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Misty Copeland


Helene

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Since A Raisin in The Sun debuted on Broadway in 1959, the relevance of the line you quoted from the play in 2014 America, where a black president is serving his second term, is certainly debatable, but that's a topic too far afield from ballet.

I think the election and reelection Of President Obama has revealed both advancements in race relations AND the existence of stubbornly outdated racial attitudes. The fact that the president's very citizenship has been and continues to be questioned, shows that some people are simply unwilling to accept him as the legitimate Leader of the Free World.

Such attitudes have an effect on the ballet world because no art form, not even ballet exists in a vacuum.

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His citizenship was questioned by a small percentage of right wing conservatives who hate all Democrats. That small faction does not represent the majority of Americans, as indicated by the fact that Obama won not once, but twice.

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His citizenship was questioned by a small percentage of right wing conservatives who hate all Democrats. That small faction does not represent the majority of Americans, as indicated by the fact that Obama won not once, but twice.

Per February 2014 Economist / YouGov poll*, "15% of adults say they are sure the President was not born in the United States." 15% is not a small number -- and those are just the adults who are "sure." Only 62% of US adults agreed with the statement "Barak Obama was born in the United States." 38% didn't.

Even if it's just a bunch of cranks inflating the YouGov number out of sheer cussedness, it's ugly.

* 1000 US adults interviewed February 8-10, 2014

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My fantasy is that on the last day of his Administration, Obama calls a surprise press conference and says, "I just thought you all should know that I really am a Kenyan socialist Muslim! Suckers! Allahu Akbar! Wahoo!"

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My fantasy is that on the last day of his Administration, Obama calls a surprise press conference and says, "I just thought you all should know that I really am a Kenyan socialist Muslim! Suckers! Allahu Akbar! Wahoo!"

Surely not before he has normalized relations with North Korea?

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Per February 2014 Economist / YouGov poll*, "15% of adults say they are sure the President was not born in the United States." 15% is not a small number -- and those are just the adults who are "sure." Only 62% of US adults agreed with the statement "Barak Obama was born in the United States." 38% didn't.

Even if it's just a bunch of cranks inflating the YouGov number out of sheer cussedness, it's ugly.

I don't know where they get these people, Not from my neighborhood or, I'll bet, yours. I have to assume those figures are wildly inflated for the reason you mention. In any case, what's the argument in regards to Copeland? Will anyone argue that thirty-eight or even fifteen percent of people in the ballet world are so racist they'll believe complete nonsense? Even if we take the fifteen percent figure as real for the sake of argument, the other eighty-five percent think of the fifteen, or at least their views, in terms that, if posted, would violate BA policy on respectful debate. Eighty-five percent beats fifteen every day, What effect can fifteen have in a ballet company if eighty-five oppose them?

The other thing is that we often see what we expect to see (and maybe I'm doing that). I’m not questioning that Copeland thinks she encountered racism. But if we grant that there has been significant racial progress, then we need to ask at what point the I-had-to-face-racism object lessons become counterproductive, teaching people to become expect and fear what’s probably not there, or is not a real obstacle (the racists being relatively powerless). Copeland’s story, especially at the moment, is in part the story of a black dancer embraced by a largely white audience. That makes it less heroic (though no less admirable), but even more something to celebrate.

It's worth noting that in this photo of the party scene in Ballet West’s Nutcracker at the Kennedy Center, three or four of the eight girls appear to be African-American.

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Will anyone argue that thirty-eight or even fifteen percent of people in the ballet world are so racist they'll believe complete nonsense?

There is some evidence that it's not so hard to get police, prosecutors, and jurors to believe "complete nonsense" when race enters the picture--whether or not they are themselves, as individuals, racist and--in some cases--whatever race they happen to be.

Nothing to do with the "ballet world"? -- I doubt it. Even if I allowed that the ballet world lacks its own version of racial crankiness (which I don't) I think cranks couldn't wield the influence they do (wouldn't get the attention they get) if they weren't touching some chord in others less cranky than themselves. I suspect the 'birther' movement vis-a-vis the President wouldn't have the little traction it does in terms of news coverage/interest etc, if there weren't other non-birthers vaguely uncomfortable with a black President and even one for whom they may have voted.

Nothing to do with Copeland? -- fair enough. As I understand, you find it alternatively implausible and/or counterproductive to believe that racism has had more than a minor hand in creating problems in her career especially when many in the ballet community obviously want to address its relative lack of well-known African-American talent. I have to say that I don't.

Uh...regarding "not from my neighborhood or, I'll bet, yours" which, I think, was meant for all of us arguing these matters on BalletAlert: I have a lot of different neighbors from a lot of different backgrounds, and they hold a lot of different views.

