Jump to content
Ballet Talk for Dancers

Ballet Diversity: Minorities in Ballet


Recommended Posts

Guest Saji

while at work today, Loiue Armstrong's rendition of "What a Wonderful World" came on and my thoughts were redirected to this discussion. Here's what my mind fantisized.....That this discussion on this forum gave birth to a production in Washington, DC and New York, with a message that showed the world, just how wonderful our world is!

Link to post
  • Replies 260
  • Created
  • Last Reply
danceintheblood

Australia is a very white society - most of our immigrants are European and our own Aboriginal population has pretty much been decimated and disenfranchised. A recent survey showed that the majority of Australians had never met an Aboriginal person. How sad is that!

 

My sister lived in Japan for many years and while there met and married an African American with whom she had two children. My sister is very white, her adorable children very black. She is asked on occasion, by shopkeepers etc, where the children come from - as they assume they must be adopted. The youngest, aged five, is very musical and has been entranced by ballet since she was three - looking up to my dd who is a devoted ballet student. This year my neice began pre-ballet classes. My aunt, who was once a professional dancer, was told of this and immediately commented "well, the Australian Ballet will never employ a chocolate drop".

 

Well, here was evidence of discrimination on my doorstep, at a number of levels. The implication was, it seemed to me, why start her on a path which will have no future, based on nothing more than the colour of her skin. From my perspective, this is a complete fallacy but it did open my eyes to the world in which my neice and nephew live - and their world will be different to mine. As an early poster said, I have never had to consider the colour of my skin because I am part of the white majority.

 

Barriers based on colour exist at every level of our western society, so why would this not also be the case in the ballet world? It is our responsibility to counteract this prejudice through our own personal thoughts and actions.

Link to post

I once asked a very good friend of mine if the color of her skin was something she was always aware of. She responded, "As soon as I walk out the front door in the morning, I'm aware of my color". I wonder if my dd feels like this.

 

The only time I can remember thinking, "Um, I'm white, and they're all staring at me" is a couple months ago when I took dd to a neighborhood beauty salon for ethnic hair. As uncomfortable as I was, being stared at, I think it's important for dd to go to places like this so she can see that she is perfectly normal, her hair is normal, her beautiful skin color is normal.

Link to post

I am pleased this thread has generated so many thoughtful posts. As amitava mentioned in an early post, certain issues are more a function of skin-color versus minority status. A few months ago a friend who has a DD that is 5’10” was distressed at the lack of opportunities available for tall ballet dancers, and was considering encouraging her DD to quit. Her DD’s AD explained the problem as having to be “good enough” to be a soloist -because she was too tall for the corp. I think this is the same problem dark-skin minorities face. I do not think it’s a matter of racism, but more a function of what ADs believe to be artistically pleasing. A number of ADs feel a dancer that is too tall, too short, or too dark just does not fit into the corp.

 

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. 

When I first enrolled DD in ballet she was 3.5 y/o. There was dance studio in the same building as DD’s Montessori school, which offered a creative ballet class and a tap class. I had two reasons for enrolling DD in ballet. I wanted her to have good posture (unlike me) and to give her an early exposure to classical musical – which I was told increases intellect.

 

Dancer1soccer1, at your DD’s studio are the teenage AA dancers leaving ballet for serious sports? Their non-dancer peers and family may be encouraging sports over ballet. Also, some dancers only take ballet long enough to develop the technique they need for competitive jazz. Is this the case?

Link to post
Momof3darlings
having to be “good enough” to be a soloist -because she was too tall for the corp. I think this is the same problem dark-skin minorities face. I do not think it’s a matter of racism, but more a function of what ADs believe to be artistically pleasing.

 

I do, respectfully, see a difference. Yes, the AD's have a choice, but that tall dancer can dig deep, work harder and possibly enter as a soloist. I can think of a few professionals who have done just that. :D That minority dancer who the AD feels doesn't fit because of skin color can't go home to the studio and work harder to remove their skin color. Yes, if the AD feels it is artistically unpleasing to have a dark willi or a dark snowflake (they obviously haven't seen NYC snow), then it within their choice, although a shallow choice. However, dancers can be hired and cast to avoid those parts with just a little thought process. (although I don't see the need) And this really is meant in a respectful way, I just differ on opinion.

