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Germs
07-27-2014, 04:05 AM
She popped into my head. I know that I should listen to ideas that pop into my head and fill me with a super good feeling at the start. So I have been listening; I've been creating an entire story and she's the main character.

The story isn't really about ballet itself. It's an urban fantasy. I don't see anything wrong with my main character happening to have a passion for ballet, though. I mean, why shouldn't she? She's a person. What if she happens to be a ballerina. I dare myself to make her be a ballerina.

I don't know at this point what role ballet will really have in the story. There's just this chemistry it has with my character that I crave for it.

She is black. And there are complications when it comes to black people dancing ballet. Me, honestly, I'm just writing a character, but I'm stressed out. How should I deal with the politics? I've considered ignoring them. But they're there. I'm thinking right now that I should read up on it and be familiar with the area before I write. And in the end it comes down to this girl not giving a damn because she likes ballet better than people.

Maybe you can hear how stressed I am. I think I thought about it too hard. I just feel I could benefit from your insight. Thank you so much. If I wrote something that isn't right or fair, I'm so sorry, please do tell me. Honestly, I've just begun to write diversity and I have all these things I worry about. Wow do I sound like a nervous wreck? Mm. Well here goes. *submits*

Haggis
07-27-2014, 04:07 AM
She popped into my head. I know that I should listen to ideas that pop into my head and fill me with a super good feeling at the start. So I have been listening; I've been creating an entire story and she's the main character.

The story isn't really about ballet itself. It's an urban fantasy. I don't see anything wrong with my main character happening to have a passion for ballet, though. I mean, why shouldn't she? She's a person. What if she happens to be a ballerina. I dare myself to make her be a ballerina.

I don't know at this point what role ballet will really have in the story. There's just this chemistry it has with my character that I crave for it.

She is black. And there are complications when it comes to black people dancing ballet. Me, honestly, I'm just writing a character, but I'm stressed out. How should I deal with the politics? I've considered ignoring them. But they're there. I'm thinking right now that I should read up on it and be familiar with the area before I write. And in the end it comes down to this girl not giving a damn because she likes ballet better than people.

Maybe you can hear how stressed I am. I think I thought about it too hard. I just feel I could benefit from your insight. Thank you so much. If I wrote something that isn't right or fair, I'm so sorry, please do tell me. Honestly, I've just begun to write diversity and I have all these things I worry about. Wow do I sound like a nervous wreck? Mm. Well here goes. *submits*
I'm not a PoC. But I've enjoyed Alvin Ailey (http://www.alvinailey.org/). Check it out.

ETA: Nor am I a ballerina. :D

Kylabelle
07-27-2014, 04:12 AM
(Also not a PoC, but)

And, maybe it will help relieve the pressure if you also look up Maria Tallchief. She was not African American but she was Native American, and very tall, and a stunning dancer.

Modern dance has all sorts of wonderful things going on, more every year. Clasical Ballet is a bit more, um, hidebound may I say? :D

Within the world of fine dance, though, you should be able to find wonderful meat for the good bones of your story. Good luck!

*used to aspire to dance, knows a teeny bit about it*

Germs
07-27-2014, 04:43 AM
Alright. ... That gets me thinking. I think you are right, Kylabelle, ballet is pretty hidebound. And Alvin Ailey -- Haggis, this is great, I'm in the middle of reading about it.

It makes me think of developing new art styles. My story actually takes place in a futuristic city. I've stuck with classical ballet for the sake of that vibe, that chemistry I love. But hey, why don't I take the elements from ballet I can't do without and... I mean, it would make sense that in a city of the future, the art would have evolved and stuff. Um.

I feel significantly better and am seeing more possibilities.

Cyia
07-27-2014, 06:17 AM
Check out Misty Copeland and Michaela DePrince. You should be able to find background info and videos of both.

cornflake
07-27-2014, 06:26 AM
She popped into my head. I know that I should listen to ideas that pop into my head and fill me with a super good feeling at the start. So I have been listening; I've been creating an entire story and she's the main character.

The story isn't really about ballet itself. It's an urban fantasy. I don't see anything wrong with my main character happening to have a passion for ballet, though. I mean, why shouldn't she? She's a person. What if she happens to be a ballerina. I dare myself to make her be a ballerina.

I don't know at this point what role ballet will really have in the story. There's just this chemistry it has with my character that I crave for it.

She is black. And there are complications when it comes to black people dancing ballet. Me, honestly, I'm just writing a character, but I'm stressed out. How should I deal with the politics? I've considered ignoring them. But they're there. I'm thinking right now that I should read up on it and be familiar with the area before I write. And in the end it comes down to this girl not giving a damn because she likes ballet better than people.

Maybe you can hear how stressed I am. I think I thought about it too hard. I just feel I could benefit from your insight. Thank you so much. If I wrote something that isn't right or fair, I'm so sorry, please do tell me. Honestly, I've just begun to write diversity and I have all these things I worry about. Wow do I sound like a nervous wreck? Mm. Well here goes. *submits*

Uhm, what complications? You say 'classical ballet,' but I'm not clear on what you mean. Many dancers with, say, Ailey, were trained in and do dance classical ballet, though Ailey doesn't put on the well-known, classic, 'story,' ballets. If you mean ballerina, there are and have been for ages, even in companies and schools that lean toward classic productions.

