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Ballet Diversity: Challenges for Dancers of Color


daffodilduds

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daffodilduds

Happy New Year!

 

Is there a place to discuss challenges that children of color may go through in ballet, but from a parent's standpoint? I would love to talk with someone who has BTDT (unfortunately) to learn how we can work through issues, deal with stress, and stay sane at the same time.

 

Thanks in advance!

 

*by moderator-I have moved this post and the posts that followed into their own thread. Please feel free to discuss your challenges and solutions you have come across. Please, however, remember that even though our common bond is "parent of dancer of color", we all still come from different backgrounds, attend different dance schools and may even have different views on the same topic.

 

We are to use the thread to get help, find common friends, gain knowledge and beliefs but never to challenge another because they feel differently on the same issue.

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I find it helpful to build a team of people that I can reach out to that understand my dd, our family dynamic, and the resources available in my community. Then I have dance Parents that are connection points for specific issues and they get the broader issues. I call it Team (dd's name)! I absolutely love BT4D for my research on specific challenges like which Trainee program, college option, or SÍ to focus on that fits her long term and short term goals.

I would be delighted to share my contact information if that is appropriate.

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daffodilduds

Thanks for your response, ayhawki. I don't have much in the way of a 'team' right now, but I love this idea. I would be open to talking with you more off-list, but I don't have PM privileges yet (and I think it'll be a long way before I get them since I read more than I post). Can we share email addresses on the board?

 

I'll be a little more open about our situation without saying too much, iykwim. I have found it difficult to connect IRL with other mothers of color at my daughter's dance school because there are few of us and we just don't cross paths often. We are not an extroverted family and my daughter is quite shy and reserved, so it's even more of a challenge to make those necessary connections. Right now I wonder if we are missing opportunities, and small occurrences at her school show me that something is lacking. Also, when do I speak up? How do I speak up without harm coming to my daughter?

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There are no other dancers of color at my daughter's school (at her level or above) so I have never been able to make that type of connection either. DD is fortunate to have a biracial teacher, though, who is a role model to her.

 

I think it would be really great to have IRL connections who understand the issues (or at least don't insist there IS NO issue).

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I have a vague memory of there being a thread on here somewhere concerning student dancers of color but now I can't find it. Mods, can we break this off into a separate discussion? Or is it ok to keep it here? And are people ok with including "of color" or should it be more focused on African American dancers? I'm thinking there is some overlapp, but although my Dd is not Caucasian, she is not an African American dancer, and I don't want to overstep.

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@lemiemish take a look at the earlier postings on Minorities in Ballet. Great discussion on the board.

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Momof3darlings

There have in the past been several different separate threads which discussed specific issues that are the reasons the Minorities in Ballet thread and this one came to be. There is not a separate section, but if you post questions or concerns, like minded people will follow. We have in the past discussed hair, tights and shoe colors, body type when mentioned by other teachers, in other threads. They just don't say Minority in the titles so are hard to search. But those were posts that members started to simply ask the question and gain help. Please feel free to add a new thread on Cross Talk in the time it will take me to discuss the specific question with the moderating team. It will take me a day or so as I am dealing with a family emergency this week and will not have time to interact much until after Friday. So please do start a thread and ask whatever you need help with in the meantime.

 

Many of us have simply developed pm relationships with others because of those interactions and that has become our internet support group. But those can't easily develop if there aren't threads to bring us back together so you even know who the other members of color on here are.

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Momof3darlings

I will also mention that some of the other topics we've had relating to issues of Dancers of Color or Parent's of Dancers of Color have taken place on our Private PTA board so you are not able to see them daffodil. You can ask to be admitted once you have 30+ posts and have been here more than a month or so. However, in order to get to that 30 posts you do have to not just read here but participate. There have been discussions on hair, different body types/comments, tights/shoes, etc.

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daffodilduds

Thank you for making this a new thread!

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daffodilduds

Ok, I just thought of what is the biggest challenge for me as a parent of color, and it's that I'll never ever know if issues occur because of discrimination or if it's something unrelated. This is something that comes up in everyday life, but it's something that's particularly bothering me right now. I want to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, but I know from my own personal life that discrimination is rampant and super subtle, but wow, it hurts even more when it could be directed at your own child.

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LaFilleSylphide

As a dancer and teacher of color, and having been with a school where the faculty was (and still is) multi-ethnic (regardless of skin color), I wonder if I won't be thrown to the sharks for saying that I haven't necessarily had any personal encounter with this kind of discrimination amongst students. I think ballet dancers now come from so many corners of the globe that discriminating against a student/child for being a different skin color within the classroom isn't as common as one might think. Of course, as the student enters the professional realm, that may be a different story (white swans and body type, etc.). Worse is what a student may go through in a personal sphere, ie. interacting with other students parents.

 

In the States and in much of Europe, young students being non-white didn't seem to alter status difference in the classroom amongst their peers or in the eyes of their teachers - however, I did have a teacher from South America who used to recall memories of preferential treatment given to lighter-skin color in his childhood schools, and how it was a relief to be recruited into schools in other countries where skin color was not even a factor. I don't know, that's just my personal experience.