I agree, too, with something Tapfan suggested/implied above (or perhaps elsewhere on this site)--that it will be a good thing when more African-American ballerinas are in the spotlight--and will make for a different conversation.

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Will anyone argue that thirty-eight or even fifteen percent of people in the ballet world are so racist they'll believe complete nonsense?

There is some evidence that it's not so hard to get police, prosecutors, and jurors to believe "complete nonsense" when race enters the picture--whether or not they are themselves, as individuals, racist and--in some cases--whatever race they happen to be.

Nothing to do with the "ballet world"? -- I doubt it. Even if I allowed that the ballet world lacks its own version of racial crankiness (which I don't) I think cranks couldn't wield the influence they do (wouldn't get the attention they get) if they weren't touching some chord in others less cranky than themselves. I suspect the 'birther' movement vis-a-vis the President wouldn't have the little traction it does in terms of news coverage/interest etc, if there weren't other non-birthers vaguely uncomfortable with a black President and even one for whom they may have voted.

I'm tempted to respond to this in more depth, but it's straight politics, and not BA territory. However, birthers get no respect, even from other conservatives, and 'racial crankiness" in the ballet world is what I'm looking for evidence of. It's not evident in Project Plie, or in the photo I posted.

As I understand, you find it alternatively implausible and/or counterproductive to believe that racism has had more than a minor hand in creating problems in her career especially when many in the ballet community obviously want to address its relative lack of well-known African-American talent.

What problems has she had? It's great that people want to recruit and support African-American dancers. Racism has obviously kept them out of dance in more ways than one. But that's different than saying they face racism in the dance world today greater than the support they have in the dance world today (support this thread is evidence of), or that Copeland did.

Regarding what you wrote below (the software's being cranky), I was exaggerating to make a point. I didn't mean to suggest these people don't exist at all.

Uh...regarding "not from my neighborhood or, I'll bet, yours" which, I think, was meant for all of us arguing these matters on BalletAlert: I have a lot of different neighbors from a lot of different backgrounds, and they hold a lot of different views.
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I look at pictures of Misty Copeland and think she looks far more like the early 20c ballerinas before the "master race of string beans" took over. She's only 5'2" so she's not "big" but her muscle definition is proportioned differently that Svetlana Zakharova.

As long as the dancer is fit, I am more inclined to pay attention to the quality of her dancing. I feel that men get a much bigger break in this regard. Carlos Acosta is proportioned very differently than Stephen MacRae and yet both have achieved laudatory reviews at RB. I don't think US national politics affects the chances of any soloist at ABT to be promoted to principal.

Perhaps we should end the year agreeing to keep an open mind about Ms Copeland? Dancers do develop over time, and what someone may have seen 5 years ago may not be what she can put out on the stage in 2015. Here's to great performances in the new year (lifts a glass of sherry).

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I look at pictures of Misty Copeland and think she looks far more like the early 20c ballerinas before the "master race of string beans" took over. She's only 5'2" so she's not "big" but her muscle definition is proportioned differently that Svetlana Zakharova.

As long as the dancer is fit, I am more inclined to pay attention to the quality of her dancing. I feel that men get a much bigger break in this regard. Carlos Acosta is proportioned very differently than Stephen MacRae and yet both have achieved laudatory reviews at RB. I don't think US national politics affects the chances of any soloist at ABT to be promoted to principal.

Perhaps we should end the year agreeing to keep an open mind about Ms Copeland? Dancers do develop over time, and what someone may have seen 5 years ago may not be what she can put out on the stage in 2015. Here's to great performances in the new year (lifts a glass of sherry).

Good points, good idea. (Lifts a mug of coffee).happy.png

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Other than the unique and extraordinary Natalia Makarova, have there ever been any other 5 ft. 2 in. women at ABT who have been provided with the opportunity of dancing the lead in Swan Lake? I've been attending since the late 90s, and I cannot recall any such ballerinas at ABT. Xiomara Reyes had to go elsewhere as a guest artist in Europe to dance O/O because McKenzie never would cast her, though I believe she is taller than Misty.

(Kochetkova was brought in to be Herman's partner. How tall is she?)

Since Misty has now learned the role and performed it, why do they need to bring in Kochetkova to dance with Herman going forward?

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It is precisely because I do know people who actively flirt with birtherism that I pay attention to the poll numbers and won’t dismiss them out of hand. Some of these people are dear to me; I know that they are capable of great kindness, generosity, and even probity, but on certain matters that touch on race and religion they are functionally irrational.


