Sexism, Racism, and Job Opportunities in Ballet…

a ballet education race and politics

Lately, ballet has been centered around…. well not dancing, but politics. When is the last time the news covered a great performance? No, instead the things that go viral aren’t the reviews but the dirty dark secrets of ballet. The Huffington Post, Dance Magazine, and numerous other publications have touched on these topics. Recently, I read an interview with Christopher Wheeldon in the Huffington post that touched on sexism. Needless to say, I wasn’t really that impressed with what he had to say. No offense. What he said was politically correct, and for that I guess bravo. Dance Magazine’s recent editorial on female choreographers was interesting, but didn’t really pose a long-term solution. And as much as I love the New York Times… the article by Michael Cooper really didn’t do much either. While most of these articles touch on the history of ballet choreographers, all of these articles beat around the bush and no one, in a position of power wants to say what actually should be said…

“Ballet is Woman” – George Balanchine

Pointe Shoes, the tutu, the tiara…. All female icons in ballet, and as the gender of ballet is female, it is dominated by men. This is not just ballet but say, fashion. Fashion is female but like ballet, is dominated by men.

You might be thinking, “Why not just employ a female choreographer?”

You might even say the landscape of gender equality is changing in ballet as Julie Kent just became the AD at Washington Ballet and appointed Xiomara Reyes head of the school. Tamara Rojo is AD and ENB, while Laurdes Lopez is AD at Miami City Ballet… Suzanne Farrell has Suzanne Farrell Ballet… and that PNB once at cofounding artistic director Francia Russell.

You might even say that with Misty Copeland, race is changing in ballet.

These are things that everyone covered and hides behind, but really the problem is pointed at one position and one position alone… I always feel so sad that this blog really has nothing nice to say about this position… but it is true… It is why this blog started… my anger towards these men… Artistic Directors… If there is any one person or one title to blame for the landscape of ballet it is really that simple… No one wants to say it because it will anger the ballet world, and heaven forbid we actually just say what has to be said… Seriously people… side eye… The world of ballet won’t come crashing down because we say the true statement… The ballet gods might punish me in my career but it is really this simple….

Artistic Directors of Major Ballet Companies dictate the gender, ethnicity, choreographers, and look of ballet. Thus, if you are unhappy with the political landscape of ballet, you can look at the head of the company.

a ballet education ballet company

Here is the problem with the current leadership of Artistic Directors around the world… They are the generation that danced during the “Golden Age” of ballet. Most of them danced ballet when the world was “larger” and that ballet techniques were still in flux… They come from a time prior, when Russian Ballet and the Ballet Russes and Balanchine was touchable… They come from an era where ballet truly was an elitist art form. This mindset is the mindset of the juries of major ballet competitions, the heads of ballet schools, and the heads of ballet companies. It is really that simple. This idea that ballet was once everything, has caused a huge influx of ballet teachers in America. If you look at the landscape of dance teachers in America right now, the number is huge. This has now been passed down to our current generation, and popularized again by TV, Social Media and ballet reform… Now we have younger and younger dancers opening their own schools, heading their own companies, and creating collectives that are ran by dancers….

It would not be hard for an AD to pick an unknown female choreographer and give her a chance to set a work…. It really wouldn’t be hard… But they fear ticket sales, so in the grand tradition of ballet, they higher the bigger names… The current names in choreography, who I admire and I love, are all men… So, instead of saving money, and cultivating new talent, they spend big dollars to bring in big names, to bring in big ticket sales. It was just proposed recently, that data analyzation is the key for ballet companies to succeed… Which could be true… Ticket sales do matter…. The overall problem though- is that even in this day and age… Ballet Companies will not take risks anymore. They play it safe… Yet ideally, we idolize the age of the Ballet Russes and all of their innovations and taking chances… They are the ones who gave chances to young dancers, to new choreographers and inspired the innovative collaborations with artists, designers, and musicians…. Ironic isn’t it?

The problem is that ballet companies are tanking due to tradition. Some traditions have to change with time. Some ideals must change… Balanchine made ballet skinny. Massine made the symphonic ballet…. But now, no one is really brave enough to make another significant ballet change… and that’s a fact.