If anyone's child is being mistreated or marginalized because of their skin color or ethnic background, then it's simply wrong. Period. Ballet should not be about that by any means. Outside of the classroom, in the lobby, at the social events surrounding the learning environment... that is a wild and anarchical world in and of itself.

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When to say something and when to just stand by is the hardest challenge for me as well. We are always the odd man out. I would love to say that in 2014, in the great metropolis we call home that "color" (race) doesn't dictate but it does. Our pre-pro has every conceivable race but, socially lines are drawn by race. Over the years I have collected a group of parent friends and jokingly last year one of the fathers looked around at us and said "hey, we're the mutt table" One could argue that we are drawn together by mutual experience and the desire to share similar lives but the sad truth is we just don't fit. We are all in mixed race relationships and our kids collectively are the most "ethnic" at the school. You are completely right daffodilduds, it is super subtle. I have had parents who initially are very friendly, then after seeing my DD, asking the inevitable "is she adopted?" question, in future are friendly but distant.

 

I talk about it privately with my DD (12), but generally I follow her lead. From the beginning I stressed to her that ballet is show business, and as such she will be judged by her appearance every single time and that talent comes second. Now that she is in middle school, we talk frankly about race, ballet and the future. She has already seen how girls of color/ethnic looking are never picked for roles with the company that place them front and center. Let me add that my DD is not only half Chinese but has a darker skin tone (personally I would kill for her coloring! LOL) and she has seen "lighter" skin tones get picked time after time. Thankfully, she takes this on as a challenge not an impediment. I'd like to think our children will be the pioneers to change ballet for the better.

 

LaFilleSylphide, in the classroom there is no issue but casting...... :nixweiss:

 

As an aside, has anyone else seen that casting for boys in ballet is more color blind? My DD has noticed this for us and I have to agree with her.

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Yes; I agree that male dancers of color seem to have made greater strides in the ballet world, including in the class room. I have wondered whether it is color blindness as stated above, the number of male dancers versus females, and/or the percent of "ethnic" men participating in ballet.

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To be honest, I am surprised and saddened that this thread has to exist. I come from a country where race has been and certainly still is an issue, but I have seen how this is slowly but surely changing in the ballet world here, at least the professional one. My country was one of the first to send black dancers to the Prix de Lausanne (is black a non-pc term, by the way? I am not sure how else to put it as these dancers are not American and thus not African-Americans yet saying "African" is misleading because Africa actually denotes a very large region, not an ethnic group). At least in my local company, there are always "black swans" among the white swans, snow flakes come in all colours and "white scenes" are always more colourful than the name might imply. And it's wonderful.

I am not saying everything is perfect when it comes to ethnicities in ballet here but changes have been and are being made.

 

I hope it is okay for me to ask this, but I am curious and would like to understand: what exactly are the challenges facing "dancers of color"? How, and why, are casting decisions affected (this point is alluded to above), especially if students are already in elite schools and thus ability is not necessarily the reason for exclusion from casting? This makes no sense to me. :nixweiss: Yes, I understand there is often the desire to make everyone look the same in a corps, but if one lives in a multi-racial society...Perhaps it is simply me, but when watching a performance my eye is never drawn to the dancer or dancers who may be in the ethnic minority in the corps that night. As for solo parts, I see no reason whatsoever for ethnicity to play a role in casting.

In the recreational ballet studio where I attend classes, I have seen favouritism for certain students, but never based on race and I have never seen children given different parts or excluded from parts because of skin colour.

 

I have, however, heard stereotypes expressed when it comes to certain ethnicities in ballet, but this has only ever applied to feet or body type, and usually in relation to a specific dancer. This is unfortunate, but there are many dancers who are proving these stereotypes wrong.

 

Buzzandmoo, I do not wish to single out your dd or make you reveal things about her that may identify her, but how does being half-Chinese make her different (I am at this moment assuming she is half-Chinese, half-Caucasian, as much as one can divide these things by halves anyway :yucky:)? I see "Asian" dancers in well-known schools and companies all over the world so I am confused as to why this is something which has resulted in her being seen as "different". Is it because of the particular school and company with which you deal most of the time wants a very particular look?

 

I apologise if any of my questions are out of line. I am genuinely wishing to educate myself here.

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I'm not Buzzandmoo, but I can provide a concrete example. Let's say you attend a company affiliated school and wish to be in Nutcracker. If the company dancers who are playing the parents are white, the AD may wish the children to be racially similar. There are some ballets where children are cast as the younger versions of professional dancers. If the principal dancers are white, it's unlikely that dancers of color would be cast to play the younger versions. This aspect is not so different from being blond in a sea of brown haired dancers, but there are also other elements as well. I have heard comments like - "we'll, Juliet has a certain look...." Implying that a dancer who isn't white could not be cast as Juliette.

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