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Misty Copeland


Helene

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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?

If the crowd is sizable enough to make it worth playing to I don't think the distinction really matters. If they were outlying nutters then no mainstream pols would be playing to them or they'd be laughed out of town.

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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.

As the polls cited by Kathleen show, you don't have to be a birther by any stretch of the imagination to be among the millions "unsure" if Obama was born in the US.

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If the crowd is sizable enough to make it worth playing to I don't think the distinction really matters. If they were outlying nutters then no mainstream pols would be playing to them or they'd be laughed out of town.
As the polls cited by Kathleen show, you don't have to be a birther by any stretch of the imagination to be among the millions "unsure" if Obama was born in the US.

It matters if people actually believe something or not. Someone who believes a racist fantasy is going to act in racist ways. Someone who just makes agreeable noises to get along is acting shamefully, but that doesn’t make them racist, or mean they’ll act it. (Then again, is birtherism always racism? The Tea Party would look for reasons to discredit a white Obama too. They’re no less kind, if less imaginative, about Reid and Pelosi). Most people do laugh at birthers. What mainstream pols take the birther position in mainstream forums? I think they’re going along to get along. Both sides court their fringes to gain power and keep it, and both sides play up the power and size of the other side’s fringes for political reasons as well.

A country in which Cosby and Oprah are enormous stars (if Cosby was America’s Dad, Oprah was female America’s Best Friend), and which elects a black man twice, isn’t a post-racial paradise, no, but it’s surely willing to welcome a black ballerina – as Copeland is proving.

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Are there any other black women in predominently white companies who have advanced past the corp de ballet?

I know that Tanya Howard at National Ballet of Canada is a soloist, but I'm not sure she identifies as black. Also, all the relatively well-known female, black, classical dancers seem to dance for Dance Theater of Harlem.

As I've said many, many, MANY times, it's not that black folks who like concert dance are just madly in love with Misty to the exclusion of any other black female dancers, it's just that she is the ONLY one with any visibility. And even her visibility wouldn't exist if she didn't market herself so relentlessly.

Ballet has a PR problem if the only way they get attention from the mainstream press is when an AD at a major company gets acid thrown in his face or a black woman dancer continually points out that not a single black woman has ever been a principal dancer at one the most famous companies.

It makes ballet sound like this weird little cult.

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Are there any other black women in predominently white companies who have advanced past the corp de ballet?

Yes. At this point in the discussion, the more pertinent question is which black women you have seen dance ballet whom you feel should have advanced further than they have. Make your case for them based on what you’ve seen – if you can. You allege discrimination. Names please – if you have any. “Everyone knows black people are discriminated against, so dancers are too” is not an answer. No one disputes that they have been, but you allege that that are now. Perhaps so. Someone somewhere, no doubt, and that’s a terrible shame. But you imply widespread and systematic racism. Please demonstrate it based on personal knowledge.

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It is difficult for any woman to advance past the corps in a ballet company. First off the odds of getting into a major ballet company are small then the odds of advancing are even smaller. Copeland got into ABT because of her talent (she even turned down KM's first invitation to study full time at the school), she was promoted to soloist because KM thought her soloist material. Since that time she's built an audience for herself through self promotion. Audiences go to see her because of her various TV appearances etc. If/when she becomes a principal dancer we and she will never be sure of why.

Ballet's PR problem? Mainstream press gravitates to drama not quality. I don't expect the mainstream press to report on ballet anymore than I expect reporting on opera, concert music or quality independent films. Unless there is some kind of incident (singer gets fired for being too fat for the costume) the mainstream press is busy reporting on the latest scandalous behavior of an actress, actor or politician.

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Are there any other black women in predominently white companies who have advanced past the corp de ballet?

Yes. At this point in the discussion, the more pertinent question is which black women you have seen dance ballet whom you feel should have advanced further than they have. Make your case for them based on what you’ve seen – if you can. You allege discrimination. Names please – if you have any. “Everyone knows black people are discriminated against, so dancers are too” is not an answer. No one disputes that they have been, but you allege that that are now. Perhaps so. Someone somewhere, no doubt, and that’s a terrible shame. But you imply widespread and systematic racism. Please demonstrate it based on personal knowledge.

I'm not alleging anything. I'm asking a question. You're the one who's being defensive. I was asking because I honestly wanted to know if there were any other black women in senior positions.

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It is difficult for any woman to advance past the corps in a ballet company. First off the odds of getting into a major ballet company are small then the odds of advancing are even smaller. Copeland got into ABT because of her talent (she even turned down KM's first invitation to study full time at the school), she was promoted to soloist because KM thought her soloist material. Since that time she's built an audience for herself through self promotion. Audiences go to see her because of her various TV appearances etc. If/when she becomes a principal dancer we and she will never be sure of why.

