Over the past several months, I have noticed an increase in the number of conversations about diversity and race in the arts. These conversations have particularly sparked with the promotion of Misty Copeland to be the first African-American female Principal dancer for the acclaimed American Ballet Theatre (ABT), but also with zero African-Americans being nominated for an Oscar and the lack of diversity that still exists. The status of dance and race in America is something we should give our attention to.
More and more cultural institutions are having dialogues about diversity and how to reach a more diverse audience. A number of research studies have been conducted in the arts field measuring the level or lack of diversity in their boards and staff. Government agencies and funders are recognizing this as an issue and are making efforts to provide funding to support diversity and inclusion initiatives. For more information, please read my previous blog post entitled, Diversity is the New Black.
I recently came across a Time interview featuring a conversation between Misty Copeland and President Barack Obama. They both represent the African-American community and are both currently at the top of their respected field (Classical Ballet and U.S Government). The dialogue was interesting as they talked about the roadblocks that unintentionally or intentionally exist to keep certain groups of people out. Copeland and President Obama mentioned how they try use their positions of power to force people to think about and have those conversations on diversity.
I think it is a fair assessment for me to say that there are barriers that exist that work against people from underrepresented groups. We need to have these conversations and know that the roadblocks are real and deeply rooted. The time is now to open our doors and open our minds to reach out to those underserved communities that have traditionally not had access.
However, as much as it is important to have these conversations, there needs to be action behind it. Otherwise, it becomes useless chatter.
One organization who has taken the call to action is the International Association of Blacks in Dance (IBAD). This past January at their annual conference held its first (and hopefully not the last) audition for female dancers of color. 87 dancers from across the country traveled for a chance to audition for some of the nation’s top Classical ballet companies and schools. Organizations in attendance included Ballet Memphis, Charlotte Ballet, Colorado Ballet, Dance Theatre of Harlem, Houston Ballet, Joffrey Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Pennsylvania Ballet II, San Francisco Ballet, the School of Nashville Ballet, and the School of American Ballet.
What a monumental event! It was also a huge step in making “American ballet look like America.” Dancers who have traditionally been overlooked found new opportunities, companies and pre-professional training programs found new talented dancers (many of whom received scholarships and were invited to attend company auditions), and everyone became more engaged in the conversation of dance and race in America.
Here is a video with an overview of what happened: