Everybody is talking about ballet, but are we talking about the right thing?

The Race for Race in Ballet

I’ve talked about ethnicity before, but now I am going to talk about it even more. Most of you probably won’t like what I have to say, so here is my apology ahead of time.

Everyone is talking about ballet, and I mean everyone. But, are we talking about the right thing?
Seriously, congrats to Stella and Misty. I’m sure the majority of the world agrees that you should be principals. Personally I’m not a fan of Misty Copeland, I fell asleep in her world premier in the Firebird in Orange County. I was not impressed when I saw her in Sleeping Beauty either. Just not a fan of her dancing. Stella…, not a fan of her dancing either, but I don’t dislike her dancing.  So, did they get promoted because they deserved it? Or were they promoted because the world pressured Kevin to? No clue. But here is what I do know…

I started my very first blog because of ethnicity, well lack of ethnicity in college. It was titled: YELLOW LIKE ASIAN. In my frustrations after finishing school, I started teaching dance at a Title One Middle School in middle of nowhere, ghetto California. There was so much potential, but the problem is the school systems don’t support the arts and there was no where for them to go after middle school and most of them couldn’t afford studio time.  So, in my frustrations, I left. Now, I have a company and I am all like ethnic pride, ethnic pride, ethnic pride, and after watching dancers audition– the majority of the company is white or latino. This then lead me to think, wow, I am such a hypocrite. Then I realized that it wasn’t because I was being racist, it was because the lack of training the other dancers had.  Then I remembered, “No shit. They don’t have the money to train.”

Then I was like, lets start a go fund me campaign to have scholarships for ethnic kids who have good grades so we can offer them amazing training, who have potential. I even posted it on here for the School of Redlands Dance Theatre and didn’t raise 1 dollar. Then I was like, fantastic, the rest of the world is just as bad as I am.  They are like misty copeland, ethnic dancer ethnic dancers! and I am sitting here like, “You won’t even support a non profit who is willing to train dancers.” The problem is that a 10 year old ethnic student or 13 year old ethnic student with no training is going to get a full ride to SFB with no training. The problem isn’t the institution of ballet… the problem is our communities and the communities that support the arts… To fix the ethnic dancer ratio in ballet, isn’t to just demand companies to hire ethnic dancers… the answer is to even the ratio of potential dancers… So, as I am going about planning my company class tomorrow, I was like hmmm we need to find a way to get the arts more money. No, we need to get schools that support the arts more money. No, we need educate the communities we live in about the arts.

For example. Little Jessy, who we raised money for to go to LA Ballet , thank you again by the way, is latina. She is first generation. Her parents don’t believe dancing is a career and don’t have the money to support her dancing. Carlos, a former student of mine who went on scholarship to the Rock School and North Carolina School of the Arts, same issue, parents didn’t understand careers within the arts, and didn’t have the means to support their child in that field. Now he dances for my company. Then I look at all the kids I teach at the school district- so many potential dancers, but don’t have the money to train at a real school or studio… So they dance in after school programs, which is great, but they don’t have the refinement of a ballet dancer, the tenacity instilled into jazz dancers, and their work ethic and dedication is attacked by culture and family values.

So, while the issue of race is still a hot topic in ballet… We need to ask ourselves, “Really, am I helping the cause?”

Then, I saw that DTH (Dance Theatre of Harlem) was searching for a soloist or principal dancer. This raised my eyebrow… I was like seriously? WTF. Number one… DTH does not have rankings… And number two… if their “superstar” is going to Washington Ballet for the upcoming season… why not endorse one of your own dancers. Again… the real reason why i started my blog comes out… I am seriously thinking… I know four dancers in DTH who are beyond spectacular… so instead of spending some extra effort in PR, and Marketing… you would rather bring an outside person in? WTF. Shame on you.

Tulsa Ballet announced they are going on tour in Italy this upcoming season, which is beyond fantastic… Which then lead me to be like, oh yeah the AD is Italian. Then I was like WTF… why are we bringing in all these foreign ADs… No offense to Tulsa Ballet, since he has been there 20 years… but like WTF. We have Angel at PA Ballet f’ing up that… No offense to latin dancers… but all of his new hires were latino. Which is great to diversify PA Ballet, but your comments about cleaning out balanchine affected dancers was a little crude. Go back to spain where your company really didn’t do well… Then I am scrolling through social media and see like all these random videos of semi ethnic dancers… Claiming how hard their struggle was… You can’t hop on the band wagon in hopes to get a job or promoted… Misty Copeland already put the pressure on… And I am sure when ABT announces their fiscal reports… donations will have soared.

this lead me to be like… ethnic or passable white?

