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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Ballet Diversity: Challenges for Dancers of Color


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Wow! Away for a day or so handling that family issue and you all have had a wonderful discussion. Thank you!


In the interest of streamlining and keeping on a focused topic instead of a broad one, let's think of the topic this way. This will give me a way to see what other offshoot topics we need to have and how we can discuss to allow all ethnicities to address the issues that are specific to their culture. So.......in that interest of streamlining, what are specific challenges you and your dancer have had in ballet (specifically) that have made you question whether it was a race issue or not. Those specific issues, will help us understand what the issues are.


For instance, swantobe asked: (paraphrased) why it was an issue that the Parents in Nutz were African American and the children not. It was not a problem to me at all or to this AD, thankfully. I did not mean to imply that it was. However, I have known situations where an AD might have been afraid what ticket buyers would have thought to see that and would have either had that family not have children OR not cast those dancers as parents.


Again, thank you for the discussion. It is a good one. But streamlining will help us for sure.

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@LaFilleSylphide, I agree 100%. My point was that there can be unique people that create issues, and that's fine. Not blaming ballet at all. Our solution has been to learn from the issue. It's also important to surround yourselves with information and positive resources. But most importantly, act swiftly when you clearly can see there are concrete issues. Some issues are small enough and you can move around them, but if its big its okay to review your options.


I agree with you that one solution is to make it affordable. We are delighted to have dd with a company that does just that and expanding the involvement to those that normally would not study ballet. Plus bringing dancers that look like her to the classroom. I would be delighted to share a best practice or two. Of course on the right thread.


Another issue my dd deals with is living between the worlds of skin tone versus pink shoes and tights. Is it okay for a dancer of color to break open the skin tone shoes at an audition. Right now we have to make sure we have both (expensive...), and then there's the issue of getting the color right. In my mind there are many issues.

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Sorry @Momof3darlings... I started my post before you posted, and hit send after you posted the above. Hope the above is in line with your guidance.

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No problem ayhawki,you were right on target and those specifics including the best practices is exactly where I wanted us to go.


I agree with LaFille and ayhawki, that in most cases, we need to look at the individual and not ballet as an entity when discussing specific issues today. However, where I do see a difference is that there has, in the not so distant past, been institutional beliefs that ballet is not for people of color. More specifically African American people due to very specific issues related to facility and or continuity of the corp. If you are young enough, that is something you read about in books. But if you are old enough or your teachers are old enough, this is something that could be life experience.


In recent years, as new ADs and teachers come through the system, we have seen less and less of that global thinking, thankfully. However, there are still some of those older teachers or older minded teachers out there and some of our member's children may still have some exposure to them. So while it is an individual issue, it still comes from an older institutional belief system that may still sway some. Shame on them!


Ayhawki--the tights thing is tricky for auditions. I don't envy you making decisions there. It was easier for DD in that she wore pink tights and shoes throughout school so that is what she wore to auditions. I would hope that any auditioner would understand that many schools now allow tights and shoes that match. But, one also never knows if someone will look at that and think "rebel", sadly. Grrrrr.......


Daffodil--I understand protecting your daughter. The ballet world is small and there are not but so many of us even though those numbers are increasing. However, if you can't bring forth your questions, then you will simply be a bystander on this thread instead of a participant and since you were the one that asked if there was a place to talk, saddens me.

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For a more casual spin on the topic, and thinking of Ayhaki's dd's tights problem, I can throw a few random experiences in. Luckily, I can wear pink tights and they are not completely different looking on my skintone, however, I would probably fail if having to wear nude tights were a requirement. I've come to the conclusion that "Nude" is the unattainable for my skintone.


I still struggle to find the right color of nude elastic for costumes and for those power mesh modesty panels - it's never quite right. I remember seeing Ms. DePrince's mother using a fabric marker to color in the mesh modesty panels on her YAGP costumes and thinking, "I can't even get the right color marker to do that."


Also, before discovering Bunhead's open hair pins, my challenge as a dancer of color was pins that wouldn't bend and break while keeping my very thick hair in a bun.

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Same here on those hairpins! LOL


I stink at creating links, so I apologize in advance but I saw this really interesting article on CNN





I am always amazed at the universal appeal of ballet!

