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Ballet Diversity: African Americans in Ballet


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Momof3darlings

Thank you Mazenderan. Yes it is still relevant. We have really only seperated this out because of the original question and the fact that while the road may be considered tough for many ethnicities, it appears that the African American female is one of the, still, underrepresented sectors. We are not trying to be exclusive at all in that manner.

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Lauren Anderson is gorgeous, no? Thanks for reminding me of her name, Momof3, and thanks for your work in developing our discussion here.

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Momof3darlings

Thanks Julisha for the note about Whitney. I did not know where she went after IU we met her when she was at a function for South Carolina's Governor School and then again when DD auditioned at IU.

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This is my personal opinion. I will say that I completely disagree that the limited number of AA ballerinas, due to whatever reason in classical ballet, is changing for the better.

 

Nothing is changing. DD and I have looked at several companies, small and large, and they are all mainly comprised of white dancers. The same goes for company II/studio company members. I think it speaks volumes when a major company has over 40 female dancers and yet not one is an AA female.

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lovemydancers

Just throwing this out for thought, but does anyone have any idea what percentage of all female company job seekers are AA?

 

In other words, if the popular statistic is that 1-2% of all dancers seeking company positions "make it", and if 100 dancers are seeking company jobs, that means 1 or 2 will get one. How many of those 100 auditioning were AA females?

 

I guess I'm just wondering if the number of AA dancers hired by companies correlates to the percentage of AA dancers attempting company jobs. :)

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I am fortunate to be able to teach ballet to a wide variety of ethnicities. I have several extremely talented children of various ethnic backgrounds.

 

When I speak to their parents about the possibilities available for them, I am told in no uncertain terms that the children are taking ballet classes to become well-rounded individuals, but that they will not be having a dance career, period.

 

Some parents are maintaining that ballet as a career is not an option for their children because they don't feel that it will utilize their children's brains, and some feel that there is a cultural stereotype about ballet dancers dating back to the POB days when female dancers had older male "sponsors", and therefore, ballet as a career is considered close to the "oldest" profession in their eyes.

 

Some parents have told me straight out that it's not ok for men to be touching women in the manner in which ballet dancers must. So, while I do not under any circumstances take away the blame that is there from our society and racism in general, I am curious as to if it's possible that there may be a bit of a cultural issue too? Perhaps familial support could be lacking?

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Momof3darlings

Nikki--your opinion is perfectly valid. I do encourage you however, to look at the many unranked companies and their dancers as well as those ranked. While there are still small numbers, the word "none" does not apply over the last 8 years of our search. Few, yes. Not enough, for sure!

 

While I would love someone in ABT or NYCB, I cannot discount those dancers who have succeeded simply because their company does not rank them. Smaller companies are in fact breaking the mold. They actually appear to be more easily doing so than the larger companies, possibly because they do not limit other ballet related qualifiers than those bigger well named places.

 

I think you may have missed where I have stated that in a non-ranked company, there is no true Principal status although there may be perceived Principal dancers. Therefore, there have been dancers who have danced Principal roles here and there but the dance media has not recognized them because the company itself is not a major one or a ranked one. As well, when there have been African American dancers in companies that are not NY ranked companies, there seems to be less press about them. Lauren Anderson is an example, while she was Principal dancer at Houston for some time, you do not see her mentioned that often and I believe this is simply because of preconceived notions that unless it is a NY company, then we have not "arrived". I do believe though that she retired around 2006 or 7 so would not be included totally in your question. The same thought process can apply to Toni Doctor at Atlanta Ballet and Erica Lynn Edwards at Joffrey Ballet. (I believe Toni has retired) While they are/were not ranked as Principal dancers, I believe they both have danced principal roles from time to time in companies that do not rank or rank differently than the big names. Therefore, they cannot be added to your question about rising through the ranks to Principal. However, the National dance press has not keyed in on either of them simply because they did/do not hold the title Principal or dance in NYC. This does not mean that these role models are still not few and far between, but it does mean that there has been some ommission of knowledge and chances for our younger dancers to see "dancers like them" simply because we only allow that success would be a Principal dancer in those two NY biggies. I find that sad, because it means that there are hosts of children who know Misty Copeland (which is a good thing) but have not heard of Lauren Anderson or Toni Doctor or Erica Edwards, etc. I am not saying this to discount the issues many dancers in those big companies have faced in the glass ceiling of sorts, that has been evident and explained by them in many articles. But I think it's time we also begin to bring forth those who have achieved success in other places than NYC as valid role models as well.
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Ranked, not ranked, the bottom line is that, from what I have seen, there a very few AA female dancers in US companies, large or small period. I will edit my post and remove the ranking part.

