So I learn a little bit of something related to ballet, a dance form I like, from reading this not so short article titled “An Unlikely Ballerina: The rise of Misty Copeland” By Rivka Galchen on The New Yorker online (September 22, 2014 issue). I copy three paragraphs related to some ideas of ballet in America, but the article is mainly about the rising star Misty Copeland of the American Ballet Theatre. The entire article is on this web page http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/09/22/unlikely-ballerina
“The original dream of a uniquely American ballet was of a company that mixed whites and “Negroes”—the term used by George Balanchine, one of the co-founders of New York City Ballet. Balanchine had been influenced by working with Josephine Baker, the black American dancer who became a celebrity in France during the twenties. His vision was only occasionally realized: in his famous “Agon,” he choreographed a pas de deux for Diana Adams and Arthur Mitchell, a white woman and a black man. “Agon” was performed in 1957, to critical celebration, even though it could not be shown on television until 1968. Balanchine also made Maria Tallchief, who was of Osage heritage, an early star of the New York City Ballet. (For a time, he also made her his wife.)”
“Many black ballet dancers, including Wilkinson, were encouraged to concentrate on “African dance,” or maybe modern dance or musical theatre—even if they had spent years training in classical ballet. Virginia Johnson, long a lead ballerina and now the artistic director of Dance Theatre of Harlem, a predominantly African-American ballet company, once said she had been told by someone with good intentions that she could never be a ballerina because there aren’t any black ballerinas.
That is not quite true today, but it’s in the neighborhood of true. “Let’s be honest,” Susan Fales-Hill, a writer and a philanthropist who served on the board of A.B.T., says. “Most ballet companies look like an Alabama country club in 1952.” There is a small number of Asian-American ballerinas, and a small number of black ones. The reasons usually cited include the holdover of antiquated ideas of beauty, the lack of role models, the preference for a uniform look among the corps dancers in a company, and the high cost of years of training. (Pointe shoes, for example, are around seventy dollars a pair, and a serious dancer can easily go through a pair a week.) Lauren Anderson, a longtime principal dancer with the Houston Ballet, was the first African-American woman to reach the rank of principal ballerina with a major American company other than D.T.H. (Principal is the highest rank for a dancer, above soloist.) She played Odette/Odile a number of times before she retired, in 2006. “When we think of ballerinas, we think of pink and pale and fluffy,” she told me. “We’re not accustomed to thinking of black women’s bodies in that context. We’re accustomed to thinking of black women as athletic and strong. But all ballerinas are athletic, all ballerinas are strong.””