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Helene

Misty Copeland

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Based on numerous statements made over the past few years in both old and new media by several classical dancers of color, it's clear that fair or not, many see the folks the SAB and NYCB organizations as being at best, indifferent and at worst, hostile to new people and/or ideas. And that this is all done under the guise of protecting a cherished legacy when it's really about protecting their cushy positions.

Their supposed unhealthy insularity is seen this way: Balanchine was a genius. I worked with him directly. So therefore, I'm important and I'm above criticism.

I don't dismiss what you say here, but it's all too vague to be convincing yet either. People who worked with Balanchine directly should be considered authorities on his work, obviously - where exactly do you charge that they have used that authority to work against the training and hiring of black woman dancers? Here we have Peter Martins indicating he wants to encourage and develop black dancers, and a black dancer says, in effect, "Hire me or I don't believe you"?

Martins, and anyone else, should get the benefit of the doubt unless they demonstrate they don't deserve it. I've never accused Copeland of trying to "steal" roles.

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" SAB and NYCB organizations as being at best, indifferent and at worst, hostile to new people and/or ideas. And that this is all done under the guise of protecting a cherished legacy when it's really about protecting their cushy positions."

For another point of view, I've had experience with both organizations for 8 years and I've never found them to be be hostile or indifferent nor have I ever heard of any instance where they've been hostile or indifferent. In every instance, they have been devoted, wise and honest. Nor would I characterize the devotion they have to Balanchine and Robbins as being a "guise" so they can "protect their cushy positions". Could you please provide evidence of that?

Honesty can be upsetting but to reach the goal of dancing in the premiere Balanchine company in the world, a dancer relies on the honesty of the SAB teachers -otherwise, it would be impossible to achieve the speed, clarity and musicality of the NYCB dancer. And that's a goal few can reach no matter what the hue of your skin.

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I don't dismiss what you say here, but it's all too vague to be convincing yet either. People who worked with Balanchine directly should be considered authorities on his work, obviously - where exactly do you charge that they have used that authority to work against the training and hiring of black woman dancers? Here we have Peter Martins indicating he wants to encourage and develop black dancers, and a black dancer says, in effect, "Hire me or I don't believe you"?

Martins, and anyone else, should get the benefit of the doubt unless they demonstrate they don't deserve it. I've never accused Copeland of trying to "steal" roles.

You haven't but a lot of her detractors in here and elsewhere have. Look back a few pages.

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It's easy for me understand why she'd take a public stand in refusing to be part of another committee, when years of committee, panel discussion, and symposia conclusions on the subject have been ignored. It's possible to interpret the enterprise itself as a cynical attempt to look like action is being taken, but actually to avoid doing anything, like creating yet another special panel or commission ostensibly to investigate, but ultimately to put off action.

I was frankly surprised that Martins extended his invitation via what looks to me like a form email sent out to who knows how many people, rather than just picking up the phone and calling her to discuss his initiative and the role he wanted her to play in it himself. Yes, he's a busy man, but if the initiative is important to SAB and the group of alumni is really select he might have found the time rather than delegating the call to an underling.

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I think it's ironic that ABT, who seemed so forward thinking when they first developed their web presence (remember how astonished we all were with their video dictionary) has let this part get so stale.

Indeed. ABT marketing is like its stuck in the 90's, and relies heavily on commercials in the tivo/ playback era where people fast forward through them. If no one wants to see ABT dancers it's their fault not the dancers. And it's not because guest artists are superior either. Who wants to see Sarah Lane, Stella Abrera, or Isabella Boylston when, other than diehard ABT fans, no one knows who they are? People know who Vishneva, Cojocaru, and Osipova are mainly because of DVD/ Bluray and live broadcasts of their dancing. People also know the companies they dance for because of this reason as well. You can barely and sometimes not at all, find any video's of ABT dancers other than people like Gomes and Hallberg. And that's only because they performed at the Bolshoi, where they actually market and record performances. I think it is a crime that all of the wonderful performances of one of the partnerships at ABT in decades, Gomes/ Vishneva, has not been recorded and put on DVD/ bluray to this day.

