Monthly Archives: January 2010

Diversity in the Arts

New York City Ballet. San Francisco Ballet. Boston Ballet. Great companies named after great cities. Yet the ranks of these institutions fail to reflect the racial and cultural diversity of the cities after which they are named. However, that doesn’t prevent them from receiving public funds from taxpayers. I’ve listened in on many conversations, public and private, where black people discuss their anger and frustration over this. I’m sure similar conversations happen among other groups. Do the heads of these companies realize this? Do they care?

The big ballet companies in this country are lacking in racial diversity. This issue has many layers to it. On the one hand, it’s like a catch-22. Many blacks are reluctant to allow their children to study the art form because they are afraid to subject them to racism. If they are allowed to do so, it is only up to a certain point. In my observation, academics are stressed above art. The parents of these children would rather see them go to college than join a dance company, or at least get their degrees first. Since the art is not allowed to be prioritized, many black children do not receive the necessary rigorous training required to become a classical dancer.

As a result, few show up to audition at the big classical companies. Those that do often do not have enough training. This is partially the reason why there are few blacks in these companies in the cases where artistic directors are open to having them. On the ugly side of all this, some white artistic directors are not open to blacks in ballet. Period. If they allow a token black to enter, they will not be loved and nurtured as one of their own. On the positive side, there are a few black ballet artistic directors, like Alonso King, who refreshingly, have a diverse cast and audience and there are white directors who are more open than in the past. There is hope.

As the world becomes more and more racially mixed, ballet companies need people of color to buy tickets in order to survive. The old guard is simply dying off. So the question arises as to how to get a more diverse audience to the theater. Some naively think that once they are introduced to ballet and great dancing, they will just fall in love with it. This will sometimes be the case. But ultimately, people want to see themselves reflected. So, if you don’t have black people dancing up there on the stage, black audience members will feel alienated, NO MATTER HOW GREAT THE DANCING IS. There is a deep wound in our American psyches around the issue that people of color are physically and intellectually incapable of ballet, and the classical arts. An all white, or nearly all white cast only makes the wound deeper.

Incidentally, this argument was also used to prevent blacks from entering professional sports teams, colleges, and a lot of other good things. The arts, it seems, are way behind, the last bastion of white superiority clinging fearfully to the good old days.

Another matter to be addressed is the content of the programming. Again, if the choreographers and composers are all white, black people, people of color, will find that alienating. As an artist, I find that just plain impractical. It is too limiting. The issue of diversity, if it is to be thoroughly addressed, has to be dealt with on all levels of the organization, throughout the entire structure, outwardly in community, and inwardly, in our own hearts. I know it will take time. I also know that it is inevitable. Or ballet will just go the way of the dinosaurs.

Many artistic directors would not agree. They love their aesthetic and, quite frankly, don’t see the need, apart from money, to integrate. They have not loved “the other.” They have not seen from their point of view. But they are gonna die. And the generation coming up is the first in which it is ok for whites to love black culture and vice versa. White folks love hip-hop and black folks love skate-boarding, and etc. People are adopting children of all races. That is the future.

Art has to be for everyone. It doesn’t belong to any one race. It doesn’t belong to its creator. We are all human. Let us all rejoice in what is still beautiful about that together.


…the…great…WHAT IS NESS

Ok, I’ll admit it. I sometimes struggle with reality. Big surprise. It is often hard to reconcile the version of life in my head with the version in front of me. Also, I can see that the version in my head sometimes influences the version in front of me, which complicates things, and when it doesn’t, or doesn’t in the way I want it to, I suffer. Woe is me. And, of course, everything needs to be reevaluated in the morning, when one is sober.

The Buddha said, “Life is suffering.”

The christians think it’s noble to suffer.

That’s a bunch of bullshit.

The real Human Struggle stems from a profound inability to accept what is. It’s a kind of insanity, of which, as stated above, I have deliriously partaken. Only through acceptance of what is can we find clarity and right action. Otherwise, all we “see” is that we feel bad and we reach for the nearest thing to make us feel better. Sometimes, that thing is an innappropriate sex partner. Oreos. A drug of some sort, some thing that makes us addicted.

So when What Is doesn’t look like our imagination, we tend to push it away. Pushing away what is naturally makes us feel lousy. We come to associate a feeling of betrayal, this bad feeling, with what is, but fail to realize that we are the instruments of our own betrayal.

Don’t you just love words? They make me giddy. Positively giddy. The way they can symbolize something as complicated and elusive as an emotion. As a hummingbird.

Anyway, where was I…

So we have to practice getting out of our heads and falling into the present moment. When we do that, some of those pesky addictions will shed of their own accord. Others take more being-present practice. And at some point in that practice, we start to realize, like adults, that we can trust ourselves. I mean really trust ourselves. We must trust in our own ability to remain centered, even if we fall, like a gymnast on a balance beam, and that when we maintain that balance, we help others to do the same by example.

A huge step for human evolution will unfold when we begin to, as a whole, and around big things, trust ourselves as adults. Trust that what we’ve learned is good, is good, and that what we know is bad, is so, and to not do the really bad shit. I’m not saying be a fucking Saint. I’m saying chill with that really out-of-balance shit. Like war.

People will say that level of cooperation amongst mankind is impossible. And maybe it’s true. But oh, WHAT WONDERS WE WILL KNOW IN STRIVING TOWARDS THAT! It will not ever all come together at once, except for in brief moments, like the first time we all saw Michael Jackson do the moon walk.  So, we will have these moments, these glimpses into God’s love. In between such moments of inspiration, we have to do the best we can. And by that doing, continue to grow, to evolve. Into something truly miraculous. I can’t wait to see the year 2263. Dude, I keep telling you, it’s all about the journey.

“Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do.”–Dr. Spock.

Now was that Dr. Spock, the famous teacher of parenting, or Dr. Spock from Star Trek?

Either way.

On Children

On Children (excerpt)

by Kahlil Gibran

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

The great acapella group, “Sweet Honey in the Rock,” put music to these words that I’ve been humming ever since yesterday’s meeting with a young student. She came to me to talk about her future. As her love for ballet has grown, she started to wonder if she could make a profession out of it. She is talented but somewhat impeded by her late start, around age thirteen.  This was intentional on the part of her mother who had been a professional ballet dancer and wanted to avoid, at all costs, her daughter becoming the same.

I felt really sad hearing this. Lord knows, I’ve had my struggles with dancing. Though there are things I would have done differently, in general, I am grateful for my life in dance. I am grateful for the chance to have sculpted an arabesque out of my own flesh. I am grateful for the all the days that I danced so hard that I felt positively cleansed inside and out. I am grateful for all the pain, sorrow and humiliations because they helped me grow.

I can relate to the mother’s desire to protect her daughter from hardship. As a teacher, I never want to see my students get hurt, but I do my best to protect them while moving them forward. Not at the expense of it.

I see this great wide road we are all on. I see what came before as well as my own brief appearance on it. I see that my teachers passed on what they knew to me. How I took it, reinterpreted it and am now passing it on to my students. And so on and so on. I can’t give them all the tools they will need, however, because what they will experience in the future is beyond my grasp. They will have to find their own way. This is the nature of life. To thwart that process is an excercise in futility. You can’t hold the children back. Nor can you compete with them. They’ve already won.

For instance, it’s the students, not the parents, who will probably read this. And I want them to know that I’m waving at them from the far shore.

%d bloggers like this: