different" from dancer/artists with lighter skin color. Those are notions that, for me, do not reflect the actual artistic process that occurs in most cases.

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Where as I read Tapfan's point to mean that when Ratmansky uses colorblind casting, skin color no longer holds black and brown dancers back since it's not a factor, and they get more opportunities as a result.

The meaning of "colorblind" casting is that the person casting does not take race into the equation when casting. There's no "despite" in colorblind casting, which is the opposite of any type of casting where race is taken into consideration, positively or negatively.

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With all respect, that is my point - to say Ratmansky casts "despite" color assumes that his artistic judgment somehow "sees" the color of a dancer's skin. It also assumes that dancer/artists with darker skin are somehow "different" from dancer/artists with lighter skin color. Those are notions that, for me, do not reflect the actual artistic process that occurs in most cases.

Of course they see the color of someone's skin. They'd be blind if they didn't.

I'm of the opinion that a lack of racism doesn't mean pretending that everyone looks the same. It means knowing that people do indeed have different amounts of melanin in their skin, while not allowing that to matter.

Who really wants everyone to look the same?

I want ballet companies to be like a floral arrangement where part of its beauty is in the contrasting colors and types of flowers, as opposed to the more tradition arrangement where the flowers are all identical long-stemmed red roses.

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Huh?

As America gets browner, it's cultural institutions should reflect that. And it can reflect that without sacrificing quality.

Call me pushy and obnoxious all day if you want. Change never comes unless you help it along.

Without some pain in the behind pushing, AD's will continue to put off diversity until some vague, perfect time in the future.

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Huh?

I believe my point was quite clear.

As American gets browner, it's cultural institutions should reflect that. And it can reflect that without sacrificing quality.

And because you've seen a lot of ballet over the years you are qualified to make that judgment.

Call me pushy and obnoxious

Your words, not mine.

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I have seen enough ballet to agree with Tapfan: Dance Theatre of Harlem and National Ballet of Cuba.

You have obviously and most definitely seen more than enough to be qualified to make a judgment, Helene, and I've seen enough to share your opinion. Tapfan, from what she's said, and from what she's declined to say when asked, is not. To put it another way, her opinion is not "colorblind." There is some irony here.

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What you quoted of mine is a definition, not a determination. In Ms. Lavine's opinion, it applied to her situation.

OK. I don't want to effectively misquote you. But I don't think, in any case, that that bears on my point.

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Changing the tone of this conversation .....I've been watching videos of Precious Adams--has anyone seen her? What a beautiful dancer--I can see her in a few years becoming an extraordinary Odette/Odile. She has a glorious upper body and she has that quality of transfixing her audience into a timeless hush--which all great ballarinas have.

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This conversation is very difficult because one has to make an assumption that a person was or was not cast because of the color of their skin. There is no way to know that.

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You have obviously and most definitely seen more than enough to be qualified to make a judgment, Helene, and I've seen enough to share your opinion. Tapfan, from what she's said, and from what she's declined to say when asked, is not. To put it another way, her opinion is not "colorblind." There is some irony here.

So now only balletomanes are qualified to have an opinion? They may have an informed opinion. But it's still an opinion. And hardly objective. They have their prejudices like everyone else.

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Changing the tone of this conversation .....I've been watching videos of Precious Adams--has anyone seen her? What a beautiful dancer--I can see her in a few years becoming an extraordinary Odette/Odile. She has a glorious upper body and she has that quality of transfixing her audience into a timeless hush--which all great ballarinas have.

It's hard to follow the careers of most black women in ballet because so few have senior status in companies. I'd like to know more about black women in ballet other than Misty Copeland and Michaela DePrince, but ballet in general gets so little attention in the press that it's next to impossible.

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This conversation is very difficult because one has to make an assumption that a person was or was not cast because of the color of their skin. There is no way to know that.

I disagree that there is no way to know these things happen in general when there has been an admitted history of widespread blatant discrimination against people of color and black women in particular in classical dance.

Virginia Johnson guest stars with the Royal Ballet several years ago so everything now is fine?

I feel that pretending there is no problem with race in classical dance is one of the reasons the problem still exists. One doesn't have to believe there are no other reasons other than racism for lack of advancement for black women in ballet, to accept the fact that racism can and does play a part even to this day.