This is also the reason why Copeland can sell tickets and someone like Sarah Lane can't. Not that nonsense that ABT staffer was saying.

So many problems with this company it's sad.

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Well, the frequently mentioned BA favorite Virginia Johnson, feels that quality of movement trumps body type almost every time. She also feels that slowly but surely, that attitude is taking hold across the ballet world.

So says the woman who embodied Classical line to perfection. And take a look at the DTH dancers now, all of them adhere to more classical standards. I don't see bulging thigh muscles on the females, not the way that Copeland has on her form.

https://youtu.be/SowsGudOyc4

The best part of this "problem" is that it can be fixed almost immediately. The only action Copeland needs to do is work on stretching out her muscles with pilates and various other exercises that compliment ballet. Male dancers do it all the time to stop over developed muscles. But she won't do it because she doesn't want to do it. She wants to force the form to accept muscle women. Or at the very least HER muscle woman form. I find that extremely selfish.

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People know Vishneva, Cojocaru and Osipova from reading reviews over the course of years in the papers that are or were ecstatic. I think most people who attend ballet regularly are like sports fans who follow teams and players. It's relatively easy to access information and reviews from all over the globe now. I knew of Osipova because I had read her incredible reviews from the Bolshoi's tour of London many years ago, when she and Vasiliev created a sensation in Don Q. When Osipova came to the US I made it my business to try and see her. Ditto Cojocaru. I knew from reading articles that she was a star at the RB based on her performance reviews. So it's not media attention per se that draws in a balletomane audience. It is positive reviews. As noted above, I read the reviews of Misty's SL and made a decision that I did not want to see her in SL. However, I don't think most of the audience for Misty's performances is made up of balletomanes.

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People know Vishneva, Cojocaru and Osipova from reading reviews over the course of years in the papers that are or were ecstatic. I think most people who attend ballet regularly are like sports fans who follow teams and players. It's relatively easy to access information and reviews from all over the globe now. I knew of Osipova because I had read her incredible reviews from the Bolshoi's tour of London many years ago, when she and Vasiliev created a sensation in Don Q. When Osipova came to the US I made it my business to try and see her. Ditto Cojocaru. I knew from reading articles that she was a star at the RB based on her performance reviews. So it's not media attention per se that draws in a balletomane audience. It is positive reviews. As noted above, I read the reviews of Misty's SL and made a decision that I did not want to see her in SL. However, I don't think most of the audience for Misty's performances is made up of balletomanes.

I don't think just reviews is why these dancers are well known and global. Especially in this day and age. I think the availability of video's, live streamed performances, and performances you can see in theatres is why. Especially for people in my age group (I'm 26).

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You haven't but a lot of her detractors in here and elsewhere have. Look back a few pages.

Yes, they have, but she was addressing me so I made my position clear.

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What struck me about Jiminez was her arrogance. Even if she is or would be a great teacher, it is clear she has no idea how to behave in a professional manner. Part of being in the work force is knowing how to get along with others, not just being good at what you do.

kfw writes:

I haven't read Parish's statement, but what strike's me about Jimenez's is its cynicism about Martins, and it's rudeness or righteous boldness, depending on your perspective, in airing that cynicism publicly.

Jimenez wasn't arrogant or cynical. Nor did I detect any particular righteous boldness in her tone, not that either quality would necessarily be uncalled for in this context. She was to the point. Don't Form a Committee to Look Into the Issue and Make Recommendations for Future Action. Hire people now, they're out there.

She notes that the remedy for racial injustice is also a matter of structural change, which, as mentioned previously, goes beyond individuals, well-intentioned or otherwise.

Nothing wrong with committees, necessarily, although as Helene noted above, they're often a vehicle for putting off action and used as a convenient line of defense ("See! We appointed a committee!") All the same, they do have their place and maybe something good will come of this one. But that's not the point Jimenez was making here.

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If committees can do good, then theoretically Jimenez could have done some good on the committee, maybe even gotten herself or another person of color hired. She could always have resigned later if she found the committee was indeed just an excuse for non-action. But instead of extending good faith and finding out, she publicly rebuked the man and the institution that had reached out to her. Maybe "I am great" is considered healthy self-assertion nowadays, but it still turns off many of the rest of us.

