Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 21, 2010
As a snapshot of ballet in this country, the six-day, nine-company Ballet Across America series at the Kennedy Center, which concluded Sunday, offered some good news but little revelation. The primary take-away is that whether you're talking Memphis or Tulsa, Seattle or Charlotte, there's an impressively high level of skill among the nation's ballet dancers.
The companies are also overwhelmingly white and dotted with Europeans -- as they have always been. Diversity in ballet remains a serious problem for the small companies as well as the large, on the coasts as well as in the heartland. In the 21st century, we can put a black man in the White House, but as last week's survey shows, we can't put a black ballerina in the Opera House. Clearly, not enough work is being done to foster African American dancers. But with public money in their coffers, ballet companies -- and the local, state and federal funders -- need to make equal opportunity in the dancer ranks a priority.
I'm always struck by how white people are constantly admonishing each other that they must lure more blacks into difficult, low-paying, low chance of success careers. Being a ballerina, which typically demands you go pro out of high school and where you'll probably be physically washed up before you hit 30, is the kind of career that shouldn't be shoved on girls with no family money to back them up.
The type of middle class African-American girl who would be interested in being a ballerina rather than, say, a video vixen generally already has a lot of options in life, including going to college.
So, ballerinas need to be plugged into social networks where rich ladies stay on the lookout for, say, a fellow who has just made partner at her husband's law firm who now needs a wife. You can imagine how this would be harder for blacks, but white people never stop to put themselves into the shoes (or slippers) of their intended affirmative action beneficiaries.