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Misty Copeland


Helene

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Glad to see you here, particularly since I imagine you're spending time responding to this topic all over the place -- I've been following along with several conversations and I'm sure I'm only seeing a fraction of what exists.

I appreciate your work to bring a chunk of historical material together in this essay. I think part of the trouble lies in the way that dance history has been discussed over the years -- the emphasis has often been on stand-out individual performers/choreographers/organizations, which makes it easier to lose track of larger pictures or to recognize the work of people who are not in a spotlight.

I hesitate to put more work on your desk, but one of the things that I really like about the comments on your essay is the list of performers of color -- at some point, you might want to transcribe it, so that it doesn't get lost if the comment thread goes awry.

I agree. Trust me when I posted the article I never anticipated the level of participation for the #ROLLCALL. it has been very moving and inspiring and yes I am thinking of the ways and means to preserve this information and make it readily available to people who are interested...

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I feel so cheerfully smug because I actually had heard of many the people listed on the roll call. wink1.gif Yay!

But gosh, did it ever take some effort to acquire this knowledge.

Information online about black ballerinas past and present, is sparse indeed.

When I stated on this forum that I was emotionally invested in Misty's career because she was so high profile and there was so little information out there about other black ballerinas, someone sweetly, and helpfully, mentioned the names of other black ballerinas.

Fortunately, I already knew that other black ballerinas exist. I know where most of them are and where they've been. But since few if any are in senior positions in major companies, it's next to impossible to follow their careers as artists.

As mentioned previously on this thread, dance writers covering ballet focus mainly on the worthiness of choreographers and the performances of principle dancers.

The only times black women are mentioned within a ballet context, is as a problem to be solved.

And since the topic deals with the thorny issue of race, too many balletomanes rush to prove how color doesn't matter to them by overpraising Virginia Johnson as if she is the only black ballerina to exist before Misty Copeland.

Virginia Johnson is praised by balletomanes, the way that Prince and Michael Jackson were overpraised in the 1980's by white music critics. Excessive praise was heaped on those two because many white, male, music critics who found the time to cover the most marginal white indie bands, couldn't be bothered to find out about or care about any other black artists who were doing great work at the time.

But they avoided the label of being culturally myopic or heaven forbid, "racist" by wetting their pants over everything the self-proclaimed "King of Pop" did. (Until they turned on him for being excessively weird.)

Some ballet folks are that way about Virginia. Liking her excuses their ignorance about any other black dancers.

As for DTH, their coverage by dance critics is spotty and mostly dismissive.

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I just want to add that few women period are in senior positions in major ballet companies. Lordes Lopez, who I believe is Cuban, is a notable exception. She was an amazing dancer in NYCB and is AD of Miami City Ballet.

I don't know what you mean by overpraising Virginia Johnson. I've been watching dance for a long time, saw her dance and don't think overpraising is possible. She was a wonderful artist in every way.

In my opinion, Misty Copeland is not half the dancer that Johnson or Debra Austin were. I believe that that is the dissonance the many ballet fans feel. There is the feeling that Copeland's fame is coming from her PR push not from her dancing. If she is promoted to principal dancer at ABT, as I am sure she will be, there will always remain doubt as to why.

DTH at the moment is not a first or even second class company. I saw them recently in New York. I wouldn't be dismissive of them, but the truth is that they have a lot of building to do.

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I just want to add that few women period are in senior positions in major ballet companies. Lordes Lopez, who I believe is Cuban, is a notable exception. She was an amazing dancer in NYCB and is AD of Miami City Ballet.

I don't know what you mean by overpraising Virginia Johnson. I've been watching dance for a long time, saw her dance and don't think overpraising is possible. She was a wonderful artist in every way.

In my opinion, Misty Copeland is not half the dancer that Johnson or Debra Austin were. I believe that that is the dissonance the many ballet fans feel. There is the feeling that Copeland's fame is coming from her PR push not from her dancing. If she is promoted to principal dancer at ABT, as I am sure she will be, there will always remain doubt as to why.

