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The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
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ysabetwordsmith
Black Ballet
 Discussion and awesome photo of a black dancer in flight.

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26 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
fayanora From: fayanora Date: December 5th, 2010 09:44 am (UTC) (Link)

History is weird

Ballet is a perfect example of how weird history is. Ballet started out as a way to show off women to patrons in the hope that the patrons would pay for a happy ending... yes, ballet was basically prostitution. Odd how, a couple hundred years later, it's this chic thing and people send their little girls there and go to ballet recitals. Imagine, if you will, a couple hundred years from now people are sending their little girls to pole dancing school and going to recitals, watching little Tiffany hang upside down from the pole. Most people would be horrified by that image, but think nothing of going to ballet recitals. Weird.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 5th, 2010 06:42 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: History is weird

>>Ballet started out as a way to show off women to patrons in the hope that the patrons would pay for a happy ending... yes, ballet was basically prostitution. <<

Similar things have happened in other cultures too, hence Kabuki.

>> Imagine, if you will, a couple hundred years from now people are sending their little girls to pole dancing school and going to recitals, watching little Tiffany hang upside down from the pole. <<

It's possible. If one sets aside the erotic connotations, and looks at the dance moves alone -- pole dancing and other forms of stripdance are extremely demanding. The dancer must have great strength, flexibility, and control to perform those moves. Most people don't realize that because they just think of it as a sex-offering and undervalue the women who do it. But the skill demanded is very real.
fayanora From: fayanora Date: December 6th, 2010 03:03 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: History is weird

Indeed.
marina_bonomi From: marina_bonomi Date: December 5th, 2010 01:37 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thanks for the wonderful link, Elizabeth.

Actually ballet was born as a court entertainment (the first school for professional dancers was the Royal Academy of Dancing founded by Louis the XIV in 1661).
Fact is that the performing arts were considered 'disreputable' (hobby-performances were ok as a pastime, but being on stage as a professional in whatever capacity was seen as shameful) and so professional dancers and actresses were seen as, more or less 'fair game'.

Times change, though.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 5th, 2010 06:10 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thoughts

I'm pleased by the discussion this has sparked.

All the arts vary over time and culture. Sometimes one is ascendant, sometimes another. Poetry has been the pinnacle, was recently at nadir, but is gaining ground now. Dance is sometimes considered obscene, sometimes sacred.
marina_bonomi From: marina_bonomi Date: December 5th, 2010 08:45 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thoughts

>>Dance is sometimes considered obscene, sometimes sacred.<<

Exactly, and sometimes both in the same culture, depending on the kind of dance.

BTW, a couple of months ago I read an aticle on a local (Italian) fitness magazine on courses of pole-dancing as an highly demanding and fun training program, so fayanora's scenario can be even nearer than 200 years (and taking out of the equation the 'eros on display/for sale' with the annexed exploitation I don't see anything wrong with it, honestly).
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 5th, 2010 09:25 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thoughts

I've seen "pole dancing for fitness" videos too.
ruefull From: ruefull Date: December 5th, 2010 02:25 pm (UTC) (Link)
This was really interesting, thank you so much for sharing the article.
msminlr From: msminlr Date: December 5th, 2010 02:47 pm (UTC) (Link)
Kanika Carr is that rarest of birds, a ballerina with boobs! I remember an episode of the old "Fame" TV show [based on the 1970's movie of the same name] in which the ballet teacher was prejudiced against an African-descended dancer because "Africans don't have a proper ballet body-type".
judifilksign From: judifilksign Date: December 5th, 2010 04:35 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, read: "anorexic." I am white, but I was shuffled out of the ballet program because I was too short-waisted to be a "real" ballerina.

(That and I, even as a child, liked to eat more than 1/4 or a Yoplait without being called a pig.)

In Dayton, Ohio, there were many black girls in the ballet program, but like the article said, many of them actually ended up in contemporary dance. But I remember going to the ballet, and Dayton had a very strong mix of dancers of many races. It surprises me that New York does not.
pocketnaomi From: pocketnaomi Date: December 5th, 2010 05:06 pm (UTC) (Link)
It does, there's just some weird juggling that goes on in terms of what kids get shuffled into what areas. I'm from New York and was a dancer/gymnast when I was a kid; that world is complicated enough that I still don't understand it completely. The short version is that DTH has sort of been considered to have first crack at the best black students for a long time, and despite an otherwise enormously competitive business, it was feared that there was something disrespectful about trying for them. Which led to the kids who were one rung down from being able to perform with (as opposed to train with, which is available to anyone who wants it) Dance Theater of Harlem being kind of stuck. I'm glad there are more options opening up, as I said below, but the politics of it are definitely very weird and not quite what it looks like. There's definitely a racial element involved that shouldn't be, but I don't think it's quite the one that people may assume. Somehow the subtle tug-o-war between the ballet world and the Broadway/jazz dance world gets involved too, and that's a bit of politics I've really never understood very well.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 5th, 2010 06:15 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thoughts

>>I'm glad there are more options opening up, as I said below, but the politics of it are definitely very weird and not quite what it looks like.<<

This actually reminds me of something from Torn World. The Southern Empire has guilds, and the guilds are a major part of the political power structure. But there's a lot of variation in which guild(s) will hold power in a given city, and which subguild(s) might be favored. There have been some fascinating dynamics involving dance, music, and other arts as a result.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 5th, 2010 06:48 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thoughts

>> IIRC, Dance Theater of Harlem was started by a principal dancer from New York City Ballet, who didn't think there were enough opportunities for black kids to study ballet. They're not strictly a ballet company; they combine ballet, modern, and a scattering of other forms of stage dance, and their first commitment is as a training school.<<

That's a really good idea. I think I've seen references to them before.

>> I've seen their performance company and it's magnificent, but they're very clear that in their eyes it's secondary to their teaching.<<

Good plan.

>> I'm glad to see other troupes starting for the purpose of offering similar opportunities in other places, I just hope it won't remain necessary for long.<<

I hope that it's not socially necessary, in that dancers should be judged based on skill not skin color. But I must admit that dance is one place where having a matched set of performers can really add to the impact. I'd like to see both mixed troupes and single-ethnicity troupes for that reason. I also think monochromatic theatre troupes are eye-catching; there are all-black troupes that do Shakespeare and other classics.

If I were ever going to run a play, I'd want it to be Hamlet a la "Shakespeare in the Bush" with an all-black cast.
pocketnaomi From: pocketnaomi Date: December 5th, 2010 07:41 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thoughts

Most ballet companies are glad to have dancers of different appearances, because they like being able to spotlight different looks for different pieces, much the way an acting troupe that expects to have a varied repertoire really needs an assortment of types. The issue for black performers isn't usually at the advanced level, where talent and training will get you jobs no matter what your color (at least these days); it's at the training level, where economics, social patterns, and residual prejudiced assumptions lead to fewer black children having the early ballet schooling which gives them a chance to find out whether they're talented enough and passionate enough about it to make it a career, and fewer of those who are gifted are identified correctly by their teachers and recommended for advanced schooling.

This is less true in New York City than some places, partly because of the Dance Theater of Harlem and partly because there are just so many opportunities for kids in New York of ANY kind (any kind of opportunities and any kind of kids!) that kids with a natural bent toward dance can usually find a way to get training no matter what their color, body type, economic situation, or anything else. But at the same time, as I said, there are industry politics at the higher levels, and the weight carried both by DTH and by the Broadway jazz dance industry mean that black kids who might otherwise go into pure ballet are often subtly assumed to be tending toward other fields as they get older and more skilled. It's hard for a teenager to go in a different direction from what everyone expects of them, even if there's not actually anyone telling them they can't. They may not think to challenge the assumptions.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 5th, 2010 09:35 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thoughts

>>Most ballet companies are glad to have dancers of different appearances, because they like being able to spotlight different looks for different pieces, much the way an acting troupe that expects to have a varied repertoire really needs an assortment of types.<<

Yes, that's a good example of how variety can be very useful.

