An Image Of Ballerinas In Blackface Has Surfaced And It’s Extremely Disturbing
There’s no denying that the world of ballet has a race problem. The classic style of performance dance has cultivated a reputation that is lily-white and throughout its history has cascaded its performances in the white shades, white tutus and white ribbons. The glorification of ballet’s lack of diversity is so deeply threaded into the genre that the list of accomplished and world-renowned African-American ballerinas has up until the past decade been considered a rarity. In fact, it wasn’t until 2015 that African American ballet dancer Misty Copeland that the American Ballet theater, known as the national ballet company of the United States, named an African American woman as a principal dancer.
Copeland knows the problem of race in the ballet world runs deep and has talked extensively about discrimination in her career world of choice, sharing how difficult it was for her to rise and be considered the serious ballet dancer she is today. In fact, in a recent post to her Instagram page, the ballerina shared just how much of a problem it is in the ballet world.
In a recent post to her Instagram page, Copeland slammed Russia’s Bolshoi Theater for contributing to racial discrimination in ballet after performers had used blackface for a production.
In a post to her Instagram page earlier this week, Copeland share an image of two white female ballerinas in black body paint rehearsing for a show. The image, which was reposted from a Russian ballet dancer in Russia’s Bolshoi Ballet theater, depicts to dancers who performed in the theater’s production of La Bayadère, a famous classical ballet which is set in India. In the image two dancers can be seen posing happily while wearing blackface. “This is the reality of the ballet world,” she wrote in the post which sparked a wild debate on racism in ballet.
Copeland’s post received over 65K likes and almost 6K comments. As well as some intense and insane backlash from Bolshoi Theatre director Vladimir Urin. In response, to Copeland Erin told Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency that she was reading too much into the piece. “The ballet La Bayadère has been performed thousands of times in this production in Russia and abroad, and the Bolshoi Theatre will not get involved in such a discussion,” Urin replied before going on to say that “
“Finding some sort of deep insults in this is simply ridiculous,” Urin added. “No one has ever complained to us or saw … an act of disrespect.” However, as the Cut points out, in 2007, when Bolshoi first brought its production of Bayadère to New York in 2007, the New York Times as “too ludicrous to be even grotesque,” saying “white children dressed as blacks (black-wrinkled tights, black-gloved sleeves and black curly wigs, but with faces lightly daubed in various pale coffee hues.”
In response to headed discussions about the blackface incident online, Copeland replied that she knew the topic was “sensitive.”
“I get that this is a VERY sensitive subject in the ballet world,” she wrote to fans on Twitter. “But until we can call people out and make people uncomfortable, change can’t happen.”
Throughout her career, Copeland has been extremely vocal about the ballet world’s lack of diversity and failure to break from racist stereotypes in performances.
In 2018, Copeland spoke to her experiences as a Black ballerina and the decades of racism in her ballet world. “A lot of dancers in my generation have been told the same things she has been told,” Copeland told TIME. “The one difference is that the world outside ballet has changed. We won’t be told to leave the company because our safety is at risk, but I had a similar experience being told to pancake my skin a lighter color to fit in with the rest of the company. I’ve talked to so many dancers who have had it even worse than [what] I’ve experienced. Raven and I both have a light complexion, but darker dancers have experienced much worse.”
In the large and expansive country of Russia, Afro-Russians– or people of African descent– make a very small portion of the population. According to the Metis Foundation there are about 50,000 people who identify as Afro-Russian in the country. Still, a lack of access to ballet dancers in Russian ballet isn’t the true problem The true rot at Russian ballet core is that it used to hire dancers of color and would instead opt out to use blackface. Here’s hoping we see some of the Black Girl Magic that has been taking over the world of beauty pageants this year. Clearly Russia and its ballet company need all that they can get.