I cited those poll numbers because I think they challenge the notion that only a small, lunatic fringe of the Republican party refuses to believe that Barack Obama is a US citizen; indeed, per the crosstabs, 28% of Republicans “know for sure” that Obama was born outside the US and 38% think it’s possible that he was. That’s not a fringe. Barack Obama won only 43% of the white vote in 2008 and only 39% in 2012. The numbers suggest to me that the election of an African-American president isn’t in and of itself a signal of some kind of national triumph over bias based on skin color.


I’m with Tapfan on this: it matters because art doesn’t happen in some wondrous walled garden safe from the depredations of bias and intolerance. It happens where we live, and where we live is still one twisted place.


Again, it is precisely because I have spent decades watching one of America’s premier ballet companies in one of America’s most progressive cities unthinkingly (I hope) perpetuate corrosive racial and ethnic stereotypes through its casting, and, on occasion, its staging and choreography, that I can accept that the allegedly liberal ballet community may well be blind to – and is therefore perfectly capable of acting on — its own racial and ethnic biases. Indeed, it’s precisely because I regularly catch myself thinking, saying, or doing something absolutely boneheaded out of some unseen or unacknowledged bias that I know it’s a thing. (And let me add with a sigh: I’ve spent decades watching and have done NOTHING. I could have at least sent a letter to the AD and his board in protest.)


Given how vigilantly ballet patrols the borders of body type – Too fat! Too short! Too blocky! Feet too big! Feet too small! — is it really a stretch of the imagination to think that skin color might be a factor when it comes to matters of coaching, casting, and promotion? If dancers can with reason believe that they’re being held back because of their body type, why is it unreasonable for them to think they’re being held back by their skin color?

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Other than the unique and extraordinary Natalia Makarova, have there ever been any other 5 ft. 2 in. women at ABT who have been provided with the opportunity of dancing the lead in Swan Lake?----You probably have to research the pre-McKenzie years. I think Eleanor D'Antuono was on the short side.

Since Misty has now learned the role and performed it, why do they need to bring in Kochetkova to dance with Herman going forward?--- Totally agree with you.

I do think McKenzie is prejudiced against short dancers. Reyes is great, but he seems to think that there is room for only one short principle female dancer.

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I don't think it's a matter of "prejudice" against short dancers. Short dancers are not particularly effective or suitable in a ballet like Swan Lake, where the extension of long limbs enhances the choreography. Swan Lake loses a lot of its magic when the limbs that are unfurled by Odette are short. This is why shorter dancers tend to be more suitable in soubrette type roles or as Juliet. Obviously, there are extraordinary and legendary dancers like Makarova who can make you completely forget the height issue.

Maybe McKenzie is now entering a new phase of artistic leadership, where he has decided that short dancers are suitable as O/O and as princes, and uber tall dancers are suitable for roles that used to be done by short to medium sized dancers. That seems to be the direction he is taking, as far as casting Herman in princely roles, casting Misty and Kochetkova as O/O, and casting Semionova as Juliet. The drawback of casting Semionova as Juliet was apparent to me when Hallberg had to lift her.

If we are entering this new phase of casting irrespective of height or body type, please cast Part as Juliet and Giselle.

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It is precisely because I do know people who actively flirt with birtherism that I pay attention to the poll numbers and won’t dismiss them out of hand. Some of these people are dear to me; I know that they are capable of great kindness, generosity, and even probity, but on certain matters that touch on race and religion they are functionally irrational.

That's such an important point, that good and bad live side by side in people.

If dancers can with reason believe that they’re being held back because of their body type, why is it unreasonable for them to think they’re being held back by the skin color?
I don’t think it’s unreasonable, I just think it’s less and less likely to be true, for reasons I’ve tried to explain. No, art isn’t made in ideal social conditions, but I think that when it comes down to it, the argument that black dancers are likely to be held back by racism is an argument that the people with power over their careers are either less aware of their instinctive biases, or care less about them, than we on BA are/do. And racism is one bias everyone has been forced to think about and examine themselves for. Still, with your admirably honest post, you make a strong case.
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No, art isn’t made in ideal social conditions, but I think that when it comes down to it, the argument that black dancers are likely to be held back by racism is an argument that the people with power over their careers are either less aware of their instinctive biases, or care less about them, than we on BA are/do. And racism is one bias everyone has been forced to think about and examine themselves for. Still, with your admirably honest post, you make a strong case.

