Posted on June 26, 2020
Like many others, I was shocked and outraged by the killing in Minneapolis on May 25 of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, by a white police officer who knelt on his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds. It rightly sparked protests and demonstrations around the world, and highlighted once more the ugly truth about racial discrimination against black and non-white people.
Everybody needs to work harder to achieve equality for all, and this is something that is also true of the dance community – especially classical ballet – which has simply not done enough to diversify the profession and its audiences. In this month’s issue, we publish a personal response to the situation from Ballet Black’s Cira Robinson.
I sincerely hope, over the years, Dancing Times has celebrated and given due recognition to non-white dance professionals, but I’m also conscious the magazine must do more in future, and so we would like to hear from you, our readers, of ways in which we can achieve this – you can contact us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Black dancers have been around for years – good ones; ones who are better than others and can dance circles around them, but who are not getting the proper exposure or the chance to show it. Our love for ballet is the thing that keeps us going, even though we have to deal with outside injustices and the judgement of walking outside with this colour skin. I can’t do anything about that; I would never do anything about my skin colour. I love it, but I’ve grown to love it because not everyone loves it. It’s the first thing people see, and I understand that, but it’s a lie when people say, ‘I don’t see colour’. That’s ridiculous. You have eyes to see. How you treat that person is up to you, and that’s where the truth comes out.
“We just want to dance, as well as have the opportunity to show our passion for the art form as much as we can. We want to feel the light on our cheekbones, which is the greatest feeling in the world, but we won’t get that opportunity until we are acknowledged for being there, for being in the studio and for being ballet dancers, acknowledged for the blisters on our feet, our toenails coming off and the blood, sweat and tears we put into ballet and into everything we do. Building countries, building civilisations; we’ve done that. All we want is acknowledgement and respect, and to be given what’s rightfully ours if we work for it. We work hard for what we love.”
“MP: Do you have any thoughts on inclusivity in ballet and dance?
DB: The dance world, broadly, is very inclusive, but I think the contemporary dance sector is doing a lot of the heavy lifting. You only have to look to know it’s a much more inclusive workforce. There are challenges around any art form or activity that has stringent physical requirements, and it’s interesting to know how you balance that with inclusivity.
“We have a relatively fixed view of what ballet is and how it’s done. What a good arabesque is, what a good pirouette is. I think until we relax or broaden those views we are going to struggle with this issue. Even saying that, I start to question where is that borderline between ballet and dance? How helpful is that? For women there is a very clear borderline and its pointe work. Only ballet dancers are trained to dance en pointe and you can’t just take that on. The use of the floor in contemporary dance is largely alien. It’s a different training. There are differences, but there are lots of people who operate at the borders between the two and across them. Adam Cooper is one example of that, and there will be many others.”
“The McOnie Company was very quick to adapt to life in lockdown back in March – swiftly offering a free, open-to-all company class every Thursday on Instagram, led by Drew himself, and launching a Digital Dance Festival – one of the first of its kind to appear. The drive behind a lot of his company’s online activity has been to raise awareness and raise funds. ‘A friend of mine, Paul Taylor-Mills, who’s a theatre producer, launched the Fund for Freelancers, which has been very successful and raised a lot of money,’ McOnie says. ‘James Graham donated his entire fee for Quiz, which he wrote for television, to the fund and so we set up a sister Fund for Freelance Dancers. It’s for freelance dancers who aren’t being furloughed or looked after by the bigger dance companies.
“‘The very reason my company was launched was to provide a platform for theatre and freelance dancers to have a place where artistically they could be celebrated,’ he continues. ‘Dancers who would often be in the ensembles of musicals could find a place where they’d be celebrated as lead voices. We’ve been doing classes at Pineapple on a Thursday night for a long time now and they’ve become a centre of the theatre dance community, for people who meet every week and make really great friends, as well as finding out about auditions and so on. A lot of dancers have ended up being cast in productions because of me seeing them in class and also because, when they come to class regularly, I can have an active input into the way they develop.’”
Jonathan Gray concludes his look into how dance professionals are coping with the restrictions of COVID-19
Ben Duke on the benefits of rural touring after lockdown
Marianka Swain profiles Ezekiel Vargas and Carl Terenz Belarmino
Jack Anderson sees new online creations by Mark Morris and Stephen Petronio
Fátima Nollén discovers how Germany’s Ballett Magdeburg is slowly getting back to work after lockdown
Vikki Jane Vile talks to English National Ballet’s Tiffany Hedman about the health problems she has overcome to continue her career as a dancer
Jack Reavely takes to the dance floor with Loraine Barry
Debbie Malina finds out how relaxation can be of benefit for dancers
Laura Cappelle ponders the repertoire of the Paris Opéra Ballet
Graham Spicer meets Carla Fracci
David Mead samples Alternative Let’s Dance International Frontiers
James Whitehead and Phil Meacham offer some tips on technique
Simon Selmon celebrates the career of Chester Whitmore
Igor Stupnikov discovers how the Maryinsky Ballet has been coping with lockdown in St Petersburg
Margaret Willis interviews freelancer Jethro Paine, our Dancer of the Month
The dance world’s response to Black Lives Matter, cultural catastrophe in the UK, live performances and dance online, we look back to July 1980, plus Peter Docherty remembered in Obituaries