Ballet's PR problem? Mainstream press gravitates to drama not quality. I don't expect the mainstream press to report on ballet anymore than I expect reporting on opera, concert music or quality independent films. Unless there is some kind of incident (singer gets fired for being too fat for the costume) the mainstream press is busy reporting on the latest scandalous behavior of an actress, actor or politician.

I know that people who have the goods to be ballet dancers are rare. Just like pro athletes. I get it. It's just that there are almost 40 million black people in the U.S. Even if the number of people with the access, interest and drive is much lower than in the white populace, you'd think there would be more than the handful that we know about.

I know that none of the classical performing arts will ever have the attention of popular arts. But there have been times when it was better than it is now. People who didn't know anything about ballet were interested in Baryshnikov.

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Are there any other black women in predominently white companies who have advanced past the corp de ballet?

Yes. At this point in the discussion, the more pertinent question is which black women you have seen dance ballet whom you feel should have advanced further than they have. Make your case for them based on what you’ve seen – if you can. You allege discrimination. Names please – if you have any. “Everyone knows black people are discriminated against, so dancers are too” is not an answer. No one disputes that they have been, but you allege that that are now. Perhaps so. Someone somewhere, no doubt, and that’s a terrible shame. But you imply widespread and systematic racism. Please demonstrate it based on personal knowledge.

I'm not alleging anything. I'm asking a question. You're the one who's being defensive. I was asking because I honestly wanted to know if there were any other black women in senior positions.

A name or two has been mentioned in this thread. A simple wikipedia search will find some.

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Are there any other black women in predominently white companies who have advanced past the corp de ballet?

Yes. At this point in the discussion, the more pertinent question is which black women you have seen dance ballet whom you feel should have advanced further than they have. Make your case for them based on what you’ve seen – if you can. You allege discrimination. Names please – if you have any. “Everyone knows black people are discriminated against, so dancers are too” is not an answer. No one disputes that they have been, but you allege that that are now. Perhaps so. Someone somewhere, no doubt, and that’s a terrible shame. But you imply widespread and systematic racism. Please demonstrate it based on personal knowledge.

May we offer up the voices of black dancers as "personal knowledge"? Many in addition to Copeland have spoken about their experiences.

Michaela DePrince

Aesha Ash, among others, in The Guardian.

Precious Adams

A piece written by Nedra Rhone, then of the Columbia School of Journalism, now with the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She's not a dancer, but she interviewed a number of prominent dancers for the article.

A quote from Virginia Johnson, taken from a New York Times article on the topic of black ballerinas:

Ms. Johnson said the reluctance of ballet companies to recruit black ballerinas of Ms. Graf’s caliber had more to do with vision than with talent. “On one side of the marketing issue it’s tremendously fantastic what they could do with having Alicia as a ballerina,” she said. “But on another side, the side that they’re much more afraid of, is their whole subscriber base and their whole history of being a ballet company the way you thought ballet was. It means that you have to create a kind of trust, and they’ve never challenged their audiences to move forward.”

And those were just from the first dozen or so search engine hits.

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Carlos Acosta and Lauren Anderson (retired Houston Ballet principal) have spoken about racism in ballet as well.

Acosta:

In most companies, when a talented black dancer is chosen as a member, they don't know how to cast them properly. Still there is this mentality, especially with directors, that a black ballerina in the middle of a flock of white swans would somehow alter the harmony.

Anderson:


It took her even longer, she says, to realize the extent to which the company, and particularly Stevenson, shielded her from racist comments and the knowledge that she was often passed over. "They never let me know. Now it hurts, but not then. I was sheltered from all that prejudice. You just don't realize it till you're older."

But since America has a black president now things are post racial. Their experiences are impossible. If they really happened they should have reported it because otherwise I don't believe them without any proof.... Lol. Just went through this thread in it's entirety and the responses are quite typical.

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I agree Plisskin. The election of Obama doesn't mean everything is peachy. Things are better than they were but not as good as they should be.

That includes attitudes in ballet.

But on the list of things that are important to minority communities, racial representation in ballet that mirrors the American population is very close to the bottom of the list. As it should be.

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Tapafan, I'm honestly surprised their are people still running with that "Obama is President! Racism is no more11!!" talking point. Even the MSM dropped it years ago and they were the main propagators of it, hahaha.


But on the list of things that are important to minority communities, racial representation in ballet that mirrors the American population is very close to the bottom of the list. As it should be.

