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Ballet Diversity: Minorities in Ballet

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This would be great, Victoria, especially on the PTA forum.


Thank you, BW, for starting this thread!

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Mel Johnson

Yes, I do believe it would be a perfect place to discuss a very sensitive topic like this.


And just so I'm not misunderstood, I want to go on record as saying what I meant by my statement of "the only minority being the non-dancer" was that I would love to see the day when everybody sees a ballet dancer as just that, not African, Caucasian, Asian or other. We are very much a race/ethnicity all to ourselves. Color doesn't enter into it. "Are you good at it, or not?" That's the only determinant.

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Mel Johnson

I don't think so. That would defeat the whole purpose of the PTA board. After all, we have to have somewhere to talk behind your backs! :wink:

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I just have to butt in and say what an amazing thread this is to read on American Independence Day.

When I first arrived in the US, almost 2 years ago, I was astonished at the huge race barrier that still exists here 150 years after the Civil War and 50 years after the civil rights movement. It is so easy to do nothing about injustice or look at it only from a personal perspective and I applaud all of you who are actually doing what you can to change things.

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Mel Johnson

Just an Independence Day observation:


It takes a long time for some things to get as bad as they get, and the righting of a wrong can take an even longer time, but as long as people of true spirit and good character recognize the right and strive together toward it, things are on the mend.

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amitava--yes all minorities should weigh in on the discussion.  However, I would like to make sure that in our comparisons, we do compare apples to apples.  I get an overall sense from your comments that we are comparing wealthy Caucasians to unwealthy minorities.  And in reality, I think our answers lie in comparing middle class Caucasians to middle class minorities or Wealthy minorities to wealthy Caucasians.  In our area, the underpriviledged dancers are not enrolling for ballet regardless of color or ethnicity.  Let's be careful not to stereotype our minorities into the "unexposed" category. 


"we are comparing wealthy Caucasians to unwealthy minorities". Sorry about the confusion. I realize that the context may have mixed issues. As a clarification, I am requesting answers for some of my questions in this response - not accusing...just in case the tone is not clear! :shrug:


The exposure/appreciation issue for ballet is probably across the board (majority or minority), primarily due to the cultural foundations/background. As I indicated there are some exceptions where Ballet is taught and appreciated well - eg. China/Japan/Korea. Same with taking Ballet/dance as a career. Usually first generation immigrants/residents from Asia/Middle East, Africa try to keep their values/experiences similar to those they are familiar with. The next few generations are more open to osmosis of the culture they are surrounded by. From the few first generation of immigrant minority dance students I have met, most had started their training in the country they were born in. Dance is not well regarded as a career. Some cultures also relate it with sexual connotations. Any observations from teachers/studios regarding new students parents backgrounds? Are most of the parent who enroll their children first generation immigrants/residents or have been born in the USA?


"I get an overall sense from your comments that we are comparing wealthy Caucasians to unwealthy minorities". That was not intended. My apologies. Wealth on certain level is difficult to classify. A homeless person, vs. the "poor", vs. the "middle class", vs. "wealthy" are somewhat relative terms. Yes affording attending performances and training children is an expensive affair for the rich to the poor. But I think the more important issue/question to address is whether the parents/adults feel of all socio-economic that their children have a future in Ballet. This of course brings up a point as to why do children/parents (of the majority or minority) wish their children take up ballet. Is it for the sake of activity, appreciating dance, preparation for a career, making up for lost dreams? Do minorities vs. Caucasians view the objectives differently? The same question applies to exposure/appreciation.


Ballet and other classical arts usually (and mostly accurately I would say) stereotyped as an "elitist" form of art - whether it be for social, economical, intellectual reasons. Whether this is good or bad is not the issue, but how many people (and which people) can relate to it or support it. It is interesting to note that the Broadway shows, Riverdance, and Cirque tickets are more or equally expensive as Ballet. Yet, they have a much larger following from all walks of life.


"In our area, the underpriviledged dancers are not enrolling for ballet regardless of color or ethnicity."

By the way, since the enrollment issue has popped up. I get the impression that Ballet is more popular - in terms of performances, career, number of enrolled students in the USA, etc... than say 50-75 years ago. This is more true in case of the minorities it seems. This is the impression I have from reading and becoming exposed to the world of dance in the past few years. Is my impression inaccurate? If it is accurate, then what is the time frame that we are talking in regards to the drop in majority/minority enrollment? There are several factors that cause an ebb and flow in trends. Is this just a temporary (perceived or real) dip?


"I think our answers lie in comparing middle class Caucasians to middle class minorities or Wealthy minorities to wealthy Caucasians." I do admit making a mistake in the way I haphazardly tried to make points and caused confusion... but I think this subdivided comparisons will make things even more complicated.

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The thing is, I'm wondering if we really need a separate forum. Why can't these things be discussed here? Or, at least on the PTA forum, which would probably be better.


