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San Francisco Ballet and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion


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I thought I would create a category for discussion and updates on the subject of diversity, equity, and inclusion at SF Ballet, specifically. And so to start things off, here's an San Francisco Chronicle article on the subject, and a couple of SFB website 'official' statements too.

S.F. Ballet Seeks to Diversify, Make Amends for Racial Inequities
https://datebook.sfchronicle.com/dance/s-f-ballet-seeks-to-diversify-make-amends-for-racial-inequities

SFB: Where We Stand
https://www.sfballet.org/where-we-stand/

SFB: CELEBRATING MANY FORMS OF DIVERSITY
https://www.sfballet.org/discover/idea/

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Just focusing on the Joshua Kosman article, I would say that the quotes from the company's management are a "triumph" of consultant-speak.

This comment from Toni Wilson is particularly "amusing":

"Diversifying the workforce also becomes harder, Wilson said, when there are so few hiring decisions to be made."

The easy, obvious reply (which Joshua Kosman should have made) is why did the company make one of the few hires Julian Mackay, who embodies the traditional male danseur look? Now, the company might reply that they put out word they were looking for a male principal and they received no interest from black dancers. Impossible to know what was going on behind the scenes. And the company did hire Nikisha Fogo, who is of Jamaican and Swedish heritage. But the impression left by the Mackay hire is one of reverting to the mean. 

Helgi Tomasson's statement also caught my eye:

“I’ve always appreciated having dancers of color in the company because they bring their unique persona and background to S.F. Ballet and we are better for it."

When was this magical era where he worked with "dancers of color"? Take a look at the pictures in the 65th (1998) and 75th (2008) anniversary books and the Tomasson 30th (2015) anniversary program -- you don't see many faces of color peering out from the ranks.

Edited by miliosr
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2 hours ago, miliosr said:

The easy, obvious reply (which Joshua Kosman should have made) is why did the company make one of the few hires Julian Mackay, who embodies the traditional male danseur look?

Of course.

I've always thought it was ironic that the opera rear stages of the Opera House, as well as the school, open onto the Fillmore District which has been an important Black community at least since the forties. Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker and Thelonius Monk played at the nearby clubs. Yet there apparently has little if any outreach to that community. How difficult would it have been to have offered free afterschool "walk-in" classes (since the walk would have been short one) and a few scholarships to go with that. 

Also SFB's Nutcracker could have been an opportunity to represent the diversity of the city – the Fillmore, Chinatown, the Mission – but instead exclusively mirrors its Victorian-entranced white audience. 

Edited by Quiggin
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3 hours ago, Quiggin said:

Yet there apparently has little if any outreach to that community. How difficult would it have been to have offered free afterschool "walk-in" classes (since the walk would have been short one) and a few scholarships to go with that.

You may not know about the, now, 42 year old Dance in Schools & Communities program:

https://www.sfballet.org/school-education/k-12-programs/disc/

The problem is, kids that take part are not necessarily joining the school full time, and making it all the way up through the ranks and joining the company hierarchy. But hopefully they are embarking on a lifetime of dance association - growing the audience is at least as important as creating professional dancers.

The SFB School children that take part in Nutcracker are often of varying racial backgrounds, but again that doesn't mean the children "of color" specifically are making it into the company in large numbers. They're not.
The Black community in the Fillmore, or Bayview-Hunters Point for that matter, continue to not give a hoot about ballet.

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34 minutes ago, pherank said:

The Black community in the Fillmore, or Bayview-Hunters Point for that matter, continue to not give a hoot about ballet.

In the Cuban experience – and Villella's in New York – boys do take a keen interest in ballet when they see the complexity of the jumps and partnering. I was thinking of an open door after school program, like the Warriors do with basketball clinics. The Fillmore is right outside, so there's not a problem of getting there. I once showed a middle school in the Mission a tape of Stravinsky Violin Concerto and the boys who had been very restless and roudy suddenly became transfixed by the dancing. They wanted to see more when we left. As with the San Francisco Museum, the outreach has been half- and quarter- hearted.

The problem with San Francisco's Nutcracker is the scenario, not the casting.

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18 minutes ago, Quiggin said:

The problem with San Francisco's Nutcracker is the scenario, not the casting

If I understand what you mean by "scenario" - the host family would not have to be any particular race.

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7 hours ago, miliosr said:

Now, the company might reply that they put out word they were looking for a male principal and they received no interest from black dancers. Impossible to know what was going on behind the scenes. And the company did hire Nikisha Fogo, who is of Jamaican and Swedish heritage. But the impression left by the Mackay hire is one of reverting to the mean.

