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Ballet Diversity: Radical Reimagining of Ballet


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Certainly expand the imagination and explore new possibilities, but please do not eradicate Petipa, Ivanov, & Perrot! Believe me, as the mother of a beautiful, yet busty ballerina, I want to see barriers lifted. The author of the article writes about classical ballet with such disdain; I find it hard to believe she supports any preservation. Preserve the past! Embrace the future! 💗

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  • Monet

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Yes, yes, yes! I totally agree with Rosetwirl and Lady Elle! Classical ballet portrays archetypes that are hundreds of years old and I think it is an important piece of culture! And I also agree that these women are strong in another way than the modern businesswoman and I love that! Don´t eradicate that, there is enough room for that in modern dance!

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19 hours ago, CeliB said:

 The trouble is if you say you want to see someone 'beyond your fellow commuters' what do you actually mean? If you mean dancers at the highest level should have the same skills (technique, musicality, expressiveness) then of course, who would disagree? But if you mean you want them to all look the same (I'm not suggesting this IS what you meant, just explaining how this could be misconstrued) then that starts to sound more like discrimination on grounds not associated with any ability to dance.... 

 

NO, I wasn't alluding a physically homogenic ballet corps when I said I wanted to see the best humanity had to offer on stage, I was alluding to highly-skilled, highly-trained, and artistic dancers (not clumsy gymnasts in tutus like you see half of the time) who are there on their own merit and talent alone. I don't need to see someone with stiff feet and knees (or flab, or piercings, or freckles, or my specific race/genetic background, and sexual proclivity) on stage to feel better about myself--seeing artists push the limits of human achievement makes me feel hopeful about the world and justifies the suffering in life. I'll never look like DePrince, I'll never jump like her, I'll never have her extensions or power, and I didn't have her supportive Mama and funds to train as a kid but I don't need to in order to adore, patronize, or relate to classical ballet. 

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My apologies Coriander9, I was trying hard NOT to imply you personally were being racist (or anything else -ist) but more that this is where I think the author of the article is coming from in their rejection of the female classical ballet dancer 'type'. I think I quite clearly agreed with you that highly skilled, highly trained and artistic is a fundamental starting point. My reading of the article isn't that the author is suggesting that female classical ballet dancers should look exactly like the average untrained woman on the street (stiff knees, flab and all) but that they should represent a full range of 'the best humanity has to offer' not just the best thin non busty white women between 5'5 and 5'8 on offer. 

(As for being there on their own merit and talent alone, again I think this is quite controversial isn't it? - after all talent alone doesn't make a dancer (as you rightly point out there is a LOT of family support and hard cash involved). So those who are less well off economically will have less opportunities to develop their inherent talent as well as perhaps facing discrimination on aesthetic grounds. This is exactly the reasoning behind positive discrimination in all areas of working life, so in some senses why shouldn't it apply to the arts too? what makes ballet exempt from the requirement to strive for equity?)

 

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CeliaB, And this is why I originally said that I dislike these articles because they are highly political.  

There's equality of opportunity and equality of outcome (or social equity as I've see it called). I'm a proponent of equality of opportunity--meaning everyone is treated equally regardless of -isms and demographic; There is another, very loud, camp (seen in the article) that says it's more important to artificially represent each "race" or -ism du jour over merit (Misty Copeland comes to mind). It's terrible that not everyone on Earth has the  flexibility, strength, or education/training to become a ballerina but trying to 'correct' that cruel reality at the professional company level isn't going to fix any thing (and has just led to awful dancing), neither is damning any other types of bodies or races. The Russian conservatory model seems to be the most successful at reaching less fortunate but talented young students.

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It’s a matter of broadening aesthetics, as well as economic opportunities.  For instance, if we only valued the Dutch Masters as the definition of ‘artistic paintings’, we would not have Picasso, Dali, Van Gogh, etc.

We all have our preferred tastes, but that shouldn’t mean that we don’t recognize the value in exploring different expressions or aesthetics.   If we don’t, then we are doomed to become stunted in the boundaries of our creativity.

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Thank you dancemaven, well said.

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Yes, dancemaven, this narrow lens is a challenge in ballet. I think this is one reason why many people recognize the beauty of this art form, but not nearly as many are really invested in it. Classical doesn't need to become classicist. 