 

motherof5--you can bet, if your child has not dealt with knowing how skin color affects them, they will. And yes, they will come to know that "all they have to do is open their door", if she has not already. You are so correct that it is important for you DD to go to the places you mention for the reasons you mentioned. It is also important for you to continue to go to those places with her. Your discomfort, was unfortunate. You should not have been made to feel that way. However, by doing so, your eyes were opened in a way to help make your DD understand that poor behavior has no color boundaries.

 

It is our responsibility to counteract this prejudice through our own personal thoughts and actions.

Thank you danceintheblood!

 

vj

Link to post
Mrs. Stahlbaum

Click here for a great article from the April 1999 Dance Magazine about Lauren Anderson of Houston Ballet.

Link to post
Yes, the AD's have a choice, but that tall dancer can dig deep, work harder and possibly enter as a soloist......  That minority dancer who the AD feels doesn't fit because of skin color can't go home to the studio and work harder to remove their skin color.  Yes, if the AD feels it is artistically unpleasing to have a dark willi or a dark snowflake (they obviously haven't seen NYC snow), then it within their choice, although a shallow choice.  However, dancers can be hired and cast to avoid those parts with just a little thought process.  (although I don't see the need) And this really is meant in a respectful way, I just differ on opinion.

Momof3darlings, you are right -and this is exactly why parents of teenage AA female dancers discourage their daughters pursing a career in classical ballet. I still don’t think the ADs view themselves as insensitive to race because they have other minorities (fairer-skin) in their company and even in their corps and some may have dark-skin male dancers too.

Link to post
calamitous

I want to thank everyone who has participated in this forum and those who are reading but may feel they have nothing directly to contribute. As an academic, who studies urban schools and the achievement gap(s) in US public education, this has been a most fascinating thread. Oh if I could just use it for my research!!! But I won't.

 

As a white parent of an adopted AA child ithis thread has been a comfort, in some ways. I believe the more public conversations about race that can take place the better. It is something I find whites for the most part are very uncomfortable speaking about, yet is a pervasive part of our familys' life. As Momof 3 said, (and I hope I am interpreting this correctly) "all they have to do is open their door." This has been something it has taken experience to learn.

 

As a family we had this experience brought to my our attention when we were the minority. For almost 3 years, when DD was 3 -6 and not dancing, we lived in newly independent Namibia (Southern Africa) in a small northern town. We were one of the few white families. DD blended in perfectly, but when Dh and I would meet new people, we had to constantly explain and defend ourselves. Until three years previously, whites had been at war with and repressing the black Namibian population. I had never before had the experience of meeting people for the first time and having them impose on to me a set of beliefs on me, and assume that they would know things about me because of my skin color. A very uncomfortable and frustrating feeling.

This is how DD feels when she is in the shopping mall with me and asked "do you have a parent here with you, if not you should leave or buy something."

 

Sorry if this is way off the dance topic, but I can't believe that in the US (I can't speak to other places) race and racism do not play a part in ballet and the arts, since for good and bad it is part of how we (everyone) have constructed our society and our social networks.

But truthful conversation in which people can share and hear others experiences and beliefs are a necessary step to reconstructing our society. (IMO)

Link to post
Momof3darlings

Thanks thedriver. I think we agree? (not that it matters in a good discussion) When I responded, I was mostly referring to one statement in your post:

 

I do not think it’s a matter of racism, but more a function of what ADs believe to be artistically pleasing.

 

What I was disagreeing with was this statement. I do believe it is subtle racism, disguised as "artistically pleasing". As someone earlier stated, it should be no more an issue than that one redhead.

 

Respectfully as always,

 

 

vj

Link to post

Momof3, I agree it is a subtle form of racism, disguised. Another way an AD can subtly disguise their own prejudices is by stating, "the community just would not accept it," whether that is a valid statement or not. In my own experiences, it is most often not a valid statement, and even if it were, why not be the first to challenge it? Aren't the arts supposed to challenge our minds and make us think a little bit? I don't notice whether a dancer (either in the corps or a principal) is a person of color any more than I would notice if they had red hair, what I do notice is their dancing and stage presence. I feel most ballet patrons would very quickly get to the point where they didn't see or think of a particular snowflake (since this example was used previously) as a "minority dancer" but simply as a "dancer" if given half a chance.