I do think that Tomasson is retiring in part because he recognizes that his time has come and gone, that society is making particular demands on dance AD's and he is no longer the best person for the job. He KNOWS that he isn't the person to tackle theses issues (especially given his age), since the AD is going to lots of energy and a very tough skin - every hire will now be under the microscope. The job is no longer primarily about the AD's artistic preferences. The community/society is asking that arts companies step up and demonstrate real diversity, inclusion and equality on a daily basis.

I have nothing against Julian MacKay myself, but I'm on the record saying that his hire was clearly a missed opportunity, and I still feel that way. I completely understand why Tomasson might want to hire him, but it didn't come off well given what was going on in society. SFB has a tendency to do everything quietly, out of the public eye, but I have to wonder if the organization had just made a public effort to recruit dancers of color things wouldn't look so off.

Speaking of talking the talk and walking the walk - has everyone seen the 'infamous' 1983 David Bowie MTV interview in which he questions the MTV rep about the lack of Black artists on the channel?

[this link is queued to the appropriate part of the interview]
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L3i53rjh-PA&t=661s

There's been no one at SFB willing to put themselves forward in such a manner. Ballet remains a very conservative world.

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15 hours ago, pherank said:

I do think that Tomasson is retiring in part because he recognizes that his time has come and gone, that society is making particular demands on dance AD's and he is no longer the best person for the job. He KNOWS that he isn't the person to tackle theses issues (especially given his age), since the AD is going to lots of energy and a very tough skin - every hire will now be under the microscope. The job is no longer primarily about the AD's artistic preferences. The community/society is asking that arts companies step up and demonstrate real diversity, inclusion and equality on a daily basis.

Agreed. Tomasson's primary legacy will be how he took a well-regarded national company and turned it into a ranking international company. But it has to be said that, in terms of diversifying the roster with black dancers (and black American dancers in particular), his directorship has been a failure.

I went back and looked at the program for the Harkness Ballet's 1969-70 season, of which Tomasson was a part before Rebekah Harkness disbanded that iteration of the company at the end of the season. It's jarring to see that the San Francisco Ballet of 2021 is no more diverse in terms of black dancers than the old Harkness was in 1970. And the Harkness had far fewer dancers.

All these mission statements are worthless if the new director cannot nurture black dancers to principal ballerina and danseur status. Ultimately, that will be how the director -- and the company -- will be judged.

15 hours ago, pherank said:

SFB has a tendency to do everything quietly, out of the public eye, but I have to wonder if the organization had just made a public effort to recruit dancers of color things wouldn't look so off.

There's been no one at SFB willing to put themselves forward in such a manner. Ballet remains a very conservative world.

The down side to a very public recruiting effort is that you get no takers, which in itself would be a commentary.

As for people putting themselves forward, look what happened with Miami City Ballet. A number of dancers came forward on Instagram with stories about how they were treated. But what changed? Did their complaints receive any traction in the dance press, let alone the mainstream press?

Edited by miliosr
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Posted (edited)
5 hours ago, miliosr said:

As for people putting themselves forward, look what happened with Miami City Ballet. A number of dancers came forward on Instagram with stories about how they were treated. But what changed? Did their complaints receive any traction in the dance press, let alone the mainstream press?

"If at first you don't succeed...try, try again." It's sometimes difficult to say what will find traction in the press. Misty Copeland created a space for herself (and her opinions) in the media where so many others failed to gain notice.

The media and general public are always going to focus on the 'public face' of these companies, but much like politics and industry, the real power lies with the boards, mega-donors/sponsors, unions, and less seen executive staff. And that's where things get real traditional and hierarchical. They are the enablers, and often the root of disinterest.

From the SF Chronicle article: "Diversifying the workforce also becomes harder, Wilson said, when there are so few hiring decisions to be made."
So the excuse is that they only had a couple of open positions? Funny how she bypasses the obvious question: why not raise the additional funds to create 5 more positions (for example) for dancers of color? During the pandemic, the audience donated $6 million to keep the company viable - well why not create another fund for diversification purposes?
Will no dancers want to come forward and apply for these 'special' positions? Maybe, but someone is going to have to swallow their pride and prove themselves. In fact, that's going to have to happen throughout this particular dance culture.

Edited by pherank
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11 minutes ago, Helene said:

Dancers of color have no pressure to prove themselves (almost always) better than their white peers now?

There's probably a better way to express this, but what I was thinking is that whenever a new dancer is hired they (for better or worse) have to prove themselves - not only to the AD and fellow company members, but to the audience and critics. A dancer that was hired specifically to diversify a company is in an even more difficult position. I don't envy them. Do they have to prove that they are "better than their white peers" in any case? Perhaps. Not with me, but I think that situation likely exists with the opposition (people who never wanted non-white dancers to be there in the first place).