Also, if there are so few dancers of color, where did all those other Balanchine-trained teachers of color come from?

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" SAB and NYCB organizations as being at best, indifferent and at worst, hostile to new people and/or ideas. And that this is all done under the guise of protecting a cherished legacy when it's really about protecting their cushy positions."

For another point of view, I've had experience with both organizations for 8 years and I've never found them to be be hostile or indifferent nor have I ever heard of any instance where they've been hostile or indifferent. In every instance, they have been devoted, wise and honest. Nor would I characterize the devotion they have to Balanchine and Robbins as being a "guise" so they can "protect their cushy positions". Could you please provide evidence of that?

Honesty can be upsetting but to reach the goal of dancing in the premiere Balanchine company in the world, a dancer relies on the honesty of the SAB teachers -otherwise, it would be impossible to achieve the speed, clarity and musicality of the NYCB dancer. And that's a goal few can reach no matter what the hue of your skin.

True, but Tai was trained at SAB and she danced at a company that was heavily influenced by NYCB. She's not exactly foreign to the Balanchine style.

While training at SAB doesn't mean you'd automatically be a good instructor, it's not like her skills as a teacher and coach were completely unknown. She'd been doing both long before injury ended her dancing career.

I suspect many people wonder, why are they interested in her now? Why'd they let prestigious schools in the Boston area scoop her up?

To those who already view NYCB's so-called outreach with a suspicious eye, waiting 10 years after her retirement to ask her to sit on some committee, smacks of an organization that intends on tinkering only around the edges of the diversity issue.

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Indeed. ABT marketing is like its stuck in the 90's, and relies heavily on commercials in the tivo/ playback era where people fast forward through them. If no one wants to see ABT dancers it's their fault not the dancers. And it's not because guest artists are superior either. Who wants to see Sarah Lane, Stella Abrera, or Isabella Boylston when, other than diehard ABT fans, no one knows who they are? People know who Vishneva, Cojocaru, and Osipova are mainly because of DVD/ Bluray and live broadcasts of their dancing. People also know the companies they dance for because of this reason as well. You can barely and sometimes not at all, find any video's of ABT dancers other than people like Gomes and Hallberg. And that's only because they performed at the Bolshoi, where they actually market and record performances. I think it is a crime that all of the wonderful performances of one of the partnerships at ABT in decades, Gomes/ Vishneva, has not been recorded and put on DVD/ bluray to this day.

This is also the reason why Copeland can sell tickets and someone like Sarah Lane can't. Not that nonsense that ABT staffer was saying.

So many problems with this company it's sad.

Preach!

Their marketing is an abomination. They seem to think people should come to see them just because they're an institution. And those stars they count on so much to fill the Met are famous mainly because they've made their names elsewhere.

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Also, if there are so few dancers of color, where did all those other Balanchine-trained teachers of color come from?

From the same place that 8/15 (including school head Kay Mazzo) current SAB faculty got their training: second generation.

Balanchine did very little direct instruction for SAB students even in the 60's and 70's when he was healthy; Merrill Ashley, who went to SAB after the Ford Foundation grants, describes Balanchine's infrequent visits in her book. From all of his descriptions to date, the same was true for Peter Boal, who was an apprentice primarily during Balanchine's hospitalization, and whose main experience with Balanchine was being coached in the mime role of the young Prince in "Nutcracker." Boal was one of the most influential teachers for men while he taught at SAB, but his primary experience was during the transition after Balanchine's death. The same is true for Jock Soto, who joined NYCB in 1981, and whose last years at SAB saw Balanchine in increasingly bad health; he was a Martins, Stanley Williams, and Andre Kramarevsky product, the first of Martins. Also Katrina Killian did a 1977 summer program and joined SAB full-time in 1979: it's possible that she had some brief meaningful direct contact with Balanchine, but not that likely, especially as he tended to speak in parables that could take years to understand.