I think minority communities, specifically black communities, can focus on multiple issues at a time. Including ballet. However, racism in ballet isn't going to change anytime soon. I mean, it's hard to change something when you have a sizable number of people who think it doesn't even exist, lol. If I ever have a daughter or son who wants to dance, I'm putting them in modern. And I'm a ballet fan! Lol. Sad but, it is what it is.

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Kathleen O'Connell wrote:

May we offer up the voices of black dancers as "personal knowledge"? Many in addition to Copeland have spoken about their experiences.
They obviously have to be taken seriously, but perception isn’t always reality. I explicitly agreed that America is hardly a post-racial paradise. On the other hand, all the dancers alleging racism are African-American. How many hundreds of white dancers who came up the ranks with them and danced with them have now retired and cut ties with their companies and could speak out on their behalf without fear of retaliation? Copeland’s rank and opportunities seem to contradict what she believes she encountered. And for every DePrince and Ash there must be dozens of white dancers who feel they weren’t given opportunities they deserved. If you were an AD or a dance teacher, wouldn’t you support the careers and aspirations of black dancers, if not out of decency and empathy then out of common sense for the sake of the bottom line? So why wouldn’t Peter Martins, et al.?
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Copeland’s rank and opportunities seem to contradict what she believes she encountered.

Obama never encountered racism then, because he became President of the United States.

That is your logic.

No, that would follow from claiming Copeland never encountered racism anywhere, but not from doubting its significance at ABT. Obama had a whole country to appeal to, each with one vote apiece, not just a few powerful people at ABT who stood to benefit from her success.

Another reason to doubt that racism continues to thwart the careers of talented dancers is the success of African-American male dancers. In society at large, towards who do we often see racism? Towards black males. So that’s where we’d most expect to find it in ballet.
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Copeland’s rank and opportunities seem to contradict what she believes she encountered.

Obama never encountered racism then, because he became President of the United States.

That is your logic.

No, that would follow from claiming Copeland never encountered racism anywhere, but not from doubting its significance at ABT. Obama had a whole country to appeal to, each with one vote apiece, not just a few powerful people at ABT who stood to benefit from her success.

Another reason to doubt that racism continues to thwart the careers of talented dancers is the success of African-American male dancers. In society at large, towards who do we often see racism? Towards black males. So that’s where we’d most expect to find it in ballet.

Your using Copeland's rank as a top reason as to why her claims of racism are false. It is completely significant to bring up Obama since, according to you, if a black person achieves a high position that means their claims of racism are "doubtful".

And since you want to bring up society black PEOPLE, not just males, often deal with racism. See Aiyana Jones and Renisha McBride for reference.

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Again part of the problem is that so few black dancers reach the point of being professional. There has to be exposure to dance, access to quality training, money for training & pointe shoes etc. and then commitment & talent. It all has to happen relatively young. Copeland started late, but it is the rare person who can do that.

So when a black dancer isn't hired or cast it is hard to know if it is really racism (IMO). Dancers are hired to fill a function in a company's rep so height, and the type of dancer (lyrical, allegro etc.) are big factors. Also, seeming to the AD to be bit more "stage ready" than someone else is a factor. Many things have to align just right for a person to be hired. ADs do not & cannot hire every good or even wonderful dance they see.

Maybe Copeland's self promotion will translate into more African American girls studying ballet and more will enter the pipe line. That's my hope.

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Maybe Copeland's self promotion will translate into more African American girls studying ballet and more will enter the pipe line. That's my hope.

I hope this as well. She certainly seems to have a lot of young girls as fans and as some others have stated, the interest, training and opportunities have to be there very early so there are more African American dancers to choose from for employment and later promotion opportunities.

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Plisskin wrote:

Your using Copeland's rank as a top reason as to why her claims of racism are false. It is completely significant to bring up Obama since, according to you, if a black person achieves a high position that means their claims of racism are "doubtful".

I see your point, but I’m not talking about a hypothetical black person, I’m talking about an exceptionally talented black dancer in a largely liberal (not a pejorative, I’m a lifelong Democrat who voted and canvassed for Obama twice) milieu. Yes, black females as well as males face racism (and again, I’m not pretending to know that Copeland never faced any, ever at ABT), but that doesn’t explain why males would succeed in a racist environment. Here, again, are some questions that indicate why I’m skeptical of Copeland’s perception.

Why wouldn’t ADS promote out of empathy?

Why wouldn’t ADs promote in their own financial interest?

Isn’t the argument that the ballet world is rife with racism an argument that it’s morally inferior to people posting on this thread? How likely is that?

Why would Americans embrace Cosby and Oprah but not a black ballerina?

Isn’t Copeland proof America loves a black ballerina?

Since black males are the most conspicuous victims of racism in society at large, doesn’t the success of Carlos Acosta, Craig Hall, and other male African-American dancers suggest the ballet world is, at least, far less racist, and for the most art welcoming?

