A viral photo of two young dancers in full blackface has shocked the dance world and started an international conversation about diversity in dance. The two Russian ballerinas at the center of the scandal recently shared an Instagram post of them in head-to-toe blackface prior to a performance of Bolshoi’s La Bayadere. Unfortunately, this situation doesn’t seem to be uncommon and the issue is larger than the dancers donning blackface.
In a recent interview with CNN, Misty Copeland, principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre, explains that she was often told she had the wrong body type as an excuse for her not fitting in because of her skin color. Copeland said, “I have a body that a lot of White dancers have and there are White ballerinas that are principal dancers that have larger chests than me and bigger muscles and broader shoulders and they are not told they don’t belong”. Unfortunately, companies such as Russia’s prestigious Bolshoi Ballet are opting to select White dancers in auditions and use “blackface” and “yellowface” to make the Caucasian dancers look like the ethnic roles they are playing rather than accepting dancers of color.
What’s worse, is that this has not been Bolshoi’s only race-related scandal. In 2007 the company found themselves in hot water for telling an African American girl who was auditioning for the Nutcracker to “try and rub the black off” before returning to the institution. While progress has certainly been made with diversity in ballet, there is still work to be done.
Révolutinnaire founder, Nia Faith, hopes that her bringing diverse dancewear to dancers across the world will not only help bridge the gap in the ballet world but also encourage more people of color to get involved in the art. As for the Bolshoi, they say that they will continue their use of blackface in their company as long as they see fit.
Source: CNN, New York Times, Moscow Times