People freely admit that those in power have all kinds of preferences and flat-out prejudices when it comes to developing and promoting certain types of dancers. Some like tall dancers or those with a beautiful port a bras, impressive musicality or a swan neck. Some like dancers who remind them of themselves as young dancers.

People also freely admit that that some dancers get roles because they've caught the eye of wealthy patrons.

But these same folks clutch their pearls in disbelieving horror at the suggestion that some black dancers with darker skin may face additional hurdles because they stick out in the corps de ballet.

As someone mentioned before on this topic, the only way that some people will believe that discrimination existed and still exists is for little black girls to wear body cameras from the time they take their first ballet class to prove they have encountered additional hurdles in pursuing a career in classical dance.

Yes, there is the race card. But there is also the denial card. And it has existed just as long.

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When I watch a performance I see the artistry of the dancer, not the skin color and I suggest so do most people including choreographers and ballet administration. It is more likely that a dancer be overlooked in casting because of their artistic choices or technique or height than because of skin color. Do dancers say they are discriminated against because they are too short to be cast as The Siren? Do dancers with a short neck say they were discriminated against because they didn't get hired? No one in this discussion has been playing the "denial card" and does not advance the discussion to suggest that.

It is a relatively recent development that girls of all skin colors believe they can win Olympic Gold in competitive gymnastics - Gabby Douglas has inspired so many girls (of all skin colors) and now the group of dedicated girls in our local gym reflects that. The same process has been happening in ballet. Does that mean after 10+ years of dedicated training, hearts will not be broken? No, it doesn't. And it likely will not be because of skin color. Ballet companies today are looking for diversity in their ranks and for the well-trained, well-proportioned girls, jobs await.

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When I watch a performance I see the artistry of the dancer, not the skin color and I suggest so do most people including choreographers and ballet administration. It is more likely that a dancer be overlooked in casting because of their artistic choices or technique or height than because of skin color. Do dancers say they are discriminated against because they are too short to be cast as The Siren? Do dancers with a short neck say they were discriminated against because they didn't get hired? No one in this discussion has been playing the "denial card" and does not advance the discussion to suggest that.

It is a relatively recent development that girls of all skin colors believe they can win Olympic Gold in competitive gymnastics - Gabby Douglas has inspired so many girls (of all skin colors) and now the group of dedicated girls in our local gym reflects that. The same process has been happening in ballet. Does that mean after 10+ years of dedicated training, hearts will not be broken? No, it doesn't. And it likely will not be because of skin color. Ballet companies today are looking for diversity in their ranks and for the well-trained, well-proportioned girls, jobs await.

I disagree that nobody plays the denial card when these very people are dismissive of first-hand accounts of discrimination that have been made by brown ballet dancers.

They say it's unfair to accuse people in power of racism without giving specific examples but still complain when those examples are given.

Also, the choices of AD's will never be questioned because they can always say no black female dancers are good enough. It's vicious cycle.

Do I think most AD's sit around in smoke-filled rooms coming up with schemes to keep black women out of classical ballet?

Heck no. I don't think they think about black women at all. They just aren't on their radar and THAT's the biggest problem.

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So now only balletomanes are qualified to have an opinion? They may have an informed opinion. But it's still an opinion. And hardly objective. They have their prejudices like everyone else.

Informed opinions are no better than uninformed ones, is that it? Knowledge of the subject should be no prerequisite to forming an opinion on it? wink1.gif And you yourself are not a balletomane, i.e. a ballet enthusiast?;

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I went to a literary event at an African-American cultural center this afternoon, and there I happened to see a multi-media exhibition for Black History Month entitled Because of Them, We Can, Reimagination Lab. Intended “To Educate and Connect a New Generation to Heroes Who Have Paved the Way,” it consists mostly of large photos (almost life-sized, and hung so high that the viewer has to look up – keen choices) by Eunique Jones Gibson “of children dressed as iconic trailblazers and today’s inspirational heroes.” Accompanying each photo was a quote from the featured hero. Here, more or less, is Copeland’s (the installation I saw, with the photo beneath the text, was all the more striking).

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When I watch a performance I see the artistry of the dancer, not the skin color and I suggest so do most people including choreographers and ballet administration. It is more likely that a dancer be overlooked in casting because of their artistic choices or technique or height than because of skin color. Do dancers say they are discriminated against because they are too short to be cast as The Siren? Do dancers with a short neck say they were discriminated against because they didn't get hired? No one in this discussion has been playing the "denial card" and does not advance the discussion to suggest that.