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Momof3darlings

lovemydancers-the 1% probably still applies. Statistics seem to just sort of fall along the same lines in general.

 

Some additional locations where African American females can be seen currently dancing. Most of these are unranked comanies however:

 

Ballet Memphis

Georgia Ballet

Ballet Austin II

Joffrey Ballet--there is an additional dancer besides the one mentioned above

Nashville Ballet

Columbia City Ballet (soloist)

Columbia City Ballet

San Francisco Ballet

 

to which we already discussed:

Houston (which also included Cleopatra Williams for a while before her injury), Atlanta (dancer recently retired), Joffrey (named earlier) and Ballet West

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lovemydancers
Few, yes. Not enough, for sure!

So while the question of "enough" is a personal preference, what I was trying to ask and give an example of (albeit poorly) was whether the number of AA females hired by companies is disproportionate to the number auditioning. :thumbsup:

 

Clara_76 discusses the reality that many of her students of non-caucasian ethnic backgrounds will never attempt a career in ballet. This is why I'm asking the question about how many attempt the career, vs. how many are hired. The number of AA dancers in ballet schools appears to be irrelevant to the company demographic question if they have no intent to pursue a career.

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Momof3darlings

I don't think it's irrelevant lovemydancers, we have to remember that modeling behavior does encourage behavior. If not for that, then there would be no way to explain whole families of long lineage who are all doctors or lawyers. Or the idea often used that: if you see it, then you can believe it and if you believe it you can achieve it. The question to how many attempt vs. how many hired is not one that we can truly answer except for those dancers who have been vocal about the whys of their reasoning for shifting at any point in their dancing from ballet to something else. I would venture that when DTH folded, the number of dancers who could not find jobs might be something more easily tracked.

 

I do agree with Clara76, and others have outlined on the other thread, that there are some familial issues as well related to dance as a career also that come to play as well as cultural experiences that come to play in all cultures as well, as discussed in the other thread to some degree.

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Thanks Momof3 for the listing! I have been Googling (is that a real word?) these companies and happy to discover these wonderful artists! I'm glad to see that these opportunities do exist and am hopeful that the larger companies expand their ranks. Also just want to mention that Aesha Ash, former NYCB dancer has an interesting blog on her experiences as an AA ballerina: http://theblackswandiaries.blogspot.com/

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I disagree that the idea of a floating pink ballerina does not jive with many AA women and hispanic women. As an AA woman myself I love and always have loved the color pink, whimsical things, and tutus. I believe that this idea of the "tough" black or latina woman actually perpetuates many negative stereotypes about black women and latina women being tough and aggressive and sassy.

 

Personal preferences differ for sure but I would not generalize an entire race which I know was not your intention, luceroblanco. :) There are plenty of Caucasian and Asian women who wouldn't be caught dead any where near a barre and who wouldn't even wear a tutu on halloween.

 

I think this is an important point to keep in mind--Aesha Ash said in an interview that she left New York City Ballet and Béjart Ballet Lausanne because she kept getting cast in the same sort of "tough" roles, and she wanted to be able to explore her softer side. She is now teaching at Los Gatos Ballet in San Jose, California

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Thank you for that real life example, Hans. It is sad to hear that even those AA dancers that are accepted into great companies are often forced into more serious, tough roles :jawdrop:

 

Does anyone have any examples of specific roles that some AA dancers have been put in? I would like to keep on the look out :)

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  • Momof3darlings changed the title to Ballet Diversity: African Americans in Ballet

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