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This is dd's fifth year of summer intensive auditions and have noticed fewer dancers of color at the auditions, especially the older group. To clarify, my definition of "dancer of color" in this case is non-light skinned dancer. We live in a very urban city with many dance/ballet programs. Is this a trend in other cities?

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oldtown, this is DD's sixth year doing auditions and her second in the older group and we have noticed a large decrease, in the past two years, in the number of older dancers auditioning, regardless of ethnic background. In our area, though, which is considered a regional-sized city, there have actually been quite a number of non-white dancers at the auditions for older kids. In fact, at the audition DD went to yesterday, I would venture to say that there was a mix of half and half. Of course you also can not tell always tell a person's ethnic background necessarily by the color of their skin. We have met many people that are Hispanic that have very light skin, etc. Still, based solely on skin color, that was the ratio at the audition yesterday. Audition season has just started here so it will be interesting to see if that trend carries through the whole season.

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Thanks all for the advice on the shoes. Its a constant battle. The ballet bag stays full with pink and cocoa pointe shoes, slippers and tights. During a recent pointe shoe fitting the store owner indicated that her shoes may breakdown faster because she's using liquid makeup to dye them.


On the topic of auditions, we rarely see any girls of color in our travel to auditions for the focused ballet programs. Several black parents that I know struggle with sending their children away for a 5-6 week commitment, and there's the affordability component that @Lafillesylaphide previous mentioned.

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Our experience differs significantly from place to place, and my dd would blush to hear me share because she too does not see herself as a black dancer, but instead an aspiring ballerina. Let me preference we are not bi-racial. We are straight up black/Af-am w brown skin. However, my dd is foremost, not phased by drama. She would prefer to be among a group of serious but quirky dancers that don't take themselves so serious and love to find a good bargain. . She's also comes across as a long lean dancer w great extension that some will love and others don't have time for. I share that because social factors both within and outside the ballet world seriously influence the net result, in addition to the ability of the dancer. Its a matrix.

Our daughters could be twins! (Except for the biracial part and the great extension...I have no idea about the extension, and I'm Black, DD is biracial.) My daughter dislikes the drama, and maybe because she is young and a bit naive, she often is oblivious to it, thankfully.

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@LaFilleSylphide, I agree 100%. My point was that there can be unique people that create issues, and that's fine. Not blaming ballet at all. Our solution has been to learn from the issue. It's also important to surround yourselves with information and positive resources. But most importantly, act swiftly when you clearly can see there are concrete issues. Some issues are small enough and you can move around them, but if its big its okay to review your options.



I'm in complete agreement with ayhawki. I don't blame ballet, and I blame the individual folks who seem to have whatever issue with us. I'm trying to do as ayhawki does and surround myself with info, though I'm just a few years into this road with my DD.


@momof3darlings, I'm just fearful that someone here (because you never know who is reading) will find out who my daughter and I are, and we will either be labeled as difficult or it will affect DD negatively.

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I often wonder if biracial children deliberately turn a blind eye to situations that we as the parents might view as bad (from a comment/discrimination standpoint) from a very early age as a coping mechanism. My DD when prodded will admit to overhearing things or experiencing directly rude comments but she tells me it goes away quicker when she refuses to acknowledge the person or comment. She is very strong emotionally (unlike her mother! LOL). I think as parents we tend to be more hyper aware, because no parent wants their child put in a situation where they made to feel less than wonderful (which they are).


The instructors at our school have been stellar! The parents however.......not so stellar. Again, the positive part of me would like to think its just the regular competitiveness using race/appearance as a weapon. Maybe if the DK's all looked the same, those same people would find something else to be rude about! LOL


It has been hard, but I too follow DD's lead, if she shrugs it off I do too.....but I do note where it is coming from.

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Daffodilduds - our dd's are at least ballet sisters. ;). the fact that you are seeking support means that you are knocking out that specific issue. I don't know if the answer is on this thread, which may also be your hesitancy, or you may already know the answer based on your instinct and the options that currently exist in your city. Just know that it will all work out.

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It would be be nice to here from more dancers of color, or dancers period on BT4D that perhaps maybe don't have kids but can share with the thread their own personal experiences as they studied ballet perhaps as long as many decades ago.


Daffidilduds, Hon. Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter once said that "Sunlight is the Best Disinfectant" without you speaking out about your concerns it will never be addressed to your satisfaction.

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