On Race…

I recently read an article that criticized Asian dancers… Because they are passable white… I also read an article about Latin dancers taking American jobs… So, now we are talking about ballet on the global scale and this is stressful because… well… It would be rude of me to say what I actually want to say… Nor would it be the most appropriate as it would probably be filled with profanity… Okay… So, first let’s talk about “passable white” on stage…

I know for a fact, that if you are passable white on stage you have a better chance to make it on stage… But that doesn’t diminish the fact and hard work a dancer has to put it in, no matter what ethnicity you are. It is that simple. If a dancer makes a professional career happen, it was not given to them because of their race… They did work hard to perfect the technique, find their unique voice in artistic interpretation… they deserve it. Hee Seo was the first Korean Principal, while Stella Abrera and Jeffrey Cirio are the first male and female principals of Philippino decent… but their promotions were based off of merit, not a campaign for race… Nor, was race ever discussed in their articles… And if it was, it was secondary to their art…

Ballet has always been international. Each company head hunts the best in the world to lead their season… This has always been the case… But recently, at PA Ballet, Angel got rid of tons of American Dancers… all Balanchine trained and brought in Cubans and latin dancers… Favoritism sure… Jose Carreno at Silicon Valley also brought in a huge latin influx but caused the company to fold… despite crowdfunding hundreds of thousands of dollars… See, the problem is that ballet in America is turning extremely European… which wasn’t really the case… Over the past five decades, American Ballet has been dominated by the Balanchine Aesthetic… But over the past two years… Ballet in America is converting to be extremely Russian… Including going after girls in America with Russian body types and proportions… American Ballet has always been celebrated because of the diversity of body types, and the opportunity for Americans to dance differently… But the Artistic Directors today want pure Russian…. And to be honest… very few schools in America teach actual Russian technique… Though a lot of them claim they do… but they don’t… It is kind of funny… But this has caused all of the jobs to go to foreign dancers…and not Americans… It has nothing to do with race but the aesthetic and technique artistic directors are looking for… PA Ballet is the perfect example of the change… which isn’t for the better. PA Ballet, Angel Corella, laid off tons of Balanchine trained dancers- mostly all American…. And is turning the company more classical… Thus hiring all foreign hires… The problem? Foreign hires are expensive… They have to have their visas sponsored… Another expense for an American company…

Ballet in America is trying to change, but directors keep pulling America further and further away from change… Directors are not grasping the rate ballet is changing and has to change to survive…. It isn’t about preserving tradition anymore… It is about sparking innovation and pushing ballet forward for the next generation… It is scary – but it has to be done.

I recently applied for a job that I am probably under qualified for in terms of name…. But the more and more I thought about this job, the more and more I realized, I am actually quite suited for it. I probably will not get this job, but the reality isn’t because I am not good enough… It is because I don’t have the name they want to bring in… Even though I would be cheaper, well connected, plus I have my blog that fuels ballet politics… They probably won’t even consider me and toss my resume to the side…

It is this idea and mindset of the current heads of ballet that doesn’t allow change.

So before you start pointing the finger at random histories and traditions… The reality is so simple… The Artistic Directors of major ballet companies dictate the landscape of ballet… And they aren’t changing anytime soon… If ballet could impeach- we should. But it doesn’t, so instead… the public is slowly starting to put pressure on ballet’s boards of directors in hopes they spark change… But it isn’t happening… And needs to happen for ballet to change… even just an inch forward… Sorry about this long post, I feel like I am campaigning for president hahaha.

behind the scenes allynne noelle

3 responses to “Sexism, Racism, and Job Opportunities in Ballet…”

  1. Well said. This tendency to devolve towards the safe, known, and traditional really seems to be plaguing the arts as a whole right now, but especially ballet. It’s sad, because ballet is such a great artform with so much to offer, and innovation is essential to its survival, and yet it’s so hard to innovate in our current climate (or, well, it’s hard to get innovative stuff out into the public eye).

  2. Truth…speaking to power. Say that. I thought it might change once some ADs died off, but it keeps getting perpetuated…I hear you, my sista…even our own divas aren’t opening doors to their native daughters…what’s up with that?