Arch Higgins didn't attend SAB until a 1982 summer program. Jonathan Stafford's first summer program at SAB was 1996. Doing the math from her SAB faculty bio and a WSJ article that listed her age as 42 in 2014, she would have joined the intermediate division of SAB after Balanchine's death. Yvonne Borree went to her first summer program in 1982 and not full-time until 1985, after Balanchine's death. Kaitlin Gilliland and Andrew Scordato weren't born before Balanchine died and didn't even get to shake his hand.

Jimenez and a couple of generations of DTH dancers would have gotten it from Arthur Mitchell and Tanaquil Leclercq, not to mention Karel Shook, who was lauded as a master teacher, like Stanley Williams. SAB faculty was more diverse during Balanchine's years.

That response did not at all sound like the Tai I knew and I took class with her for years. She was very shy and meek.

Personal recollections other than by ballet professionals posting under their own names are not valid here. I leave this one only to respond that even if your characterization of Jimenez is "shy" and "meek," is accurate, shyness and perceived meekness does not mean a lack of conviction.

So says the woman who embodied Classical line to perfection.

Which says nothing to her point.

From a recent interview in Dance Magazine with with Benjamin Millepied:

How would you define the French style nowadays?

What I retain of the French style is the elegance, the restraint. But in the last 10 years, I’m missing a lot of the essentials: the épaulement, the musicality... This company had these things at one point, more so than today. There’s been too much concern with positions and not with how you move from one to the next. I want more contrast, more life.

In terms of frame and musculature, the POB ballerinas trained at the school (nearly all of them), are quite homogeneous, with slender thighs and classical lines to perfection, yet Millepied has issues with the movement quality of among the most beautiful dance instruments who live and breathe.

The best part of this "problem" is that it can be fixed almost immediately. The only action Copeland needs to do is work on stretching out her muscles with pilates and various other exercises that compliment ballet. Male dancers do it all the time to stop over developed muscles. But she won't do it because she doesn't want to do it. She wants to force the form to accept muscle women. Or at the very least HER muscle woman form. I find that extremely selfish.

From The New Yorker profile, speaking about the period after her body changed and her first major injury due to calcium deficit:

She felt that her ballet career was getting away from her, that she was far from family, that she was alone. “I was barely over a hundred pounds, but I felt so fat, and even a stranger at a club, when I told him I was a ballerina, said, ‘No way,’ ” Copeland recalled. “It took me about five years to figure out how my body worked, and to understand how to make my muscles more lean."

She met her floor barre teacher, Marjorie Liebert, after a Pilates class, and quite obviously actively addressed what she considered body issues to the extent that she agrees with your characterization.

" SAB and NYCB organizations as being at best, indifferent and at worst, hostile to new people and/or ideas. And that this is all done under the guise of protecting a cherished legacy when it's really about protecting their cushy positions."

For another point of view, I've had experience with both organizations for 8 years and I've never found them to be be hostile or indifferent nor have I ever heard of any instance where they've been hostile or indifferent. In every instance, they have been devoted, wise and honest. Nor would I characterize the devotion they have to Balanchine and Robbins as being a "guise" so they can "protect their cushy positions". Could you please provide evidence of that?

Honesty can be upsetting but to reach the goal of dancing in the premiere Balanchine company in the world, a dancer relies on the honesty of the SAB teachers -otherwise, it would be impossible to achieve the speed, clarity and musicality of the NYCB dancer. And that's a goal few can reach no matter what the hue of your skin.

First, the lead-in and context to the quote was "Based on numerous statements made over the past few years in both old and new media by several classical dancers of color, it's clear that fair or not, many see the folks".

I leave this personal experience post here only to respond that your experience is not everyone's experience, and when ballet professionals go on the record to state their opinion otherwise, it shows this. Unless you were witness to their experience and want to argue why they are wrong or to put it in another context, you can't speak to theirs.

I have listened to many dancers in Q&A's, both live and on podcasts, and interviews and read fine descriptions of Balanchine coaching sessions in which there are very varied and opposing interpretations of what Balanchine wanted, what should be emphasized, and what is important, and these opposing opinions are not reconcilable when a decision has to be made. That isn't surprising due to Balanchine's long life, the changes he made on the fly, the way he assessed different dancers and was willing to make changes (or not) based on their strengths and weaknesses, or how he decided one day to cut out major swaths of an acknowledged masterpiece, as well as the capabilities and memories of the people who pass on what Balanchine said and their own personalities and motivations. The most humble talk about what Balanchine told them they wanted, but try to elicit a dance response that is unique to that dancer.

