I was recently sent an article that was printed in the New York Times that explored the existence of racism in the professional dance world, particularly in two major New York Ballet Companies, The New York City Ballet and The American Ballet Theater.
The piece entitled "Where Are The Balck Swans"? took issue with the lack of diversity in American ballet. Since The Dance Theater of Harlem went on hiatus in 2004 there has been a very small number of Black dancers who have been employed to dance with professional companies. And even if they're lucky enough to land a job, they usually never advance beyond the corps de ballet .
So why do these dancers continue to dance in the face of rejection? I'll tell you why, because they were born to do it. The truth is that they would do it for free. I always tell people who want to dance professionaly if there is anything else in life they would rather do then do it, this career is not for the faint of heart.
You would think that race would not be a factor in the dance community and that it would all boil down to what each dancer has to bring to the floor, but that's not the case. This problem doesn't just exist in the ballet world but in commercial dance and Broadway as well.
I'll never forget how often I noticed the color of my skin during my days as a dancer in New York City. It was common practice to count the number of Black dancers who were auditioning for the same job, because we knew there was only room for one or two. There's always a "token blackie" in every show, and while you don't want to be that person you also don't want to be unemployed.
There is no shortage of talented classically trained Black dancers, but there is a shortage of ballet masters and directors who are unwilling to shift their thinking and introduce audiences to an image of a new ballerina...a Black one.