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Hmm well I know a lot of people have a gripe about Ms Copeland (I have never seen her dance and wouldn't consider myself expert enough to criticise anyway!) but personally, whilst part of me finds her apparent relentless self publicising and emphasis on ethnicity somewhat irritating (certainly in comparison with other dancers who spring to mind and don't ever seem to mention it), another part of me thinks - YES she SHOULD be there - think of all the little girls form BME backgrounds who might look at her and think 'maybe I can do that too' . And by encouraging participation across the board you may then get the truly great dancers from other backgrounds coming through who would never have considered ballet open to them if Misty hadn't been so prominent.

And after all she's not a TOTAL loss is she? I mean she isn't exactly your average middle age overweight person off the street....she can dance, and pretty well. You make take issue with her as a principal but you cant deny she is company worthy.

So this is how I see positive discrimination. I agree equality of opportunity is the better aim but frankly that's a 'dream on' situation at the moment isn't it? so all we can DO practically is try and create equality of outcome (within certain parameters). If that means someone who is soloist material being artificially promoted to principal I think its a small price to pay if we are trying to make reparation for 100s of years of discrimination.

But I realise many wouldn't agree with me and perhaps its because I am not so invested in ballet as an art form  ....

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A little off topic, but kinda applies. I follow Katie Boren (from ABT) on Instagram. Absolutely beast in her training!

Awhile ago my dd said she wasn't "athletic". I reminded her that she is a good swimmer and showed her Katie. I think Misty Copeland referred to herself as an "Artistic Athlete"

 

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BME?  Please for those of us not up on all abbreviations, etc., please let us in on the short-hand. 

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I don't mean to focus this conversation on any specific person, but I think Misty Copeland is principal material. She's a beautiful dancer and a total rockstar. And I think she handles the media spotlight with grace and aplomb.

I agree with many of the points in this article.  Especially the parts about women, voice and leadership. It's very strange that a field so chock full of female participants employs so few women as directors and choreographers. I think we seriously undervalue the creative minds and voices of our dancing women.

As far as purity of line (actual line, not color - there's no legitimate place anywhere for discrimination based on color) vs. variety in shape/size/ range of motion, I so hope we can make room in the ballet world for both!

By the way I loved rosetwirl's comment about different kinds of strength. There's nothing tougher or more beautiful than a unified corps de ballet!

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  • 3 weeks later...

Thank you Monet for posting this article. Coriander9 could you point out where this article included a very loud camp saying it’s important to artificially represent each race over merit? I re-read this like 5 times to try to find it. With all due respect, so many people on this board confuse any call for racial or economic diversity (equality of opportunity) with equality of outcome. Bodies. The question is not which type of body is more or less attainable, which body is more beautiful, or which body can dance better. This article suggests hopefully that many different bodies can be beautiful doing ballet, and even while doing ballet together. Where has this awful dancing taken place in professional companies who were trying to correct cruel realities? Where are the participation award ballet companies with clumsy gymnast ballerinas who did not get there on their own merit? I genuinely would like to see examples, because I would love the awful dancing. Is Misty Copeland really supposed to be an example of this phenomenon or have I misread it? Training. The Russian Conservatory model will reach less fortunate but talented young students IN RUSSIA. Until the US has a conservatory model less-fortunate students here do not and will not have the same opportunities. Outcomes mentioned earlier are bought by donor parents in training situations every day. Minorities, often with additional economic constraints, or students with less than perfect bodies who are overlooked for scholarships are happy if they can manage tuition and pointe shoes long enough to complete their training to the point they can be competitive. Feminism/Strong women in classical ballet. There is surely room for new stories. In our Nutcracker Clara distracts the Rat King so the Nutcracker can stab him in the back. Right now DD16 and her classmates are perfecting Odalisques Pas de Trois from Le Corsaire, which is quite literally about girls COMPETING TO BE SEX TRAFFICKED. Future of ballet vs classic ballet. As Labrador said “art is a place for expanding the imagination and examining new possibilities.” People often act like ballet can’t or shouldn’t evolve. Nobody ever said burn the classics, but just like there is sun enough to shine on all of our perfect and not so perfect bodies, there is possibility for ballet to grow to be more balanced, healthy, and representative of our communities while still retaining its past. Why is this idea so threatening? This is the same fear I see all the time in politics. BME = black and minority ethnic (used to refer to members of nonwhite communities in the UK).

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Also, do your homework on Theresa Ruth Howard.  I promise she does not hate classical ballet or want to eradicate it.  She studied ballet, danced professionally, and now maintains a growing history of blacks in ballet (mobballet.org) while tirelessly serving on panels both preserving and promoting ballet.

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  • Momof3darlings changed the title to Ballet Diversity: Radical Reimagining of Ballet

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