It is a relatively recent development that girls of all skin colors believe they can win Olympic Gold in competitive gymnastics - Gabby Douglas has inspired so many girls (of all skin colors) and now the group of dedicated girls in our local gym reflects that. The same process has been happening in ballet. Does that mean after 10+ years of dedicated training, hearts will not be broken? No, it doesn't. And it likely will not be because of skin color. Ballet companies today are looking for diversity in their ranks and for the well-trained, well-proportioned girls, jobs await.

The statistical employment data shows a statistically significant difference in the employment opportunities for black Americans versus white Americans:

But we can isolate the effect of race to some degree. A study I conducted in 2003 with Marianne Bertrand, an economist at the University of Chicago, illustrates how. We mailed thousands of résumés to employers with job openings and measured which ones were selected for callbacks for interviews. But before sending them, we randomly used stereotypically African-American names (such as “Jamal”) on some and stereotypically white names (like “Brendan”) on others.

The same résumé was roughly 50 percent more likely to result in callback for an interview if it had a “white” name. Because the résumés were statistically identical, any differences in outcomes could be attributed only to the factor we manipulated: the names.

......

When our own résumé study came out, many human-resources managers told us they were stunned. They prized creating diversity in their companies, yet here was evidence that they were doing anything but. How was that possible?

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/04/upshot/the-measuring-sticks-of-racial-bias-.html?_r=0&abt=0002&abg=1

The article cites numerous studies of everything from employment opportunities, car dealership negotiation, to graduate research opportunities, and consistently a statistically significant difference appears in how the races are treated.

However, I think one of the most interesting points made in the article is that even in Ebay auctions, iPods held by white hands received 21% more responses than those held by black hands. Just the appearance by a white hand makes an objectively identical item more attractive.

It's also borne out by the Okcupid data. (Laugh if you must, but one of my close friends is one of the top data scientists in the country, and he consistently cites Okcupid because of the sheer volume of behavior data it sits on). http://blog.okcupid.com/index.php/race-attraction-2009-2014/

Even though the number of people saying they prefer people of their own race has consistently trended downward, black profiles get consistently lower ratings than any racial profiles, and black women get much lower ratings than black men.

Of course, there's no study of just ballet company, and I don't know how you could even isolate such an effect in that environment. But it's very difficult for me to believe that such an effect doesn't exist at all in companies just because.

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Sidwich, thanks for gathering up some of the statistical material from here and elsewhere.

As a culture, we've done most of the easy things, and they weren't that easy to do. The task that sits in front of us now is harder -- instead of changing laws and policies, we need to change attitudes, a much more slippery goal.

Right now, I am less worried about choices that people make deliberately and knowingly than I am about the unconscious assumptions that surround us on all levels of the culture. Instead of dialing back on affirmative action-like policies, assuming that those battles have been won, I think we need to redouble our efforts.

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As a culture, we've done most of the easy things, and they weren't that easy to do. The task that sits in front of us now is harder -- instead of changing laws and policies, we need to change attitudes, a much more slippery goal.

Right now, I am less worried about choices that people make deliberately and knowingly than I am about the unconscious assumptions that surround us on all levels of the culture. Instead of dialing back on affirmative action-like policies, assuming that those battles have been won, I think we need to redouble our efforts.

I think there is a strong case to be made against affirmative action, and some day, we can hope, it will be the stronger argument. But I don’t think it is now. I think that at the present, justice – not to mention empathy - mandates affirmative action. I agree in regards to attitudes as well, except I think that the attitude we usually need to change first, and then keep resetting when it jumps back to default position, is usually our own towards our ideological opponents. Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, author of The Righteous Mind, is wise in this regard, pricking presumptions – his own, and our own. Taking the right political positions is the easy part. It's no substitute.

But back to Ms. Copeland. She'll be on the Diane Rehm Show on National Public Radio tomorrow (Monday, 3/23) morning. Go here.

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I think we might agree on affirmative action -- in a future world, we likely won't need it, but we aren't there yet.

Don't know Haidt's work -- will look for it (in my copious free time...)

Thanks for the heads-up on Diane Rehm. In my corner of the universe, she's on at midnight, so I'll probably fall asleep listening to commentary on dance. Sweet dreams!

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