Here's a question: are companies that slowly trickle in dancers of color - one or two a year - being smarter about the whole thing? Or are they not really taking care of the problem in any kind of decisive fashion, and essentially just stretching out the inevitable?

Edited by pherank
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Beyond a minimum competency, dancers are hired for some many reasons than being technically better or even more versatile than other dancers, and that's aside from needing certain "roles" to be filled -- tall partner, short partner, virtuoso dancer, strong contemporary dancer -- including personality (for better or worse), being romantically involved with an important dancer, coming from the company school, where not hiring from the company school stops dancers from attending, having a connection (teacher, former dancer, administration) in the company, etc.  But these things generally don't raise the same reservations, criticism, and lack of benefit-of-the-doubt as hiring dancers of color, who are assumed to have gotten their spot only because of their skin color or ethnic background.

Wealthy donors who can drive conservatism in companies out of the public eye can also enable inclusive hiring through their influence and checkbooks, so that the companies have the means to live up to progressive mission statements and Facebook memes.  Foundations can fund programs, artitic staff positions, and infrastructure projects, so that the companies can use the funds they currently spend on those to hire more dancers.

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24 minutes ago, Helene said:

Beyond a minimum competency, dancers are hired for some many reasons than being technically better or even more versatile than other dancers, and that's aside from needing certain "roles" to be filled -- tall partner, short partner, virtuoso dancer, strong contemporary dancer -- including personality (for better or worse), being romantically involved with an important dancer, coming from the company school, where not hiring from the company school stops dancers from attending, having a connection (teacher, former dancer, administration) in the company, etc.  But these things generally don't raise the same reservations, criticism, and lack of benefit-of-the-doubt as hiring dancers of color, who are assumed to have gotten their spot only because of their skin color or ethnic background.

Wealthy donors who can drive conservatism in companies out of the public eye can also enable inclusive hiring through their influence and checkbooks, so that the companies have the means to live up to progressive mission statements and Facebook memes.  Foundations can fund programs, artitic staff positions, and infrastructure projects, so that the companies can use the funds they currently spend on those to hire more dancers.

Absolutely. And so I think that at companies like SFB where there seem to be intractable issues, there's likely an issue (or disinterest) at the board and large donor level. The Dance in Schools & Communities program has been getting its funding for 42 years - you would think there would be 1 or more donors wanting their name on a diversification fund (with demands for real results occurring each year or no funds - and a public shaming).

Edited by pherank
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A donor might want to influence behind the scenes and not go public, but if they do, I think whether a donor wants a name on an inclusion project depends on the project.  A donor might not want to be a dancer sponsor, so that that dancer is tagged as a project, rather than as a professional. 

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I wonder if they would pull another Misty Copeland number. (And no...no need to get into a discussion about her....again. We all know all very well all the "in favor" or "against" theories that her controversial appointment as Principal generated)

I am a nurse, and in my hospital there is a hiring quota for nurses. Certain amount of LGBT and certain amount of certain minorities are to be hired. I wonder if they can start doing that in ballet as well....

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I appreciate you making this thread, @pherank.  It's good food for thought.

I do wonder if there are ways I could make a better impact on pushing for diversity - unfortunately I'm nowhere near the financial position needed to make an impact on hiring one diverse dancer, let alone anything more impactful than that!  

I do hope that hiring decisions to replace Tomasson are done with thought as to the future of ballet and diversity and inclusion.  Agree hiring MacKay was a missed opportunity, despite the videos I've seen of him that show a very talented dancer.

Slightly off topic, but after reading the Liam Scarlett thread and thinking about culture, diversity, respect, etc in the ballet world - it's clear to me it's all so complicated and ballet is fundamentally not a progressive artform (at least not in its current state).  But who's to say that can't change!  I think it'll take lots of work and lots of time to see real fundamental change.  However, it would be heartening to see large-donor-level interest in making an impact when it comes to diverse hiring.

1 minute ago, cubanmiamiboy said:

I am a nurse, and in my hospital there is a hiring quota for nurses. Certain amount of LGBT and certain amount of certain minorities are to be hired. I wonder if they can start doing that in ballet as well....

You know, it's interesting you bring that up - at my current place of work we've instituted the "Rooney Rule" where we have to interview at least one minority candidate for every role we have open.  I wonder if that's something that can be done in the ballet world.

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10 minutes ago, Phrenchphry11 said:

 

You know, it's interesting you bring that up - at my current place of work we've instituted the "Rooney Rule" where we have to interview at least one minority candidate for every role we have open.  I wonder if that's something that can be done in the ballet world.