Link to post

My daughter had the good fortune to start at a studio with many cultures. She shared the Clara part with an African American girl. The Party Parents were of mixed races. No one cared and I thought that it was great. As my DD moved along she ended up at a studio where most were of one race, most likely due to location. It seems odd to her to be in a place of pretty much one race after having gone to a large high school and now college that reflects our area's diverse population. In high school she had the privelige of meeting many girls and boys from many cultures and was able to share her love of ballet with them and they the dances of their cultures. When she went to her SI she found out where all of the blonde and blue-eyed kids live and missed her rainbow home. Her latest experience at an international competition introduced her to an even more diverse population. It is so wonderful how the arts bring us together. I am very shocked that there is still so much prejudice in this world.

Link to post

As a redhead, I have to say that I always notice the redhead dancers. And I know that my African American friends always point out the black dancers.

 

There's nothing wrong with noticing a dancer due to race, hair color, great feet, long legs, whatever... There's always girls who stand out in the corps simply by being "better" than the other ones. The ones you know will get promoted to soloist soon.

 

Every one is different. To me, that's part of the fun of watching a corps. Picking out the dancers. It's a group of human beings dancing and breathing together. I think that's why I like the style at NYCB so much. It's more, I don't know, NATURAL looking than some other companies.

 

Other people hate the style, think it's sloppy, and want to see something more "classical" and homogenous. Good thing there's so many different companies to choose from.

 

I have no point to make, just wanted to contribute how I personally feel about watching a corps de ballet.

 

*edited to add

I WILL say though, that the two girls I spend most of my free time with are black. I know that they believe that's it's harder to "make it" in the dance world. Whether or not this is an unfounded perception, or it's true, I do not know. But I know that they feel this way :) .

Link to post

Rereading my post above, I didn't express myself well at all. Actually, I do notice things like red hair, skin color, body type, etc., but I don't use these qualities to define the dancer in my mind like I do the quality of their dancing, their expressiveness (adding that one), and their stage presence. Other physical attributes like good feet and long legs lie somewhere in between (at least for me.) I may be naive--and some have called me that--but I would like to think most people who attend ballet performances would feel similarly.

 

I agree with Lampwick in that I don't usually feel the corps of a company need have as much of a homogenous feel as some of the big companies strive for. (Lampwick, speaking of redheads, I've always had a preference for them, and ended up marrying one!)

Link to post

Balletmom, I am very overly literal sometimes. You expressed yourself fine :lol:

Link to post

lampwick's post reminded me of something a (non-dancer) friend said to me many years ago. I was complaining about the homogeneous look of a production of the Nutcracker, where the snowflakes wore white wigs. At the time, the forced conformity bothered me. My friend wisely pointed out that every snowflake is unique, referring to the scientific saying.

 

This simple statement resolved some of my conflicting feelings about ballet at the time. Even with the illusion of similarity, the uniqueness of each individual is present. I came to realize that the ensemble and the individual existed at the same time, and did not have to cancel each other out. You can lean back and watch a stage full of 30 swirling snowflakes, appreciating the effect of their combined presence. You can also focus on specific dancers and enjoy their uniqueness. As an audience member, there are many ways you can choose to view a performance. This is one of the pleasures of art.

 

To bring this back to the race issue, from my perspective as an audience member, skin color is another variable along with hair color, height, and build. You can focus on it or not. Momof3darlings mentioned the issue of casting dark-skinned willis and snowflakes. Human beings, regardless of skin tone, do not really look like ghosts or snow. The drama and illusion of theater allow us to see dancers as these characters. This comes from their talent as performers, not from specific physical characteristics.

 

I guess my point is, a dark-skinned dancer wearing a white wig pretending to be a snowflake is just as fanciful as a pale-skinned dancer wearing a white wig pretending to be a snowflake.

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

Archived

This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.


×
×
  • Create New...