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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Ballet Diversity: Challenges for Dancers of Color


daffodilduds

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firedragon0800

Swantobe, thank you for articulating something I have struggled mightily with attempting to answer when I have seen this thread and others on BT4D. I am of mixed race, white, black and Native American. My dd is all that plus Asian. If people have an issue with that it is their issue, it isn't mine nor is it my dd's. Even posturing that an economic advantage is at play in casting circumstances is cringeworthy. I respect other people's perspective, but from where we stand in the room this is not ours, and I'd like to believe that we are standing pretty close to each other. Thanks again, Firedragon0800

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swantobe, it gives me hope as a parent of an aspiring ballet dancer to hear your incredulity at the idea of casting being effected by race/color! I applaud your optimism! LOL I will leave you with this thought......if race/color was not an issue (perceived or concrete) please explain to me why our famous pre-pro school found it necessary to hire a "diversity" officer whose sole job is to increase diversity at the school?

 

At the school level things are as level as they could be, but since our school is affiliated with a professional company, the ONLY performance opportunities for all but the advanced students are at the mercy of the Ballet mistress of the company. Who must bow to the aesthetic of the company.

 

Just sayin.......

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I can't speak for professional companies, but at least at a small pre-pro level, our studio's Nutcracker, this year, for what it's worth, celebrated its diversity. This casting was not lost on the students performing; they all had fabulous stories of how each party family came to be! It gave me a little hope for what opportunities there might be for these students as they move through their dance "careers" as I have recently read interviews with dancers such as Michaela de Prince and Precious Adams, who still seem conflicted about their place in the art.

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Buzzandmoo, if this is off-base, ignore it please, but I have a sense you were slightly offended by my post? I did not mean to imply in my post that race is not an issue at times and in some parts of the world or to minimise your experience at all. I am genuinely surprised (and horrified) to hear how it plays out at your daughter's school. I am genuinely interested to hear how all of this works in other parts of the world, because I see such a different picture here in ballet at the moment (at least in the professional context, especially in our city's ballet company). I live in a country where "diversity officers" are deemed necessary in many spheres of life, but I am pleased to see that in the arts, especially music and dance, including ballet, in my country, diversity is well-represented. My country is, however, different to yours, so I am simply trying to understand.

I just wanted to clarify in case I was correct in my guess that you were offended. Please ignore if I was incorrect.

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Lemlemish - thank you for those examples. They are very helpful in my quest to understand. I had not even thought of nutcracker families "needing" to be racially similar. I have never thought, when watching the nutcracker here, "how is it possible for those people to be "related"?" because well, it just never occurred to me to question it - all the families were "diverse" and I didn't actually notice because children are children and "parents" are "parents" and it didn't matter what "colour" they were.

 

I'm struggling to explain what I mean here but what I'm saying is that in the nutcrackers I have seen it doesn't seem to matter to the AD that dancers and children are racially similar. Because that's how it is here, it is difficult for me to imagine ways in which race might play a part in ballet, especially casting, which is why I asked the questions I did in my previous post.

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Swantobe, don't worry be happy! No offense here! This is a case of everyone's experience of walking on the planet Earth is completely different. I value every opinion/experience especially the ones contrary to my own......it's the only way to grow as an individual. Our experience at our pre-pro is unique. In fact, it didn't bother me as much until we experienced different schools at SI's. Now that I know outside our particular fishbowl there is more equality I find I am really irritated at our home school.

 

To add to lemlemish's example, and to reiterate daffodilduds, it can be super subtle. Our Nutcracker has diversity in the Party kids, BUT the lead roles go to caucasian (looking) children. And for the girls, if you are darker or more identifiably ethnic (features, coloring) you usually get roles that are boy roles (soldier, hoop/candycane) where those features are more hidden. My DD's first Nut was a local one and there were children of every color, shape and size, and it was a wonderful production.

 

Again, no offense taken :flowers:

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firedragon0800

Idk, hard for me to see this as an issue today as the number one rapper is white, and the number one golfer is black or Asian depending on your predilection.

 

This happened because they were the best, not because of a diversity program. Being the best and the journey to being the best, isn't that what it is all about?

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I think unfortunately in dance (as in acting and modeling) when there are specific requirements of physicality or aesthetics, color can come into play. For better or worse :(

 

The aspect of race and color that I find much more relevant is the concept of microaggression. Where well intentioned people do not realize that bias plays into their actions subtly day to day - over race, weight, gender, sexuality, etc.

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firedragon0800, sure one needs to be the best one can be somehow, but in some cases, obstacles are put in the way so that people cannot reach their full potential. If some dancers are encouraged or discouraged based on their ethnicity, it would be much harder to shine as "best" for those who are being disadvantaged.

Just because a few make it through the hardships that have nothing to do with their dancing, or some do not even encounter the hardships in their specific environment, it is still possible that on a larger scale, these things are happening and preventing talented people from reaching their full potential.