Kathleen O’Connell wrote:

what kind of proof are you looking for? I'm not asking to be snarky. I really do want to know what you would accept as evidence that black ballet dancers are uniquely challenged when it comes to matters of coaching, casting, and promotion.

A good and fair question. One answer would be convincing answers to my questions above. But I’d say that while there is no question that African-American dancers have definitely been uniquely challenged, it’s also most likely that, more and more, their race is an advantage in many situations, for reasons I’ve tried to explain. When someone says, as Tapfan did, that the relative absence of black dancers make ballet look like some weird cult . . . that’s when I in turn ask for proof.

Vipa wrote:

Again part of the problem is that so few black dancers reach the point of being professional. There has to be exposure to dance, access to quality training, money for training & pointe shoes etc. and then commitment & talent.
Yes. Due to racism outside of the ballet world, many have lacked the money to see performances, take classes, and buy the necessary clothing. That has to be a huge factor in the racial complexion of what we see onstage. And the very fact that ballet has been seen as white and exclusive (and that, in an age when African-Americans proudly embrace their own cultural lineage, it’s roots are Russian and European) must have limited the numbers of aspiring black dancers.
Maybe Copeland's self promotion will translate into more African American girls studying ballet and more will enter the pipe line. That's my hope.

That seems happily inevitable to me, but I would also think that the more Copeland’s story is seen as a story of overcoming racism, the more girls will say “who needs it, I’ll go some place where I’ll be accepted.”

ETA:

Tapfan wrote:

I'm not alleging anything.

Having looked through the thread again, I see you you didn't. Sorry to have put words in your mouth.

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It matters if people actually believe something or not. Someone who believes a racist fantasy is going to act in racist ways. Someone who just makes agreeable noises to get along is acting shamefully, but that doesn’t make them racist, or mean they’ll act it. (Then again, is birtherism always racism? The Tea Party would look for reasons to discredit a white Obama too. They’re no less kind, if less imaginative, about Reid and Pelosi). Most people do laugh at birthers. What mainstream pols take the birther position in mainstream forums? I think they’re going along to get along. Both sides court their fringes to gain power and keep it, and both sides play up the power and size of the other side’s fringes for political reasons as well.

“Mainstream” Republicans did flirt with the birther position in “mainstream forums.” As aurora and I pointed out earlier, the making of such “agreeable noises” would signify that an important voting bloc for their party required them. It would also mean that they were deliberately encouraging views they knew to be not only nutty and frivolous but detrimental to the legitimacy of the executive in the public eye, an executive who just happened to be a man of mixed race with a funny African name. Not to mention the nationwide distraction the birth certificate business proved to be.

While this topic was on the front burner, some conservatives did attempt to point to the 9/11 Truthers as the Democratic equivalent of the birthers. The truthers started on the fringe and they have remained there. You did not see Democratic politicians and apparatchiks playing footsie with them or openly encouraging them.

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).

The people who talk about facing the problem are part of the problem?

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It matters if people actually believe something or not. Someone who believes a racist fantasy is going to act in racist ways. Someone who just makes agreeable noises to get along is acting shamefully, but that doesn’t make them racist, or mean they’ll act it. (Then again, is birtherism always racism? The Tea Party would look for reasons to discredit a white Obama too. They’re no less kind, if less imaginative, about Reid and Pelosi). Most people do laugh at birthers. What mainstream pols take the birther position in mainstream forums? I think they’re going along to get along. Both sides court their fringes to gain power and keep it, and both sides play up the power and size of the other side’s fringes for political reasons as well.

“Mainstream” Republicans did flirt with the birther position in “mainstream forums.” As aurora and I pointed out earlier, the making of such “agreeable noises” would signify that an important voting bloc for their party required them. It would also mean that they were deliberately encouraging views they knew to be not only nutty and frivolous but detrimental to the legitimacy of the executive in the public eye, an executive who just happened to be a man of mixed race with a funny African name. Not to mention the nationwide distraction the birth certificate business proved to be.

While this topic was on the front burner, some conservatives did attempt to point to the 9/11 Truthers as the Democratic equivalent of the birthers. The truthers started on the fringe and they have remained there. You did not see Democratic politicians and apparatchiks playing footsie with them or openly encouraging them.

Some of you people spend a lot more time tracking birthers than I do. biggrin.png I'll take your word for it that some mainstream Republicans flirted with birtherism, but I've lost track of what that supposedly has to do with racism in ballet. Beyond that, I agree with what you say here.

The people who talk about facing the problem are part of the problem?

No. The problem is racism, and the question is how much of a problem it is. I didn't say talking about racism is racist.

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