Balanchine is a brand name, and there are people who control that brand and appoint The Deciders. It's not just black ballet professionals who've taken issue with the way the official brand is going or the business it has become, especially as the people who were witness and could contradict are getting older and many are dying.

Their marketing is an abomination. They seem to think people should come to see them just because they're an institution. And those stars they count on so much to fill the Met are famous mainly because they've made their names elsewhere.

In most ways, it is very smart and cost-effective: they don't have to invest in training, in-depth coaching, or internal training, they hire guests on contract and don't have to pay salary and benefits, they get to monitor and "audition" dancers based on their reception elsewhere, there is no classical competition except when companies tour to NYC, and there is seemingly no end to the number of foreign stars who are wiling to fly in for a few performances, sell tickets, and fly back to somewhere else. Russian companies are especially star-driven, with no end of great dancers in sight, and the classics are scheduled there in very short spurts, so that they are used to performing a given full-length a few times a year separated by months, and the ABT schedule is similar to their own in the patterns in which they are cast. Plus there are any number of well-trained, beautiful dancers who would be thrilled to live in NYC, have a paid contract with benefits like ABT dancers, and, however reluctantly, be the background for the stars, so they'll never run out of corps.

I disagree that they think people come to see them primarily because they are an institution, except when they tour, which has been far less than in the past. They think people come to see them because there is a foreign star in front of the chorus. It will be interesting to see that if they have regular seasons in southern California whether there will be strong fan factions, but the "Nutcracker" isn't the best test of that, since more than ballet fans bring their kids and casting isn't the strongest pull: schedule during the busy holiday season is. The other exception might be tourists, like the people who get tickets to the Bolshoi when they're in Moscow, whoever is playing or singing, but then their "star" policy wouldn't make a difference to this segment.

For the most part, the audiences don't care about the corps or how stylistically integrated the company is: the Baryshnikov experiment of trying to create a company style was an epic fail as far as the business end of the equation went, and they reverted to "star in front of company" like in the '70's. It seems to me that the big difference is that in the last decade, unlike the Makarova's and Fracci's, who spent the entire season with the company and were on the roster, recently the outside Principals like Bolle and Vishneva have turned into "Principal Guest Artists" in title or action, and ABT gets to market-test other outside dancers for a few performances here and there.

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Jimenez and a couple of generations of DTH dancers would have gotten it from Arthur Mitchell and Tanaquil Leclercq, not to mention Karel Shook, who was lauded as a master teacher, like Stanley Williams. SAB faculty was more diverse during Balanchine's years.

I'm aware that many if not most SAB and NYCB teachers and ballet masters didn't dance or train under Balanchine himself. If those DTH teachers are willing to teach at SAB, great. But all the people on that list for whom there are bios posted have either years of SAB training or direct involvement with Balanchine.

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I'm aware that many if not most SAB and NYCB teachers and ballet masters didn't dance or train under Balanchine himself. If those DTH teachers are willing to teach at SAB, great. But all the people on that list for whom there are bios posted have either years of SAB training or direct involvement with Balanchine.

Which was not the case when Balanchine was alive, and, for better or worse, this speaks to the institution's increasing insularity. Balanchine generally hired what he needed from those who were available, and what he needed wasn't as narrowly defined as training in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Paris, or sometimes in Denmark and London, or even as narrowly defined as training under RAD or Cecchetti methods: many former Balanchine dancers have explained that there's no such thing as a Balanchine syllabus, and Balanchine famously told SAB graduates once they joined the comapny that now, he'd teach them to dance.

He also hired Danilova because she was living in poverty. That didn't make her more or less of a teacher, but his reason was to help out an ex-common-law wife and friend.

There can be multiple reasons for hiring, and feeling that there is a need for diversity and role models in the classroom is one, like ballet has hired men who are particularly adept at teaching young boys in Men's classes, when they might not have been considered if the classes were mixed. Particularly when a teacher's training is one more degree of separation closer to Balanchine.