 

That number one rapper you mentioned sure had a hard life if one reads back on interviews and everything, yet he sort of "made it". However, undeniably those would not be very favourable circumstances and one would try to make them better, as one can imagine that many, many with similar upbringing do not "make it". And not just in the rap world. So yeah, he sort of made it, but what about all the others who get lost along the way? Can one just say they lacked something, or can one say something about the circumstances also played a major role?

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firedragon0800

Idk, how you can be an accomplished artist and or athlete without overcoming obstacles and adversity. Even if everyone were the same ethnic background, your body type, intelligence, socio-economic, facial features something would represent itself as an obstacle or adversity to overcome.

 

I personally believe it is something to embrace as you have to have some angst to express or channel your effort through to get to new places. Perhaps it happens in places that are the small tight corners of the world, and that is unfortunate. But there are always alternatives, you can move to some place where you are comfortable and feel welcome, or you can stay and challenge yourself and your views and find that perhaps all is not as it seems.

 

My view is vastly dissimilar maybe because of my background, experience or perhaps I am naive. If then that is the case I too need a diversity officer.

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I'd say, there are obstacles and there are obstacles. ;) Whenever it comes to ethnic discrimination or abuse, I don't see it as just another obstacle any longer. I haven't experienced or witnessed any of those myself. But it seems some do, though I cannot tell whether or not this is very wide-spread. Let's see what this thread will bring out.

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firedragon0800

Idk, I am immensely proud of the pre/pro school and attached company my dd is being exposed to and their record of diversity. Recognizing that there are two sides to every coin, the side I choose to see, is the one where a man with big grand ideas about a long storied and traditioned dance who dared to change it from within and encountered incredible odds both in his home country and in Europe. That seemingly against these amazing odds, he moved continents yet again and he changed the landscape for ballet significantly if not forever.

 

And to think that over the course of several wars to include a huge revolution where his ballet school was shuttered - for being too elitist -, McCarthyism the Red Scare, being Russian at the height of the Cold War building enormous success and taking purchase where he really had no real reason to succeed is reason enough to believe that one Giorgi Melitonovitch Balanchivadze faced a lot of what people describe on this thread as "challenges of color". I am certain that George Balanchine faced institutionalized bigotry, racism, isolationism, elitism whatever.

 

He just moved on or ignored it or worked around it, I teach my daughter to believe in yourself first and the rest will take care of itself thanks to Mr. B. she can.

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Okay, I just can't help myself! LOL firedragon, you are aware of the fact that Maria Tallchief was pressured at the start of her professional career to adopt a Russian stage name. This was because dancers/choreographers at that time in American history were more respected (people would buy tickets to see) if the public thought they were Russian. She didn't of course, but many other American dancers did.

 

Just sayin' :nixweiss:

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firedragon0800

Buzzandmoo, That wouldn't surprise me, nor would it surprise me that she or other young female dancers and even young male dancers might be subject to pressure to court favor with choreographers, wealthy patrons etc. Stuff we all know does, did and still can happen which frankly scares me more than the subject matter of this thread.

 

I respect your position and others as well, just wanted to offer a different perspective to a subject that is generally like the third rail in any discussion.

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LaFilleSylphide

Yes, but having a stage name wasn't particularly an obstacle Ms. Tallchief faced because she was Native American. Anglo-Saxon Alice Marks became Alicia Markova as well, and I believe that many dancers took Russian names at some period as it was quite haute.

 

I do see stereotypes about body in relation to ethnicity often, but whether they are challenges or just general "I can't achieve that glorified ballet-body" complaints that everyone has, I can't tell. I hear the Asian girls complain about how height and high insteps/arched feet are less common for their genetic pool, I hear black students complain about how they're more muscular or athletic, or their hips aren't shaped right, I hear white girls talk about weight - it seems that one of the most real challenges of ballet (which can be correlated to ethnicity as well) happens to be body type.

 

I'm sorry if other families are isolating or if other students are. That doesn't seem to be a ballet problem to me at all, it seems to be up to their individual nature. On a personal level, I spent time struggling in classes where I did not speak the language and did not look like anyone else, but was outcast only by technical aspects and trying to keep up in a 2nd language environment, whereas outside in my social life with my fellow students it was great! Amongst ballet dancers, the desire to share cultural backgrounds, foods, and experiences was very rich and one of the most memorable experiences for me. In class, not having arched feet, hyper extended knees and not being able to keep up because I couldn't understand the primary language was a huge problem - but it eventually got better because of the acceptance level of being in a multi-cultural aware group.

 

I think with casting, there will always be issues, but to hear about the diversity in other people's productions now is great! I also don't tend to notice rainbow families in Nutcrackers, but it is true... if old Clara is (insert skin color), then young Clara must be as well. I think the only time I have personally encountered exclusive casting was with a production of Alice in Wonderland. It was quite obvious that only ginger, blonde, and light sandy brown haired girls were being considered for the role of "Alice", but to be honest, no one at the school seemed to think anything of it. Maybe we should have been indignant, or perhaps I had just been too conditioned to believe that my raven black hair could never be Alice. I don't know!

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