I'm not convinced that the issue is necessarily "racism" in the classic sense of believing that one race is inferior to another, or, in this case, that men and women of color are inferior as dancers to white ones. I wonder if it isn't more a failure of imagination and / or a lack of trust in the audience -- i.e., the inability to get past skin color for what I'd argue are outmoded aesthetic / theatrical reasons. Not "aesthetic" in the sense that dark skin isn't beautiful, but rather from a (perhaps unacknowledged) belief that it will be disruptive as theater if Odette and Siefried or Aurora and Désiré or Giselle and Albrecht have different skin colors. But if Carlos Acosta hasn't demonstrated that story ballets needn't trouble themselves with historical accuracy in the matter of ethnicity and skin color, I sure as heck don't know what else can. I certainly don't have any trouble believing that he's a French Chevalier (Des Grieux), a Rhinelandish nobleman (Albrecht), or a young gentleman of Verona, and the rest of the audience apparently hasn't walked out in a huff, either. (Asking for "realism" in that most unrealistic of art forms, the story ballet, is pretty rich if you ask me. It's a fairytale, for heaven's sake!)

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No, art isn’t made in ideal social conditions, but I think that when it comes down to it, the argument that black dancers are likely to be held back by racism is an argument that the people with power over their careers are either less aware of their instinctive biases, or care less about them, than we on BA are/do. And racism is one bias everyone has been forced to think about and examine themselves for. Still, with your admirably honest post, you make a strong case.

I'm not convinced that the issue is necessarily "racism" in the classic sense of believing that one race is inferior to another, or, in this case, that men and women of color are inferior as dancers to white ones. I wonder if it isn't more a failure of imagination and / or a lack of trust in the audience -- i.e., the inability to get past skin color for what I'd argue are outmoded aesthetic / theatrical reasons. Not "aesthetic" in the sense that dark skin isn't beautiful, but rather from a (perhaps unacknowledged) belief that it will be disruptive as theater if Odette and Siefried or Aurora and Désiré or Giselle and Albrecht have different skin colors.

Could be. I pay little attention to Hollywood, but don't some African-American actors have box office figures to rival those of whites? In TV-land until very recently, Bill Cosby was “America’s Dad.” More specifically, if I’m not mistaken, the theater world, or at least the off-Broadway community, embraced non-traditional casting a long time ago. So race needn't be a barrier in dance.
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Will anyone argue that thirty-eight or even fifteen percent of people in the ballet world are so racist they'll believe complete nonsense?

There is some evidence that it's not so hard to get police, prosecutors, and jurors to believe "complete nonsense" when race enters the picture--whether or not they are themselves, as individuals, racist and--in some cases--whatever race they happen to be.

Nothing to do with the "ballet world"? -- I doubt it. Even if I allowed that the ballet world lacks its own version of racial crankiness (which I don't) I think cranks couldn't wield the influence they do (wouldn't get the attention they get) if they weren't touching some chord in others less cranky than themselves. I suspect the 'birther' movement vis-a-vis the President wouldn't have the little traction it does in terms of news coverage/interest etc, if there weren't other non-birthers vaguely uncomfortable with a black President and even one for whom they may have voted.

I'm tempted to respond to this in more depth, but it's straight politics, and not BA territory. However, birthers get no respect, even from other conservatives, and 'racial crankiness" in the ballet world is what I'm looking for evidence of. It's not evident in Project Plie, or in the photo I posted.

As I understand, you find it alternatively implausible and/or counterproductive to believe that racism has had more than a minor hand in creating problems in her career especially when many in the ballet community obviously want to address its relative lack of well-known African-American talent.

What problems has she had? It's great that people want to recruit and support African-American dancers. Racism has obviously kept them out of dance in more ways than one. But that's different than saying they face racism in the dance world today greater than the support they have in the dance world today (support this thread is evidence of), or that Copeland did.

Regarding what you wrote below (the software's being cranky), I was exaggerating to make a point. I didn't mean to suggest these people don't exist at all.

Uh...regarding "not from my neighborhood or, I'll bet, yours" which, I think, was meant for all of us arguing these matters on BalletAlert: I have a lot of different neighbors from a lot of different backgrounds, and they hold a lot of different views.

At the peak of the birther movement, various Republican politicians and pundits dipped their toes in those murky waters, lending various kinds of tacit or direct support. Generally they did back off when questioned directly, along the lines of just-what-did-you-mean-when-you-said-that-sir? but there is no question that mainstream conservative elements were, to say the least, chummy with the birthers, or at least disinclined to enlighten them. Names that occur to me offhand – Senators Inhofe and Vitter, Ken Cuccinelli, who was Virginia’s Attorney General. In Kansas, multiple Republican officials openly considered challenging Obama’s eligibility to appear on the ballot in 2012; one of them was advising Mitt Romney at the time.