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I disagree, Helene. Balanchine and his school distilled and refined ballet technique for his own purposes, and although NYCB may not be the best exponent of the Balanchine style (which changed over the years, yes), SAB, with the possible exception of Farrell's classes, has always been recognized as the best place to learn what he wanted taught. I don’t presume to have any idea who they can use and who they can’t, and and if I’m not mistaken they do expose their students to outside influences. But one could hardly blame them if when considering new hires, they look for SAB training. Maybe Jimenez, with her own SAB experience, could still teach there. But if she has any real interest in that, ‘hire me or else you’re a phony’ hasn’t helped her chances. Anybody knows that. Of the two of them, who’s “playing” who?

It's not like I can't understand a certain degree of cynicism, but she was offered an opportunity to help remedy a bad situation, and she turned it down.

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Every teacher at SAB was a member of NYCB and most were principals. Almost all were trained at SAB. Who better to teach the Balanchine style? Corps de ballet member, Silas Farley, is not a member of the faculty yet but he has done some teaching at SAB. Besides being a beautifully trained and gorgeous dancer, he is a Balanchine historian - it's astonishing how much he knows and that was obvious from when he arrived at SAB in his early teens. Being exceptional in every way (and oh incidentally being African-American) is why Silas has already been identified as a future faculty member.

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Besides being a beautifully trained and gorgeous dancer, [silas Farley] is a Balanchine historian - it's astonishing how much he knows and that was obvious from when he arrived at SAB in his early teens. Being exceptional in every way (and oh incidentally being African-American) is why Silas has already been identified as a future faculty member.

Wow, a dancer that young with that much knowledge and interest already - that's exciting to read!

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But if she has any real interest in that, ‘hire me or else you’re a phony’ hasn’t helped her chances.

I don't think she said anything resembling that.

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SAB is also recognized as only practical way to join NYCB and a great resume-builder.

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In most ways, it is very smart and cost-effective: they don't have to invest in training, in-depth coaching, or internal training, they hire guests on contract and don't have to pay salary and benefits, they get to monitor and "audition" dancers based on their reception elsewhere, there is no classical competition except when companies tour to NYC, and there is seemingly no end to the number of foreign stars who are wiling to fly in for a few performances, sell tickets, and fly back to somewhere else. Russian companies are especially star-driven, with no end of great dancers in sight, and the classics are scheduled there in very short spurts, so that they are used to performing a given full-length a few times a year separated by months, and the ABT schedule is similar to their own in the patterns in which they are cast. Plus there are any number of well-trained, beautiful dancers who would be thrilled to live in NYC, have a paid contract with benefits like ABT dancers, and, however reluctantly, be the background for the stars, so they'll never run out of corps.

What you are describing here is very much like an opera production, where freelance artists are brought together by a specific institution (with some ongoing local talent in supporting positions). Not sure what this might say about their style, or how this might evolve over time, but it's an interesting analogy.

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Maybe Jimenez, with her own SAB experience, could still teach there. But if she has any real interest in that, hire me or else youre a phony hasnt helped her chances. Anybody knows that. Of the two of them, whos playing who?

It's not like I can't understand a certain degree of cynicism, but she was offered an opportunity to help remedy a bad situation, and she turned it down.

Tai only trained for 4 years at SAB before leaving at age 14 to train with the Vaganova trained Madame Gabriela Darvash ( where I met her) who, as she describes in her March 2015 blog, totally remade her technique. As others have pointed out, it would be extremely unusual for SAB to hire someone who didn't complete their training there and made it into NYCB.

For what it's worth, Tai also described the atmosphere at DTH as "meanly competitive" and that, as a light colored black girl, she experienced racism there for not being "down".

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I don't think she said anything resembling that.

Well, you're probably right, that was too cynical a way of putting it on my part. In any case, her wording was much more polite.

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Plus there are any number of well-trained, beautiful dancers who would be thrilled to live in NYC, have a paid contract with benefits like ABT dancers, and, however reluctantly, be the background for the stars, so they'll never run out of corps.

What a despressing prospect. Perhaps ABT should just print "Lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch'entrate" at the top of their contracts.

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