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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Ballet Diversity: African Americans in Ballet


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sunshineinmay

I just ran across a fabulous book called A Game for Dancers- http://www.amazon.com/Game-Dancers-Perform...2281&sr=8-1

 

It actually has a great deal of focus on Alvin Alley, (post) modernism, and the politics of African Americans in Ballet (particularly in NYC)! I'm enchanted! It's wonderfully written, though I'm not all the way though it yet.

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  • Momof3darlings

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NicoletteLeFaye

Going back a little bit - Have you heard of Raven Wilkinson? She was, supposedly, the first black ballerina, and a soloist at that - in 1954! She was with the Ballet Russe and absolutely beautiful. For some reason, I can't find any videos or even a Wikipedia page, but I am mesmerized by her photos alone. Of course with the extreme racism in the south at that time, the KKK came to a rehearsal in Alabama and after that, the company suggested she retire. Lovely, huh. She then went to dance in Holland but returned to the US in the 70's and apparently still does character roles. Not exactly a Cinderella story, but historically indisposable and inspiring.

 

Definitely worth a google search!

 

I think the problem with the lack of pro AA ballet dancers comes down to many reasons in society and is nearly impossible to pinpoint. It begins with class separation and capitalism and ends with straight-up racism within companies. It's a cycle: girls have few role models and many give up way before they get to audition level, and the few who do make it that far seem to have to work twice as hard to get half as far. But I do believe it is improving.

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  • 9 months later...

It's time for summer intensive auditions. Every year we plan out an entire month of traveling to these auditions to give my DD an opportunity to experience the instruction style for a particular school, and hopes that she will gain a magical spot in a summer intensive. I also look around at the number of colored faces in the room. This year I'm praying that I see many more than I did in 2011.

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Ayhawki, good luck to you and your DD! My DD and I are embarking on the same SI journey, which for us, just started last weekend. We are also hoping to see more diversity this year.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Julisha... Good luck to your DD. We had a fabulous experience at Orlando Ballet last summer. Not that its absolutely critical, but the program was more diversity than I expected. Possibly because of the easy access to s America. Something to look at. It's hard to make a decision as to which SI's will develop a traing plan for the summer and not put her in the back of the line like a shadow on the curtain. We have auditions the next 3 weekends. She's accepted into 2 programs so far, and I pray that her success continues so she has positive choices.

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Momof3darlings

Choices are important and so is finding the correct fit. I do want to mention though that what ayhawki mentioned about "being put in the back of the line..." was not our experience at any of the SIs DD went to over an 7 year run. She was always accepted, always pushed by the teachers who taught her and when her level was appropriate for her she was never relegated to the back of the line. The one time her level was not appropriate, (likely too high) she still was not pushed to the back but was just not in the "favored" group if there was one. It's funny though, about halfway through the SI when the teachers realized how much younger she was than the others their perceived attitude and placement of her changed as did their belief in her ability.

 

I would encourage you to look at the programs that will help your daughter achieve her goal. While none of us wants our DKs in a stiffling environment, the key is that they must be prepared at the end of the journey for the direction they choose to take. There are definitely a small handful of SIs I might personally stay away from. But if the goal (and ability) are company XYZ, then being technically prepared for those companies has to be the most important goal.

 

You will see more dancers of color if your DKs hit the age of auditioning for companies and Trainee/Apprentice programs. But the field has been narrowed for those continuing to desire a dance career therefore, the national group auditioning will see each other at those auditions or in those programs. It then dwindles again as some change direction or are eliminated and others continue. Still a long way to go.

 

Good luck to your DKs. I'd love to hear where they end up (even in pm) and in their experiences.

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The one thing that I noticed that we are all still looking for support for our young dancers. I feel to the point of exhaustion that there still seems to be so much ignorance about color and gender. Why can't it just be who is the best dancer? It seems to work in sports. We are switching schools in the fall because I want my daughter to be viewed for her ability. We are also auditioning for SI. I would like to hear more about some of the diverse programs out there. If she gets into DTH she will most likely do that. I feel its important that she sees that this is possible and has support.

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Momof3darlings

Since I'm a few years out being around the training scenarios, I'm curious given Kathia's question and other more current parent comments. Without giving TMI about your specific situation, what limitations and lack of support are you currently finding for your child personally? Are these limitations/lack of support coming to dancers who someone (even just SI placement) has shown that the dancer has both the facility/technique for their age, etc. for Classical Ballet? Or is that feeling of limitation/lack of support before anyone has reached out to help the student know where they are nationally?

 

I'll give some additional information about diverse programs when I'm on later. But remember that's hard to do without knowing what the goal for the child is. It's also hard without defining, one's acceptability factor for what is "diverse" in a training environment. I'm out the door right now, but hopefully you'll answer so we can try and help. I understand this is a hard conversation to have, but there are some of us who have been before you who may be able to help guide.