I look at the suggestion for a SEPARATE forum for these issues and wonder if people can see the continued unconscious motivation to make differences. The problem with racial differences is people don't understand. Mother of 5 mentioned her AA daughter who has larger thighs. How does she respond to her daughter? How do the other children in her class understand why her daughter has a difference if we make an effort to keep the reasons away from the very people who need to understand? Until the other children are told there is genetics involved, they will go on thinking it is a weight issue. Until you openly discuss AA hair and how to care for it, maybe the caucasian children will feel they can't help with that type of hair and won't feel they can jump in when others need assistance. I don't think hiding topics like these are wise. Placing them in a parents forum is not going to help the children on these boards understand if they don't have the explainations. Sylphide has already shown an interest in such topics and in a round about way has been told if the topics are placed in the parents forum, she cannot participate....they are not something a child would need to be concerned with. What message does that send to the youth of today and how will that effect the future....as a whole and in the world of ballet ....if this whole thread is about trying to knock down the wall of race? Education and knowledge is they key. If you try to hide something, those it is being hid from will wonder what is so wrong with being different.

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Two things:


1. I have a copy of that issue of Dance Mag (June? "The Race Issue") free to a good home. PM me.


2. As momof3 says, it really is culture/income (not even just income), which can be correlated with race but isn't quite the same thing.


Typically, ballet study beyond the once-or-twice-a-week level requires significant inputs of some combination of time, effort, and money from an adult. That input has to be both possible and seen as worth any sacrifices that might be made, and there are plenty of households where this just isn't the case, and not just at the bottom of the scale.


Some families (as has been discussed in the context of un-encouraging comments from friends and relatives) just think dance is frivolous, and others just can't or won't expend that level of effort for any extracurricular activity. My own parents certainly fell into this category, and it wasn't for lack of money or education so much as a sense of what was "appropriate" for kids. (Of course, this was also in the olden days when kids spent the summer doing nothing and riding around in the back-back of the station wagon.)


All that said, of course, any steps that broaden everybody's horizons are a good thing.

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Mel Johnson

Let me rethink my original position: I can see now where this very broad and important issue needs airing in the bright light of day. It needs maximum visibility and the ability of all to participate in the discussion. Probably the general topic needs exposure here. Specific cases can be discussed at the PTA level.

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doing nothing and riding around in the back-back of the station wagon.)

Hey! Riding in the back-back wasn't doing nothing! That was an adventure! (see how small the world is? It was the back-back for us in the dark ages too)


amitava--thanks for your replies. And certainly, no offense taken to anything you posted. It was just important to point out and for us to remember.


Gremlin--you've posed some very good questions about the forum issue.


For the record, I would like to see this topic remain here for general viewing. It has been a wonderful topic with wonderful discussion. As Mel has stated, if there is a specific question that needs to be out of the limelight then bring it up in the PTA forum. Otherwise, education breaks down barriers.


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Maybe this issue is one that is changing with the years, and hopefully faster than we think. In both studios my daughter attends, in the teen group, both pre-pro and recreational, there are almost exclusively white kids. In the middle age group, 10-14, there is an equal division, and in the creative movement through age 10, there are fewer white kids than minority kids. Income doesn't seem to be a factor. We see this a lot at competitions too. I think it helps that half the teachers are minorities. I also want to throw in a thought, that might not be relevant, this younger age group has many, many times the number of fathers who transport to dance, do hair, come to parent viewing day, etc. Perhaps getting both parents involved in dance rather than it being seen as a "mom only" thing, and the growing trend (thank goodness!) of recognizing dance as an athletic activity, is decreasing the view of ballet as a fifi thing.

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I just wanted to say that I agree with Gremlin. This thread is far too important to be limited to just Parents or PTA or any one group. It may well be that some of our younger posters will have somethng important to say on this issue.


That being said, I am hopeful that the barriers are beginning to come down and that people will be able to dance based on their dancing abilities. Carlos Acosta is a black Cuban superstar. As well, companies such as the Pennsylvania Ballet have a number of talented dancers who are people of color.


So, I hope the administrators will not put this important topic off to a board where it will not be available to the general ballet alert readers and posters.

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Just a comment from a white Brit - but one who's suffered bits of racism/xenophobia as a migrant - I think it was Patricia Williams (US Law prtofessor) in her wonderful Reith Lectures in the UK in 1996/97 who observed that one of the privileges of being white is that you don't have to think about race (or you might think ou don't). So any discussion which encourages white (or "majority") people to see themeslves implicated in apparently "minority" issues, is a good thing, it seems to me. Perhaps a plea to keep this an open forum ...

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Mel, I appreciate your willingness to rethink your position regarding where discussions like this should be. :lol:


I can understand the position of some that a topic (as an example) with the sensitive nature of body issues dealing with race should be on a restricted forum, but I agree with others that the most overall good will come from discussing these kinds of things on Crosstalk where people from all areas can read, post, and learn. Some individual questions may still be more appropriate on a closed forum such as PTA, but I don't think the members of that group will have any problems deciding which questions belong there.

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  • Momof3darlings changed the title to Ballet Diversity: Minorities in Ballet


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