If you mean, as I suspect, soloists and up at major companies, there are fewer, true, but that's true for everyone. It's a very, very small population of anyone and getting there relies on a number of things. Which doesn't mean there hasn't been hesitation on some peoples' parts to cast some dancers in some roles, but again, true of everyone, though it's seemed easier for black men to get solo+ parts, as far as I've ever seen.

In a general sense, from Janet Collins to Aisha Ash and Misty Copeland, this exists and has existed.

Kitty27
07-27-2014, 06:43 AM
I love the idea!

I also second everyone else. I immediately thought of Misty Copeland and Alvin Ailey.

For sure there are obstacles. From what I read,there seems to be more opposition from the ballet audience than the companies themselves. There was a young Black girl named Precious Adams in the news recently who went to a renowned ballet school in Russia. She talked about the racism she experienced.

cornflake
07-27-2014, 07:01 AM
I love the idea!

I also second everyone else. I immediately thought of Misty Copeland and Alvin Ailey.

For sure there are obstacles. From what I read,there seems to be more opposition from the ballet audience than the companies themselves. There was a young Black girl named Precious Adams in the news recently who went to a renowned ballet school in Russia. She talked about the racism she experienced.

I haven't heard or read Adams' story, so I dunno. However, in a general sense, I wouldn't necessarily equate Russian audiences with ballet audiences.

There are very, very few black people in most parts of Russia. I'm not sure what she experienced, but someone coming from a place where a black person on the street isn't the only one likely been on the street that day, week, etc., may have felt focused on or judged not because of racism so much as ignorance/inexperience. I'm not excusing racism or saying she didn't experience it, but a tall, redheaded female friend of mine spent a couple of weeks touring China and was, a number of places, treated like an attraction, a freak, a curiosity, a good luck charm, and everything in between. People asked the weirdest questions, petted her, gathered round her, and stared. I don't think she'd say they were racist, but it made her uncomfortable.

eyeblink
07-27-2014, 12:40 PM
Hannah Moskowitz's next YA novel Not Otherwise Specified has a black (and bisexual) ballerina as the protagonist. Out in March 2015.

chocowrites
07-27-2014, 02:00 PM
another book rec, if you want to see how others have handled it: Pointe by Brandy Colbert (a YA book) has a black ballerina as the main character.

Polenth
07-27-2014, 04:08 PM
This article at the Washington Post has some names, quotes and links, which I'm sure will lead you to more: http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/act-four/wp/2014/05/05/where-are-the-black-ballerinas/

I think it'd be difficult to have her as a ballerina and not address any of the systematic racism. It doesn't have to be the plot of your story, but it's going to be there in her life. I'd find it hard to believe that she doesn't care if she doesn't get roles because she's not considered innocent and pretty enough as a black women, or if she's criticised as lacking grace because black women just don't have that, etc. That's going to hurt.

Ken
07-27-2014, 04:19 PM
Took ballet in college to improve coordination for sports. Only one black person in the class. A guy. Got caught hiding in the room where the girls changed into their leotards.

harmonyisarine
07-28-2014, 04:54 AM
I'm not POC, but I was a semi-professional classical ballet dancer once upon a time.

We were a small company, and so had fewer prejudices than many larger ones. As such, our three best dancers with all the solos were: a girl who was too tall to ever go professional, a girl who was way too curvy to likely go professional (but who fought the odds and sort of managed) and the best was a black girl (who did go professional). However, many companies, even American ones with far less of a tradition, are still sort of stuck in the past. It is changing, just far more slowly than it should be.

I used to follow a blog by a black ballerina, where she detailed her life in dance, especially as it was affected by her race. Unfortunately, I've lost the link and my internet is being too buggy for me to find it right now, but I think the title was a play on "Black Swan." It might be something to look for.

Lavern08
07-28-2014, 11:24 PM
ETA: Nor am I a ballerina.

But he plays a mighty fine one on TV. ;)

mayqueen
07-28-2014, 11:39 PM
One of the dancers, Michaela DePrince, featured in the documentary FIRST POSITION is black. She was born in Sierra Leone and adopted by a white family in the US. I believe she's written a book or two about her life. But she's a gorgeous dancer (Dutch National Ballet now) and in the documentary, she talks about the stereotypes about black ballerinas (not graceful, too muscular, bad feet, etc).

(I'm not a POC either, but I am an ex-dancer.)

Germs
08-03-2014, 06:07 AM
WHOAAAA thank you for the ideas and encouragement and insight and resources!!! ;-; You know, I crumpled and gave up on it some time ago but I'm thinking I really must revitalize it.

patskywriter
08-14-2014, 06:33 AM
I noticed that everyone assumed that your character was trying to become a professional dancer—am I right? You can have a passion that doesn't necessary lead to taking it on as a profession. We (my sister and I) took ballet when we were kids. It was just something inner-city, middle-class folks did back in the 1960s and '70s—you signed your kids up for dance/ballet, French, art, and all kinds of extracurricular activities. Some kids developed passions for certain activities and some just went through the motions.