DTH at the moment is not a first or even second class company. I saw them recently in New York. I wouldn't be dismissive of them, but the truth is that they have a lot of building to do.

It's not that I think Virginia isn't worthy of praise. Quite the contrary. She was an extremely talented and important artist.

It's just that I agree with the premise put forth by Ms. Howard in her article. More than one major black classical artist can exist at a time. Yet in an effort to prove how free they are from racism, many people praise her as if she was the only one. The fact that Virginia is usually the only one mentioned when talking about black ballerinas who aren't Misty and Michaela, calls in to question how much the so-called informed fans actually know about female classical dancers who happen to be black.

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I just want to add that few women period are in senior positions in major ballet companies. Lordes Lopez, who I believe is Cuban, is a notable exception. She was an amazing dancer in NYCB and is AD of Miami City Ballet.

I don't know what you mean by overpraising Virginia Johnson. I've been watching dance for a long time, saw her dance and don't think overpraising is possible. She was a wonderful artist in every way.

In my opinion, Misty Copeland is not half the dancer that Johnson or Debra Austin were. I believe that that is the dissonance the many ballet fans feel. There is the feeling that Copeland's fame is coming from her PR push not from her dancing. If she is promoted to principal dancer at ABT, as I am sure she will be, there will always remain doubt as to why.

DTH at the moment is not a first or even second class company. I saw them recently in New York. I wouldn't be dismissive of them, but the truth is that they have a lot of building to do.

Alicia Alonso is another very great exception to the mostly-male world of ADs of top-flight professional ballet companies. During an educational chat at a local public school earlier this year, Misty cited Alonso as her greatest role model...Alonso certainly being a pioneer among Latina ballerinas in the USA and ABT. Oh, wouldn't it be cool if somehow Ms Alonso would be able to make that trip to NY next month to appear at the gala...a gala that will include several 'women of color' such as Reyes, Herrera and Copeland? (Yes, we Latinas as considered women of color too.)

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Some ballet folks are that way about Virginia. Liking her excuses their ignorance about any other black dancers.

I think you will find most balletomanes are very enamoured of ABT's Calvin Royal. In fact his dancing in last week's Works and Process got a lot of enthusiastic comments and was a highlight of the program. ABT's Gabe Stone Shayer is also a dancer most balletomanes are watching closely. These are corps dancers who everyone wants promoted NOW. Similarly, NYCB's Preston Chamblee's quick rise from apprentice to corps member delighted everyone. I certainly noticed how good he was in last spring's SAB workshop. And most of us love Craig Hall and lament he doesn't get to dance enough (partly because his main partner Wendy Whelan was first injured and now retired). I would also like to add that Adrian Blake Mitchell, who is studying at the Vaganova and was the lead male in their piece Elementarium at the Mariinsky Young Choregraphers Night, is a stunning dancer. I was so enthused I immediately tweeted the Mariinsky to find out who he was (the piece had no names listed).

I took class with Tai Jiminez when she was a baby ballerina and thought she was a gorgeous dancer.

Many balletomanes simply do not like way Misty dances; we find it too athletic and, this fall in Liam Scarlett's work, a bit vulgar (the twerking). She also simply does not have classical lines. Also, her relentless self promotion just grates.

I'm not sure why there seem to be so many more talented black male dancers on stage now than women but there certainly are quite a few. To say balletomanes don't notice black dancers is just wrong.

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I just want to add that few women period are in senior positions in major ballet companies. Lordes Lopez, who I believe is Cuban, is a notable exception. She was an amazing dancer in NYCB and is AD of Miami City Ballet.

I don't know what you mean by overpraising Virginia Johnson. I've been watching dance for a long time, saw her dance and don't think overpraising is possible. She was a wonderful artist in every way.

