CMU School of Drama

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Classical ballet has a diversity problem and its stars know how to fix it As an African-American soloist with the United Kingdom’s Royal Ballet, Eric Underwood says he is often asked why the ballet world isn’t very diverse.

It’s complicated, Underwood says. Race, income, social hierarchies and other factors often conspire to create a situation that excludes people of color from serious pursuit of dance.


Tahirah K. Agbamuche said...

I relate to this article on a very personal level as I grew up in a primary white neighborhood, and attended an all white dance class. I remember struggling to feel comfortable in my own skin- My hair did not go into a perfect bun the way other girls did, and I always felt like I was oddly looked at. That alone was unsettling and does not make it easy for young African-American girls to be comfortable pursuing. That being said, that is assuming that an African-American family even has the available resources for dance classes. It definitely was not a common pastime. Fortunately, I had a Mother who made immense effort to make sure I was submerged in the arts no matter what. For that I am forever grateful to her. There is no hiding the fact that Ballet Lessons were extremely elitist, up there with horseback riding and gymnastics. It just is not always made available, affordable, or accepting of young chocolate girls. Until I was introduced to Misty, there were no African-American ballerinas and that really put a damper on my dreams. I think lack of role models is an additional reason for the lack of diversity. There is also a lot of negative stereotyping of African-American dancers, especially young girls. The males are more likely to advance because their muscle is helpful and sought after for effortless looking lifts, but for girls they just do not fit the mold...I know I myself did not feel beautiful because my body looked different from the white ballerinas. I am so happy that this is being acknowledged and people are taking a stand to do something about this issue. Ballet is a beautiful art form that should be enjoyed by all people regardless of income, skin color, or gener. Art is Art.

Simone Schneeberg said...

Ballet is unfortunately such a white (and female) form of dance in its image, that a lot of people of different backgrounds do not even think of it as something they would like to do. I agree that lack of role models is a huge issue; when you don't see someone like you doing something you don't often think of yourself doing that thing. When that five year old does say "I want to dance", he or she will most likely go to a form that they see people like them in. I think one thing that dance companies have done to be more diverse and get around the lack of role models that actually seems to be working is fusing dance styles. Hip hop, ballet (pointe mainly) fusion has become a trend, opening up the strict form of ballet to looser expression and to people of more diverse dance and ethnic backgrounds. It also is just a really cool art form that seems fun to learn, perform, and watch. Unfortunately the biggest obstacle is really money. Dance is expensive, dance shoes and dance clothes are expensive. I think that as long as price point remains an issue, ballet may never be as diverse as we would like it to be.