Updated: Nov 26, 2020
It is evident that ballet has a so-called white reputation. The term ballet blanc indicates the hue of the tutus worn in Swan Lake, Giselle, and La Bayadère, but the term might just as well describe the conspicuous racial makeup of many ensembles that perform these ballet. Even though many expect some progress in racial diversity onstage especially in the United States where the population of color is growing dramatically, there are still arresting likeness in the companies. Not a lot of companies have instilled an inclusive program for dancers of color.
There are many factors contributing to ballet's lack of diversity but the most prominent factor is economic inequality; ballet training is particularly expensive for a lot of minorities who are prone to be in the bottom of the economic pyramid and can't afford it. Thus, there is a lack of role models for aspiring dancers of color to emulate which can also be in itself a factor. There is also, of course, the factor that schools and companies have failed to grant aid in the track of professional accomplishments for young dancers of color. Even though directors and artists deny this, there remains a reluctance to drag the art when white bodies and pale clothes are its image from the 19th century into the present day.
By 1990, the African-American population reached about 30 million and represented 12% of the population in the U.S. Now, more than 40 million blacks live in the United States, making up around 13% of the nation’s population. A similar trend of increase is also shown in other minority groups. Hispanic reached about 22 million in 1980 and this number surged to about 56 million in 2020. From 1990 to 2020, the Asian population expanded from 7 million to 17 million. By 2045, it seems that the white will no longer be the majority, but the minority in the U.S. In 2014, the artistic director of Ballet Memphis, Dorothy Gunther Pugh said in a Pointe magazine, “I made this a priority years ago—creating a ballet company committed to representing what more and more of America looks like. I love the beauty and esthetic of ballet, but I think it's been awfully rigid."
However, it isn’t as if there has been no progress. In a magazine on USA Today in 2017, Amy Fitterer, the executive director of Dance/USA, said things are changing. "I don’t want to say everything’s good because it’s not," she said. "We have a long way to go to racially diversify the ballet companies, but they’re making progress. Something has changed. Maybe it’s the reality that the demographics have changed in this country. The conversation is just getting real.” Programs that include ABT's Project Plié and Seatles's DanceChance program are constantly working to make ballet schools and companies promote diversity. Project Plié grants merit-based training scholarships to talented children of color and provides teacher training scholarships to teachers of color. It also grants intern scholarships to young arts administrators of color and partners with other ballet companies like Nashville Ballet. Finally, it has also established a partnership with Boys & Girls Clubs of America. Created by Francia Russell in 1994 the DanceChance program was created to enrich every child in the program, build a school and company that reflects the beautiful diversity of the Seattle community, and to train and nurture the next generation of dancers by partnering with a group of Seattle public schools, chosen by demographics and economic need. With the need of countless efforts like these, there is still a long way to go to reach equality and increase diversity in ballet.