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Thank you, Momof3darlings for your wisdom and insight, and thanks to Ayhawki and Kathia for sharing your experiences. My DD has been very supported by her current school and her teachers. She has never been ignored in class or placed in the back. She is usually in the front because she is the smallest and youngest dancer in her level. Her evaluations have always been fair IMO and constructive/positive feedback and encouragement have been given regarding her facility/technique for ballet. She has had many performance opportunities. So we are happy with her school, her teachers, and her training. Last year was our first foray into the SI audition process. DD was 10. I am extraordinarily grateful to this board because I think I read just about every post on every subject from what age should one participate in an SI to what to wear to the audition, etc! BT4D was especially helpful to me in researching SIs that she might fit her needs. Last year she wanted to go to sleepaway camp but with ballet. I found an SI (again thanks to this board!) that I thought might fit. She auditioned, was accepted, and attended. It was her first time away from home and a wonderful experience for her.

 

This year DD is auditioning for the program she did last year and 1 other program. Both are 2 week programs because she is not ready to go away for 4-6 weeks. She is 11 going on 12 and has told me this herself. We are awaiting the audition results for last year's SI and will attend the other SI audition next month. We also planned for her to audition for a third program this past weekend, but she was selected for a wonderful performance opportunity and rehearsals began this week. Our goal for DD is to provide her with wonderful summer training opportunities that are age appropriate and allow her to improve her technique and performance skills.

 

So back to the question at hand: DD has not had any lack of support/limitations at this point in her school training or SI training. but we are still very new to this. .As far as diverse training environments go, I would say that DD's school is quite diverse, but as students advance to the upper division, there is less diversity, probably due to several factors that we have discussed in previous threads on minorities in ballet. I don't know if this translates over to the SIs (fewer advanced dancers of color trying out for Sis) but at the 2 SI auditions we attended, there were only 1 or maybe 2 other dancers other than my DD.

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I am looking for a program that treats my child like other children. One that enables her to be a better dancer. I don't want to hear about fried chicken or lack of body type. I don't want her to be rushed but don't discount her simply because she doesn't look like what is the norm for classical ballet. What I loved about the DTH and Ailey is that they take all dancer. Yes they are predominantly African American Companies but they want great dancers and not just dancers of color and that is the way it should be. Trust me I am not a dance mom if I felt my child had no ability I would say baby do it for fun only and look at other things as well. I see the joy on her face when she dances. The work she puts in and how she loves her point shoes. I know how proud my mom feels to finally have her tiny dancer. I am proud to show her she comes from good dancer genes. I just want her to have a fair shot. Not short cuts but to be mentored and supported like all others.

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Momof3darlings

If your child is in a place dancing where they "hear about fried chicken" then they do not need to be there, period. But that is not a ballet related issue, but one related to stupidity and ignorance. Body type if brought into the conversation as an ethnic issue would be of issue if the child is pointed out in some way. But the reality is that body type is discussed with almost everyone in regards to ballet. You will have to learn to separate that which is normal in that discussion from that which is based on ethnicity only. If that information is pointed toward ethnicity, then that is poor on their part. But if a dancer of color truly doesn't have a Classical Ballet facility that can't be overcome, it would be wrong not to address that in the same manner one might address someone too tall, too short or many of the other attributes that people get eliminated from the Classical Ballet spectrum.

 

I find it sad that you find yourself in an environment where your DD does not appear to be "mentored or supported like the others." In that case, my only wisdom would be that getting out of that environment is key. As julisha and I have described, it does not have to be that way. Just like it should not be that only DTH and Ailey are suitable for those interested in Classical Ballet.

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Thank you that is much appreciated. I don't want favorite treatment for my child. I want her to be evaluated on her dancing that's it. It that is what God is in store for her so be it. All I want is to help her journey. We will be chaning to PA Ballet in the fall or sandonato school of ballet thanks to some of the feeback I read on this board.

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Momof3darlings

Kathia--has your DD already been evaluated for entrance into those schools? If not, I believe there are older threads here that might discuss getting an evaluation at a professional school and questions to be prepared to ask. If I were you, I'd arrange to get that evaluation sooner rather than later. It may be that transitioning to a new school and attending their SI might help with the adjustment if that is a good option for those school choices.

 

I would also use SI acceptances as a partial indicator until such time as you can get her moved to a different place. In other words, when you look at her class of students who audition, with an independent eye viewing her, does she get into the same SIs as the other students in her class? Does she get in the same level as her classmates, etc? Is she offered higher placement outside of her studio than in? While these are a hard thing for a parent to start deciphering in their child it may give you a clue if there is anything else besides ethnicity at play in regards to your DD. But you'll also have to develop a good sense of middle ground as well. As an example, DD is short. 5'2" if she stands tall. Short presents challenges in Classical Ballet without ethnicity being attached to it. So it was important to learn how to decipher those things out as well so that DD understood those differences in judgement.

 

I look forward to finding out what you find upon evaluation at different schools versus your home environment. Keep me posted. Removing her from the "fried chicken" type environment, may just allow her to believe that she has more options than DTH and Ailey. Those are wonderful goals to have and GREAT companies, but not every dancer of color who trains in Classical Ballet has those two companies as their goal either and she should not while training be forced to think that has to be her only option.

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I don't have much to offer, except horror. I'm of South Asian descent, and grew up in a small town, and was the only dancer of color in the upper levels. Fantastically, I never felt to be of 'color'.... remarkably, until I was dancing recreationally in grad school. I feel for your dancer, and applaud you for trying to find a more supportive environment for her.

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

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