As American History is horribly tainted in racism… And in the education system we had light as a paper back, and hair straight as a ruler, as a guideline for collegiate acceptances. Now, has that same rule come to ballet? I am not questioning if someone is ethnic or not ethnic…  If you have see Misty Copeland on stage… You wouldn’t know she was black. This lead to me to believe why she was able to move into ABT in the first place… Then I was like Latins and Asians… And after looking at who has made it into abt… I was like ummm passable white. Versus say Mariinsky who has a Korean Principal Male… Obviously the only ethnic dancer. He guested for ABT alongside Hee Seo… Talk about Racial Profiling… Unless she requested him… then that is odd too because like she is gorgeous next to Roberto Bolle and David Hallberg. Don’t be greedy Hee Seo. Haha.

Then I was like NYCB probably has had the biggest criticism for ethic dancers. Period. I mean like… talk about flies in milk. While Albert Evans, Arthur Mitchell, and Jock Soto made City Ballet Principals and paved their way into ballet history, and Amar Ramasar making his mark in ballet history… I’m like… 0 ethnic female principals. 1 asian in the corps. SMH. Then I was like oh yeah… The only way to get into NYCB is to go to SAB… and I think only Peter Boal is the only person ever to start at SAB and finish as a principal. Which lead me back to why we should be supporting schools.

Now finally, as I am the bottom of the bottle of malbec- When the world of ballet decides to obsess over someone new, or find a new topic to be controversial about… What side of the line will you be on? Those who bitched and moaned on social media, which does nothing. Or did you actually contribute to a school, fundraise, talk to your studio’s owner and ask to set up a fund, or parent’s association to help ethnic dancer… Did you applaud misty and stella because they had finally made it, or were you there writing letters to ABT encouraging their promotion and donations to the school for under privileged kids? Did you donate to project plié or buy your starbucks everyday before you take your child to class and sit in the hallways knitting with the other moms? My friends have decided they would support RDT’s school by instead of going out to dinner every night, that they would cut back and use that money to support a student.  I mean we do go out every night, and spend way too much money on bottle service, dinners, and more anyways. We have decided that Tuesdays will be our fancy dinner night, and we will only go out Fridays and Saturdays. We will then cut checks to RDT. We couldn’t give up coffee. haha. So, what will you do?

3 Replies to “Everybody is talking about ballet, but are we talking about the right thing?”

  1. Very interesting analysis. I just think that the government ought to support the arts like the way the Russian and French governments do (although the Russians are cutting down on the resources). When ballet training is left to private institutions, there is inevitably inequality in terms of who can get training from a young age (thus perpetuating the elitism of the art form). Here in Hong Kong the ballet education system is so screwed up that young students with great talent would have to go overseas for training, as the only upper-level training institute that exists here accepts students who have to have passed their high school exams and are already around 18 years old–a time when aspiring dancers would have already graduated from serious ballet training in other countries. The government simply does not understand and doesn’t have the vision to correct this fallacy. No wonder our own ballet company is predominated by foreign-hired dancers. By the way, kudos to you and your friends in supporting your students by eating out less! Great initiative!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Very interesting blog! Misty Copeland has always claimed that she is a black woman and I am hoping that when she was promoted as a principal at ABT that it was based on her merit and not the colour of her skin. My daughter and I, we are black Canadians, have questioned the lack of ethnicity of students studying ballet. We attend many dance competitions, and she along with a couple of ethnic dancers from her studio would be the only one competing in a ballet category (my daughter does demi-pointe, pointe and contemporary ballet and other genres of dance). My daughter will tell you that she is a ballerina first and foremost. Yes, financial can be one reason for the lack of ethnic students studying ballet or dance in general, but I also think that there is not a lot of ethnic representation in professional ballet companies for other children to look up too. You typically see the ethnic person studying hip hop, jazz or tap. I am hoping in time that these companies will start looking at dancers for their dance ability. In addition, some kids think ballet is simply boring and teachers need to change up the music so kids can relate such as doing ballet to rock ‘n’roll, hip hop, classical rock and classical music. If kids can see that ballet can be danced to many styles of music, then they may see it in a different light. My daughter is driven to the point that she is planning on completing the RAD Solo Seal Award; in the meanwhile, she is hoping that when she competes that she is already encouraging all ethnic dance students the importance of ballet in their dance repertoire. I think it is great that you are trying to promote more ethnic kids to get involved in dance. I am on a board of directors of a non-profit organization that assists parents with their child’s training in classical ballet. One of our revenue is volunteering at a charity bingo hall which we receive monthly proceeds and we are in the process of selling gift cards which a percentage goes to the organization. Good luck with your fundraising! It takes time to build but you will get there.

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