In my opinion, Misty Copeland is not half the dancer that Johnson or Debra Austin were. believe that that is the dissonance the many ballet fans feel. There is the feeling that Copeland's fame is coming from her PR push not from her dancing. If she is promoted I to principal dancer at ABT, as I am sure she will be, there will always remain doubt as to why.

DTH at the moment is not a first or even second class company. I saw them recently in New York. I wouldn't be dismissive of them, but the truth is that they have a lot of building to do.

I have no trouble believing that there are and were other black women who are just as if not more deserving of being made principle as Misty.

But Jackie Robinson wasn't generally believed to be the best black player available to integrate Major League Baseball. He was one of the best but not the best. The absolute best was probably Satchel Page. However, Robinson did have advantages that other black players didn't have. He was a college graduate AND he was lucky enough to be on the minor league farm team of an owner who was ready to take the big step of integrating the sport.

Somebody has to be the first. And while Misty may not be to everyone's liking, who exactly would be? That superballerina that everyone loves doesn't exist in ANY color.

We'll all be dead waiting on that woman to come along.

Not liking Misty is one thing.

What I don't understand is those ballet fans who behave as if every principle female dancer was as skillful a dancer as Meryl Streep, Maggie Smith Or Judy Dench are as actresses, while implying that Misty is on par with Megan Fox or January Jones.

That dog don't hunt.

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Why do people keep bringing up black men? Liking black male dancers doesn't mean you notice or like black female dancers. It's easier for black men to make it as classical dancers because there's always a shortage of men. Also, brothers are helped by the fact that black men are associated with great athleticism and hyper-masculinity.

And Tai Jiminez has been retired for several years. That's what I mean when I say that black women aren't even in the conversation about classical ballet. People always have to go back several years to some long-retired ballerina to even speak on the subject. What about today?!

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. People always have to go back several years to some long-retired ballerina to even speak on the subject. What about today?!

Courtney Lavine at ABT is a lovely dancer. Long limbed, small head (nice proportions), nice lines, musical. A lot of people see how good she is and lament that she's stuck in the corps. NYCB also has a lovely looking black ballerina, Olivia Boisson, in the corps. She, too, has beautiful proportions, nice lines and is clearly musical. Olivia was awarded a Mae L Wien Award for outstanding promise in 2012. SIlas Farley a black dancer/choreographer, also won Wien award. Unnfortunately (and for what reason I don't know), we have not seen enough of Olivia in soloist or Demi-car actere roles yet. However I'm hopefull spring might new roles for everyone. ABT's Studio Company also has one black female dancer, Erica Lall, who seemed fairly good though no one in that compsny really impressed me.

I agree that there are too few black ballerinas in major companies. That situation has to be addressed and rectified. But the major question balletomanes ask is Misty a better ballerina than Stella Abrera (who is Asian) or Sarah Lane, the two soloists she is vying with for a principal spot? And to that we give a resounding "no". Both of those other dancers have nicer lines, more nuance to their dancing and, in some respects are just technically better (Sarah is the only soloist capable of dancing that killer ballet T&V and the only soloist Ratmansky trusts to perform Aurora in his new SB). I'm sure that given all the publicity that surrounds her, Misty will be made a principal. But many will think she got that promotion for reasons having little or nothing to do with her dancing.

Edited by Amour
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For me, the difference has been that none of the other African-American dancers we speak of (and none of the minority dancers I know), use their minority status in the same way as Misty. Yes, Misty has used it for good, and she is a role model to young minority dancers (especially African-American dancers). However, as the mother of minority dancers (and what I consider honorary mom to several other minority dancers), however, I find the rhetoric tiresome. There, I said it. I never want any dancer to get a part or be promoted because of their skin color, but because of their ability and hard work. These other dancers, my own included, have indeed faced racism, and have not been cast in certain roles with little explanation except, "You are not right for the part." But rather than cry "foul," they move forward working even harder, proving they are worthy. Please, do not hear what I am not saying. I do not discount Misty's life and hardships. I welcome more attention to this issue, as well. However, I grow weary. As one ballet mom I know put it, "I am tired of having Misty jammed down my throat, as if she is the only minority dancer who has ever faced hardship." There may be those who do not like what I have to say. Sorry.

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Amour - glad to see you mention Courtney Lavine who is everything you say she is and I hope that her time is coming soon. She did have a good role in last season's Nutcracker. Ballet favors the beautifully proportioned dancer who is also strong and musical. Muscular, athletic body types on females are not favored in ballet and these dancers are rarely hired no matter what the skin color. Agree Itsthemom - it's pointless to worry about perceived injustice - better to move through it and work harder.

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There is certainly equal time criticism of many of the dancers at ABT, including but not limited to Seo, Boylston, Hammoudi, Stearns. To say that people on the board single out Misty for critical opinion is simply not accurate.

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Meritocracy in ballet is largely subjective. That's something that's been discussed at length on this very forum. When I asked why NYC Ballet didn't have more dancers of East Asian descent when many other major companies did, nobody dared suggest that there were no qualified east Asian dancers available. Instead they pointed to other factors like lack of Balanchine-specific training, or things like height and a company's specific needs at the time. In other words, at the elite level, the smallest things that have nothing to do with ability or race or ethnicity, can land you in or out off a company.

Also the same people who are quick to hold up Virginia Johnson as a great talent and a font of wisdom on many things concerning ballet, conveniently ignore the fact that she has said repeatedly that she thinks Misty deserves to be promoted to principle based on her ability NOT her color. Why is this woman who is thought to be so wise about other things in ballet, so wrong about Misty?

And VJ isn't the only person in classical dance circles who feels Copeland deserves to be promoted. Yet Misty's haters speak as if their own particular opinion of her qualities as a dancer are universally held and the only opinions that matter.

Finally, if Stella or Sarah were so vastly superior in every way to Copeland as some folks continually maintain, none of Copeland's relentless self-promotion could possibly hold them back because the cream always rises.

Sarah even had her own PR opportunity to exploit with the whole Black Swan movie dance double controversy. That was surely enough good publicity to give the AD a chance to promote Lane if he so desired. Yet despite all Lane's supposed superior skill and the publicity she got for not being properly credited for her work in that film, she still wasn't promoted. Instead , Isabella Boylston sailed past Misty, Stella and Sarah to the principle ranks. But for some reason, only Copeland is resented and blamed for Stella and Sarah's lack of career advancement.

Huh?

If Misty and her several-years-old PR juggernaut was as all powerful as her detractors maintain, why has all this time passed without her being promoted? If all this publicity was for no reason other than to get her to the "undeserved" principle rank, then she's definitely wasted her money.

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Meritocracy in ballet is largely subjective. That something that's been discussed at length on this very forum. When I asked why NYC Ballet didn't have more dancers of East Asian descent when many other major companies did, nobody dared suggest that there were no qualified east Asian dancers available. Instead they pointed to other factors like lack of Balanchine-specific training, or things like height and a company's specific needs at the time. In other words, at the elite level, the smallest things that have nothing to do with ability or race or ethnicity, can land you in or out off a company.

Balanchine training and a classic Balanchine ballerina body are subjective qualifications for New York City Ballet? Wow.

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I'm being totally honest when I say that I'd love it if other deserving black female classical dancers were better known. But practically all such women are either in the corps de ballet of major companies ( Precious Adams/ENB, Michaela DePrince/DNB, Olivia Boisson/NYCB, Courtney Lavine/ABT, Kimberly Braylock/SFB and Christina Spigner/MCB) and are thus out of the limelight, dance with regional companies which don't get much national attention (Kayla Rowser/Nashville Ballet, Katelyn Addison and Gabriel Savatto/Ballet West, Whitney Huell/Kansas City Ballet) dance in companies with no dancer rankings ( Dara Holmes/Joffrey) or dance with companies that critics don't take seriously any longer like DTH.