One quick story: A few years ago, I was deejaying for a big, summertime event downtown. Most deejays for such events just play the hits, but I like to be more creative. I decided to play a huge Strauss waltz full blast, and suddenly, three little black girls started twirling to the music. They were obviously ballet students. The crowd was mesmerized and applauded as the girls gained more confidence and really started showing off. It was a wondrous thing to see. So, yes, write your story and don't worry about what people might say about black folks and ballet. Go for it!

Polenth
08-14-2014, 11:17 PM
Not being professional doesn't mean all the problems go away. There was a news story some time back about a black girl who wasn't allowed to take part in her ballet class's production, because her hair wasn't deemed neat enough. It was in a bun as per the rules, but her hair didn't make as small a bun as her white classmates.

The issues professionals face are more commonly covered in the media, but this isn't something that springs into being when you go pro. They're there at all levels of ballet. Even for a character who isn't pro, seeing what issues are at the top levels of ballet is a mirror to those at the bottom.

Sticks
08-15-2014, 10:46 AM
I'm not a PoC, but I trained for many years at a professional ballet school.

Hmm. I have a lot I'd like to say about this, but I don't want to bore the pants off everyone with an overlong post. Maybe I'll break it into two posts and bore the pants off everyone anyways :D

I've been out of this world for many years now, but here are some thoughts for what they're worth. Hopefully they can be of some help for your story, or to anyone else writing about ballet dancers.

1. Just to get this out of the way- the word "ballerina" is a term of respect usually reserved for female ballet dancers in top tier companies who have achieved a certain level of status within that company (usually principal dancer or etoile).

Serious ballet dancers refer to themselves as "dancers" or "ballet dancers". It's considered tacky to refer to yourself as a "ballerina". I know it's common for the media and the general public to use "ballerina", but if you have a character who attended a professional school and was serious about her career she would simply call herself a "dancer".

2. Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre is a modern dance company and does not perform classical ballet repertoire. If you want your character to be a classical ballet dancer, it wouldn't make sense for her to attend the Alvin Ailey school or dance for that company.

3. The world of top-tier classical ballet is indeed extremely conservative (and extremely insular, and imo difficult for outsiders to truly penetrate or understand). I really can't emphasize enough just how conservative, and by that I mean deeply entrenched in tradition and resistant to change.

I could write pages and pages as to *why* this is (maybe someday I'll write a book!) but for now suffice it to say, it just is.

4. I believe "visual aesthetics" is the most common justification for discrimination against black classical ballet dancers (not misguided assumptions regarding ability, physique, or personality). More on this in my next post....

Sticks
08-15-2014, 11:54 AM
5. Classical ballet companies are founded upon a select repertoire of ballets that for the most part date back to 19th century Western Europe. The aesthetics of these ballets reflect 19th century Western European ideals of beauty, especially with respect to an emphasis on "paleness". In fact, some of them have traditionally been called "white ballets"- think Swan Lake, Giselle, La Bayadere, Les Sylphides; ballets about ghostly figures in white tutus that utilize the full corps de ballet. Even outside of these "white ballets" there is still this holdover in the classics that dancers should be pale.

6. So- what you have is this "pale ideal" being passed down through the generations within an extremely conservative tradition that is resistant to change. What you have is a tradition where it's considered desirable for all members of the corps de ballet to look identical on stage and uniformity is considered ideal. What you have are artistic directors who are deeply entrenched in these traditions and therefore, to their eyes, a black dancer "sticks out" too much on stage and they don't like that.

So that's the issue today, imo. It's not because there are assumptions that Jane Doe, African American, can't express fragility or be ethereal when she dances. It's because artistic directors don't like the colour of her skin, because it doesn't fit their vision of what they've been indoctrinated to believe is ideal. And that's where the racism and discrimination comes in.

7. Balanchine's NYCB was famous for breaking race barriers. Balanchine ballets are not classical ballets- Balanchine moved away from that aesthetic tradition and wasn't so weighted down by it. Which isn't to say that white dancers didn't still dominate, or that discrimination doesn't exist within the Balanchine/NYCB milieu. But the history of NYCB is a good place to start if you're looking to research PoC in ballet, because that will lead you to Arthur Mitchell....

8. Arthur Mitchell was a NYCB dancer in the 1950's and he founded the Dance Theatre of Harlem in 1969. Dance Theatre of Harlem *is* a classical ballet company (unlike Alvin Ailey). They do classical ballets, Balanchine ballets, and contemporary ballets. It's not a top tier company but it's a well known and well respected one and well worth checking out.

Sorry for rambling! I hope this made sense and can be of some help.

aruna
08-15-2014, 12:24 PM
Just a thought, a propos of nothing: wouldn't it have been great if the Black Swan in the movie had been --- black!
But: very interesting, Sticks.