Most of this talk died away publicly after the release of the long form birth certificate, but as the poll numbers cited by Kathleen attest, the damage was done. No doubt some of this was pure political expediency as opposed to genuine conviction – not sure if that makes it better or worse -- but it is a fact that pols considered the birthers to be a group significant enough to be worth appeasing.

I believe Copeland has discussed the challenges she has faced.....

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I don't think Obama was damaged by any of the birth certificate controversy. If anything, it made the Republicans look stupid and petty, and indirectly may have helped Obama. If memory serves, even John McCain confirmed publicly that he was sure of Obama's US Citizenship so that McCain could distance himself from the right wing extremists in his own party.

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At the peak of the birther movement, various Republican politicians and pundits dipped their toes in those murky waters, lending various kinds of tacit or direct support. Generally they did back off when questioned directly, along the lines of just-what-did-you-mean-when-you-said-that-sir? but there is no question that mainstream conservative elements were, to say the least, chummy with the birthers, or at least disinclined to enlighten them. Names that occur to me offhand – Senators Inhofe and Vitter, Ken Cuccinelli, who was Virginia’s Attorney General.

And almost our governor. Not to disagree with your larger point, but while Cuccinelli could be considered mainstream because of his position, his views are not. He was, and even after the campaign remains, a Tea Party darling, someone most us think of as waaay out on the right. But then the center has shifted to the edges in both parties.

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Are birthers a big audience at ballet performances? I have yet to meet one. I have met some birthers on occasion, but none of them were ballet fans.

I am not sure McKenzie is anti-short women - he is willing to cast Natalia Osipova and Alina Cojucaru. I think he is looking for box office gold, and so Ms. Copeland is trying to develop her own fan-base so her shows sell out. Strong Box Office = more performance opportunities = likelihood of promotion.

Perhaps Stella Abrera should try to market herself to the greater Pinoy-American community as well. And perhaps Veronika Part should do the same for the Russian-American community, especially her Vagonova Academy training and position as a former Mariinsky soloist with the Mariinsky.

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Could be. I pay little attention to Hollywood, but don't some African-American actors have box office figures to rival those of whites? In TV-land until very recently, Bill Cosby was “America’s Dad.” More specifically, if I’m not mistaken, the theater world, or at least the off-Broadway community, embraced non-traditional casting a long time ago. So race needn't be a barrier in dance.

The success of The Cosby Show was actually the first of its kind - presenting a middle-class black family to widespread white audience acceptance. Cosby's success was not typical, it was the exception and a first. It is true that several African-American male actors have become big stars, but not always without qualifications. And black female actors had, and continue to have, a much harder time of making it to the top and staying there, which may be germane to the topic here.

I don't think Obama was damaged by any of the birth certificate controversy. If anything, it made the Republicans look stupid and petty, and indirectly may have helped Obama. If memory serves, even John McCain confirmed publicly that he was sure of Obama's US Citizenship so that McCain could distance himself from the right wing extremists in his own party.

Only up to a point, abatt. The reason the Administration finally gave in and released the long form birth certificate was because the topic would not go away (the flames fanned by the GOP) and it really was beginning to hurt him. My hunch is they may have been playing rope-a-dope, in addition to a natural reluctance to give in to the crazies, but they did it a little too long. And again, we're not talking only extremists, but mainstream elements within the political opposition.

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The success of The Cosby Show was actually the first of its kind - presenting a middle-class black family to widespread white audience acceptance. Cosby's success was not typical, it was the exception and a first. It is true that several African-American male actors have become big stars, but not always without qualifications. And black female actors had, and continue to have, a much harder time of making it to the top and staying there, which may be germane to the topic here.

I don't think Obama was damaged by any of the birth certificate controversy. If anything, it made the Republicans look stupid and petty, and indirectly may have helped Obama. If memory serves, even John McCain confirmed publicly that he was sure of Obama's US Citizenship so that McCain could distance himself from the right wing extremists in his own party.

Only up to a point, abatt. The reason the Administration finally gave in and released the long form birth certificate was because the topic would not go away (the flames fanned by the GOP) and it really was beginning to hurt him. My hunch is they may have been playing rope-a-dope, in addition to a natural reluctance to give in to the crazies, but they did it a little too long. And again, we're not talking only extremists, but mainstream elements within the political opposition.

The Cosby show was a first 30 years ago, which was part of my point. And speaking of huge female African-American stars, Oprah, or so wikipedia tells me, goes back that far as well.

In regards to those mainstream pols, do they actually doubt Obama's citizenship? Are they really nutty on the issue (probable evidence of racism) or are they just playing to the crowd that is?

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