It's practically impossible to follow the careers of these women.

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Balanchine training and a classic Balanchine ballerina body are subjective qualifications for New York City Ballet? Wow.

They must be considering the fact that they have on occasion, hired dancers that weren't trained in the method. Violetta Verdy and Sofiane Sylvie come to mind.

Sofiane is pretty thick. No way her body is a Balanchine body.

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They must be considering the fact that they have on occasion, hired dancers that weren't trained in the method. Violetta Verdy and Sofiane Sylvie come to mind.

Sofiane is pretty thick. No way her body is a Balanchine body.

There have been and continue to be plenty of exceptions - dancers with other virtues. But those two things are highly desirable attributes, not incidental factors, in who dances at NYCB. They aren't "subjective" tastes.

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There have been and continue to be plenty of exceptions - dancers with other virtues. But those two things are highly desirable attributes, not incidental factors, in who dances at NYCB. They aren't "subjective" tastes.

Well do you disagree that different balletomanes can view the same dancer and totally disagree on her worth as a dancer?

That's my point.

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the same people who are quick to hold up Virginia Johnson as a great talent and a font of wisdom on many things concerning ballet, conveniently ignore the fact that she has said repeatedly that she thinks Misty deserves to be promoted to principle based on her ability NOT her color. Why is this woman who is thought to be so wise about other things in ballet, so wrong about Misty?

Since you haven't seen Copeland dance, what makes you qualified to agree that she deserve promotion? Given how quick people like yourself are to attribute "hatred" and racism to people who don't think she deserves it, what are the chances that people in the ballet world would speak up and disagree? (When does anyone in the ballet world publicly criticize a dancer anyhow?) Johnson isn't the only person with an opinion, and there are people here who see ABT regularly, who have quite possibly seen Copeland more that Johnson has, who disagree.

Finally, if Stella or Sarah were so vastly superior in every way to Copeland as some folks continually maintain, none of Copeland's relentless self-promotion could possibly hold them back because the cream always rises.

Try telling that to Abrera and Lane fans. wink1.gif

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Well do you disagree that different balletomanes can view the same dancer and totally disagree on her worth as a dancer?

That's my point.

My point is that, other factors being equal - and you don't know all the other factors, like who else was available and what qualities they had - Balanchine training and a classic Balanchine body are highly important factors in getting hired at NYCB.

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Since you haven't seen Copeland dance, what makes you qualified to agree that she deserve promotion? Given how quick people like yourself are to attribute "hatred" and racism to people who don't think she deserves it, what are the chances that people in the ballet world would speak up and disagree? (When does anyone in the ballet world publicly criticize a dancer anyhow?) Johnson isn't the only person with an opinion, and there are people here who see ABT regularly, who have quite possibly seen Copeland more that Johnson has, who disagree.

Try telling that to Abrera and Lane fans. wink1.gif

Actually, I've NEVER stated that I thought people who dislike Copeland or her PR tactics are racist. Not once. Misguided, culturally myopic, defensive and over-the-top, yes. Racist, no.

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Actually, I've NEVER stated that I thought people who dislike Copeland or her PR tactics are racist. Not once. Misguided, culturally myopic, defensive and over-the-top, yes. Racist, no.

Glad to hear that qualification, but I'm not sure what else you think would make people out and out hate her. And how you know they do?

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My point is that, other factors being equal - and you don't know all the other factors, like who else was available and what qualities they had - Balanchine training and a classic Balanchine body are highly important factors in getting hired at NYCB.

Try telling that to Alastair Macaulay.

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My point is that, other factors being equal - and you don't know all the other factors, like who else was available and what qualities they had - Balanchine training and a classic Balanchine body are highly important factors in getting hired at NYCB.

That was my point as well, all things being equal, subjectivity still comes in to play more times than not. Even at sainted NYCB.

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