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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Ballet Diversity: Challenges for Dancers of Color


daffodilduds

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Just thought I would add Chinese ballet dancer Wang Yun to our list. She took a medal in Helsinki last year, I think and dances with Liaoning Ballet.

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I was doing a search on "Asian" as a topic within Ballet Talk. After listening to a podcast from an Japanese dancer in Houston Ballet, it made me wonder about the ethnic makeup of different ballet companies in the US and abroad.

I also found this article. http://www.8asians.com/2008/03/04/in-ballet-where-are-all-the-asian-swans/

 

White Swans, Black Swans, Asian Swans, etc. It mentions that there has never been an Asian principal at either ABT NYCB! Could that be true? I couldn't find a single asian woman in the company at NYCB but ABT does have Seo.

 

As mother of a DD who is half asian but looks much more asian than caucasian, I wonder if this type of information should make a difference when choosing a place to train?

Ballet companies have their "looks". Asian dancers can have longer torsos and shorter legs sometimes, does that make them less marketable?

I never want to limit my child and where she chooses to dance. Perhaps she will break through. But should we consider this when choosing SI's or future pro-schools? Would I want to send my money to a place where they would never choose her or never place her above Corps? Would they even accept her in?

Should we consider places where are integral in the company? San Francisco Ballet for example?

 

On a side note, I watched a DVD of the Royal Ballet's Nutcracker. Sugarplum on the cover is Asian in a blond wig. Works for me!

I do seem to find when looking at diversity within companies, there seems to be much more within the male dancers than the females.... We need more colorful beauties. There are MANY to choose from.

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You saw the RB version with Miyako Yoshida (now retired) -- everyone wears those blonde wigs, regardless, in that version of the Nutcracker.

 

One of my key ways of thinking about diversity in ballet (as an American of South Asian descent): get beyond the big companies.

 

In fact, I want to say that so much about so many things about ballet. The big companies are the most well-known, but the *majority of professional dancers to not dance for those big companies*.

 

(Can I say it again, in caps? Get beyond the big companies. Avoided caps because I don't want it to be perceived that I'm yelling!).

 

That said, I've seen many dancers of a variety of backgrounds in a variety of companies over the years. Things have changed so much just in the short span of my life. Today in my open class (which included some members of a small local company) there were a great array of backgrounds.

 

And this is important. I dare say regional and civic companies are where the changes show up first (hello, Houston Ballet, right?)…. and when looking at that level, I think there's a lot more to be hopeful about.

 

One last thing… I think we have to be careful about stereotyping body type. Alicia Graf and Misty Copeland have very different bodies. BOTH types are capable of beautiful ballet. Laura Morera (Royal) has a longer torso. And is capable of beautiful ballet. Yoshida and Akane (royal) have totally different body types… and both are capable of beautiful ballet. My body type is very similar to my mother's, but very different from my female first cousins even. Ethnicity/race can predict somethings, but not everything.

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The Australian Ballet has quite a large number of Asian and Eurasian dancers, both female and male. If you search YouTube you can watch them in class as part of world ballet day. Chengwu Guo is a principal (he played the teenaged Li Cunxin in 'Mao's last dancer'). Four of the senior artists are Asian or Eurasian (Juliet Burnett is half Indonesian, she is the dancer with the headscarf in the world ballet day video). I suspect that this mix is in part due to the quite diverse Australian population and partly due to the fact that the Australian Ballet is one of the larger employers of dancers in the Southern Hemisphere, so tends to collect great dancers from all through South East Asia. My friend who is half Asian went through the Australian ballet school and is in the corps now, and she has been cast in all sorts of different roles.

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What a wonderfully candid discussion on an ugly subject.

 

We had a black Fritz for several years in a row until he outgrew the part. (He was hands down the most talented boy dancer; the rest of the boys were caucasian and danced as party boys.) We also had several young ethnic party girls over the years. Several experienced moms insisted they knew for a fact that all Claras must be blonde (false, by the way) -- that even the fair-skinned brunettes felt discriminated against . That all changed the very lovely year that the role of Clara was given to two young girls -- one a gorgeous product of two races and the other Asian. This was with a professional company in a major metropolitan (and rather conservative) city

Casting based on looks is a big part of performing art or entertainment industries in the professional world. It is not always fair, but it is always the director's decision and that person does not have to justify his/her vision. But usually I find that the dancer who is best for a given role met criteria not solely based on skin tone. I am sure that may not always be true as some posters here may have experienced. While that is sad, I am also hopeful that such ignorant people are slowly morphing into a small-minded minority of their own.

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ami1436, I agree wholeheartedly!!!! My DD (half Chinese) spent 5 years in a non diverse big name school, after leaving for a smaller yet high quality school she is THRIVING!!! We have discovered that smaller can (and usually is) be better in so many ways.

 

And Mousling, so true....I have noticed that many people seem to forget that ballet is show business. Often casting (in our experience) has little connection to talent but everything to do with a director's vision. I have been telling my DD this for years and frankly it has helped. She is a confident 13 year old who gets it that not everyone is going to love her on sight and she keeps on working.

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What insightful comments. Thank you for your thoughts.

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Picturesinthefirelight

A lot of the Asian children I know in the UK would not be allowed to continue ballet after puberty for religious reasons. My daughters best friend did ballet up to the age of 7 but stopped. She also has to wear a different type of swimming costume for swim lessons too.

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A lot of predominately western religions such as Mormans prohibit "immodest" wear required for ballet or swimming. I think it has less to do with being Asian as it might religious or cultural beliefs about modesty that extend beyond the catch-all of simply one's ethnicity.

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Yes. In the UK ( where I lived for almost a decade), Asian means South Asian. The communities are religiously predominantly Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh. Moreover, a Sindhi (ethnicity) may practice differently than a Bengali or Tamil.

 

And such constraints are not limited to Asians. Witness the recent drama over leggings in the US.

 

Also, there are many exceptions, including the lovely Benazir Hussein, and the current director of the ENB school.

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