>>it's at the training level, where economics, social patterns, and residual prejudiced assumptions lead to fewer black children having the early ballet schooling which gives them a chance to find out whether they're talented enough and passionate enough about it to make it a career, and fewer of those who are gifted are identified correctly by their teachers and recommended for advanced schooling. <<

That's definitely a problem. It's one of the things that just drives me nuts about racism, classism, sexism, etc. -- the appalling waste of human resources, all that talent going undeveloped, because in any group some individuals will be breathtaking.

>>It's hard for a teenager to go in a different direction from what everyone expects of them, even if there's not actually anyone telling them they can't. They may not think to challenge the assumptions.<<

That's a good point. *ponder* It's probably one of those problems best solved by role models and mentoring, rather than a specific program. Someone needs to alert the right kids that ballet is an option for them, and the best people to do that would be black ballet dancers.
pocketnaomi From: pocketnaomi Date: December 5th, 2010 10:19 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thoughts

It's probably one of those problems best solved by role models and mentoring, rather than a specific program. Someone needs to alert the right kids that ballet is an option for them, and the best people to do that would be black ballet dancers.

I agree, which is why I'm both glad to see some visible mainly-black troupes other than DTH and also hope they will stop being necessary soon. On the one hand, their existence right now gives kids who might want to go into ballet a chance to see that ballet is an option for black dancers. On the other hand, I hope that generation of kids gets snapped up by colorblind companies once they're grown and trained, so that the next generation of young dancers sees a world of different colors on their stage, and never has to wonder whether there's a place for them.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 6th, 2010 05:11 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thoughts

Sooth. It will be interesting to see how things play out.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 5th, 2010 06:11 pm (UTC) (Link)

Well...

>>But I remember going to the ballet, and Dayton had a very strong mix of dancers of many races.<<

That's an accomplishment, at least.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 5th, 2010 06:21 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thoughts

>>Kanika Carr is that rarest of birds, a ballerina with boobs!<<

Very impressive, yes. I like her body type.

>>the ballet teacher was prejudiced against an African-descended dancer because "Africans don't have a proper ballet body-type".<<

I've heard that before, and it's hogwash. First, fashion aside, what makes a dancer is the mind-skill and the strength and flexibility of the body. The appearance and shape are far less relevant, as long as the body is fit. Second, Africans don't come out of cookie cutters. Some are curvaceous while others are slim and straight. If you absolutely must have boyish-looking dancers, they're out there.

I am reminded of the novel Stardance in which a brilliant dancer was driven clean off the planet ... for having breasts and hips. I just wanted to smack humanity.
msminlr From: msminlr Date: December 5th, 2010 09:19 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thoughts

Yeah, I remember that passage, too.
chipuni From: chipuni Date: December 5th, 2010 05:00 pm (UTC) (Link)
I want to say just one word:

Yum.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 5th, 2010 06:10 pm (UTC) (Link)

*laugh*

That was actually my first thought on seeing the photo, too.
arielstarshadow From: arielstarshadow Date: December 5th, 2010 05:28 pm (UTC) (Link)
*sigh*

I just wish, wish, wish that photographers would stop Photoshopping. Our bodies are beautiful without having to highlight and define and airbrush out imperfections.

I much prefer the photos on the website.
judifilksign From: judifilksign Date: December 5th, 2010 06:03 pm (UTC) (Link)
I agree that the gallery there is beautiful. I think that anyone drawing superheroes would benefit from looking at how muscles on supremely fit and agile people in spandex and tights *really* look!
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 5th, 2010 06:08 pm (UTC) (Link)

Yes...

Dance photos do make wonderful art models.
saffronrose From: saffronrose Date: December 6th, 2010 11:59 am (UTC) (Link)
She's not anorexic, but has she ever got muscle tone! She's there, in her power, and don't you forget it!

I need to feel that way more often.
26 comments or Leave a comment