And.... I'm both Latin and gay. And boy...would I hate if I would know that I'm part of that hiring quota and not because of my long nursing resume....🤨

But I guess I'll never know. How does the hiring part approaches that on your workplace...? After you tell the hired party that they are hired....do you tell them that they're part of a quota...?

Edited by cubanmiamiboy
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4 minutes ago, cubanmiamiboy said:

But I guess I'll never know. How does the hiring part approaches that on your workplace...? After you tell the hired party that they are hired....do you tell them that they're nosey of a quota...?

Ha, well there's no "quota" per se, we just have to interview at least one diverse candidate for any role.  So we could still continue to hire straight/white/etc candidate over the so-called "diverse" candidate, it's more about exposure to a broader pool of candidates.  It's taken from an NFL hiring policy: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rooney_Rule

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People get hired for all kinds of reasons that have little to do with their resume.  People get hired for their resume, when their resume does not really reflect their ability.  People don't get interviews because of the name on their resume, so anyone who is hired is not necessarily the best available candidate, but among those who are considered acceptable by the hiring manager.

Unless hiring is blind, whether it be a musician behind a screen who walking over a carpet that hid their gender, race, etc.  -- and, usually the final audition is not blind -- or purely based on professional test results, which most likely have their own implicit biases, the only way to know you weren't hired for reasons other than competence and merit is to hire yourself.  And if you hired yourself for other reasons, you at least know why.

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Depending on how you define "dancer of color", I would say that NYCB is in a better position than ABT, and certainly SFB. [My counts won't be 100% accurate]

NYCB: 2 principals, 0 Soloists and 8 Corps members

ABT: 4 dancers of color (and 1 apprentice)

SFB: 2 - with one now out long term with injury/surgery rehab. SFB keeps losing the few dancers of color that they have. A few years ago, I think there was 4 or 5 dancers of color. But only the dancers that came up through the school tend to hang around longer.

Interestingly, NYCB lags way behind SFB and ABT when it comes to dancers of Asian ancestry.
Dancers of Latin and Hispanic ancestry are present in each of these companies to some degree - that's one 'minority' group that isn't such a minority in ballet. SFB used to have even more Latin (especially Cuban) dancers.

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1 hour ago, Helene said:

People get hired for all kinds of reasons that have little to do with their resume.  People get hired for their resume, when their resume does not really reflect their ability.  People don't get interviews because of the name on their resume, so anyone who is hired is not necessarily the best available candidate, but among those who are considered acceptable by the hiring manager.

Unless hiring is blind, whether it be a musician behind a screen who walking over a carpet that hid their gender, race, etc.  -- and, usually the final audition is not blind -- or purely based on professional test results, which most likely have their own implicit biases, the only way to know you weren't hired for reasons other than competence and merit is to hire yourself.  And if you hired yourself for other reasons, you at least know why.

Got a little lost here. Sorry, Helene.😆

Nursing is a black and white thing. Hospitals don't hire new grads. They don't want newbies in a code blue. So that's why I wonder if things are getting more....relaxed, now that there's pressure from all types of new diversity boards or diversity managers.

As per ballet, well.... Swan Lake is not a code blue, and nobody's gonna die after seeing Misty and her 12 traveling fouettes. But hey....they definitely opened a whole Pandora's box.

Edited by cubanmiamiboy
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4 minutes ago, Helene said:

My friend who graduated from nursing school within the last decade worked in hospitals only, so color me confused. 

It is not a secret than certain chains of hospitals, like the one I work now, don't hire new grads. There are others than do...but not that many. Usually a nurse starts in a nursing home or home health setting to eventually jump to a hospital. With a couple of years on one's back, at least management can guess the nurse has been at least in one code blue.

All this, of course, if you depend only on your resume...and you don't have someone who gets you in-( as it was my case many years ago).

In other words, and to link this with the ballet discussion. I hope that, if a quota starts in SF ballet, that they somehow can pair said quota with real talent. Otherwise the whole thing will be a sad travesty.

Edited by cubanmiamiboy
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On 4/18/2021 at 7:52 PM, cubanmiamiboy said:

It is not a secret than certain chains of hospitals, like the one I work now, don't hire new grads. There are others than do...but not that many. Usually a nurse starts in a nursing home or home health setting to eventually jump to a hospital. With a couple of years on one's back, at least management can guess the nurse has been at least in one code blue.

All this, of course, if you depend only on your resume...and you don't have someone who gets you in-( as it was my case many years ago).

In other words, and to link this with the ballet discussion. I hope that, if a quota starts in SF ballet, that they somehow can pair said quota with real talent. Otherwise the whole thing will be a sad travesty.

Many nurses that I know both here on the West Coast and East Coast went from nursing school directly to hospital settings. Perhaps it's different depending on where you're located?

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