Where Are All the Black Swans?

How come there are still so few black women in ballet? As Dance Theatre of Harlem makes its comeback this year, many dance fans are looking at the rosters of other major American ballet companies, and wondering why, in 2013, there is still so little diversity. Some say the African American community just isn't interested enough in ballet. Others believe it's because the powerful-black-woman stereotype doesn't mesh with the ideal of an ethereal sylph. Some point out the cultural insensitivity inherent in ballet (see: La Bayadére's wild Fakirs, Le Corsaire's wicked Lankendem, Petrouchka's black-faced Blackamoor, all of Nutcracker, Act II). While expensive professional training is a barrier to entry no matter the skin tone, there's also the catch-22 that with no black principals to look up to, young students don't have enough role models to follow.

 

Only the most determined manage to overcome so many hurdles. This Monday, March 4, Virginia Johnson, DTH artistic director (and Pointe's founding editor), will sit down with American Ballet Theatre soloist Misty Copeland, DTH dancer Ashley Murphy and former Les Ballets de Monte Carlo dancer Raven Wilkinson to share their personal stories of being black in ballet, and how they've found success despite so many obstacles. The conversation and performance will take place at The Greene Space in New York City, as part of the EMANCIPATION 150 series. Find more details here.

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Left to right: Dance Theatre of Harlem's Daphne Lee, Amanda Smith, Lindsey Donnell and Alexandra Hutchinson in a scene from Dancing Through Harlem. Derek Brockington, Courtesy Dance Theatre of Harlem

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