January 29th 2017 in Dallas, Texas the International Association of Blacks in Ballet held it’s 2nd annual audition for female ballet dancers of color. This year’s conference was hosted by Dallas Black Dance Theatre and the venerable Ann Williams who is also a foundational member of IABD. In the interest of full disclosure I, and my organization MoBBallet, was part of the planning and facilitation of the audition. Last year IABD made history when with the audacity of it’s founder Joan Myers Brown deigned to summons artistic directors from Ballet companies and Schools to Denver Colorado to “come and see our girls, and give them a chance” as Myers would say. The concept unearthed a number of feelings, where many were awed, others (primarily in the Black dance, and ballet specifically) were anxious. Concerns ranged from: What would happen if dancers didn’t show up, what if they did and the level was low? Would that work against the movement for inclusion of African Americans and dancers of color into ballet companies. Many expressed indignation at creating an event deigned to have White directors coming to judge, assess, and choose brown female bodies. The Black dance community were justified in their apprehension, there was a lot on the line and a great deal could have gone wrong. What the general population did not know, is that we (those on the inner circle of planning) were just as leery. No one knew the risks involved more than our octogenarian inspiration Joan Myers Brown. A woman who I affectionately refer to as “a Dinosaur” she is old, big, powerful and dangerous when vexed. This woman who has seen any moons, eras, ebbs, flows, and encountered the pitfalls. If she believed in it enough to take a risk then we as a team could work to minimize the risk and create possibility.
What I refer to as “the team” was lead by IABD Executive Director, (now CEO) Denise Saunders Thompson flanked by Dance/US’s Executive Director Amy Fitterer (for whom this issue is a heartfelt passion) and myself representing MoBBallet. There was no question, concern or anxiety was not considered and (as much as possible) planned for. With IABD and MoBB managing the content, message and intention and Dance/USA validating the event to their
members, last year was huge success (Perhaps too huge with the attendees topping out at 87even with the east coast snow storm) Another thing the public was not privy to was the carefully crafted 2 hour dialogue between the organizers the directors prior to anyone stepped foot in the studio. This is where the true magic happened. Alliances were made and people inspired to action. I will concede, no the first audition was not perfect, albeit it was highly successful with over 20 scholarships being offered to young women with promise.
Last year we were on a blind date (drinks and apps), most of us did not know one another, but we were hopeful that there would be a mutual attraction. This year was the second date and we had spent the year thinking about one another. The conversation was sublimated from tentative uncertainty, to cautious confidence. Most returning came with tales to tell, information to share or questions to ask. It was heartening. There was much brainstorming and exchange about “Next steps” and “Best practices” What was most encouraging is that these Artistic and program directors came ready to mix it up, they are building, growing and looking for ways to support one another. It is clear, it authentically matters to them, they want to get it right. Being in that room I felt passion, concern and a dedication to getting it right. It was inspired, I was inspired.
The Southern hospitality of Ms. Ann Williams, made the day move with ease. The transition from meeting to audition was seamless, and the participants (56 in total) were of caliber and represented themselves (and the community) beautifully. In the end about 25 offers were made (we are still gathering results) and all left invigorated and inspired by the work that needs to be done. In the end, was it perfect, no, but it was better, and that is what matters most. That, and the fact that all involved are committing to making it better. As I say to my students, I don’t ask for your perfection I ask for your effort!
Ballet Austin, Austin, TX
Ballet Memphis, Memphis, TN
Charlotte Ballet, Charlotte, NC
Charlottesville Ballet, Charlottesville, VA
Dance Theatre of Harlem, New York, NY
The Joffrey Ballet, Chicago, IL
Kansas City Ballet, Kansas City, MO
Nashville Ballet, Nashville, TN
Oregon Ballet Theatre, Portland, OR
Pacific Northwest Ballet School, Seattle, WA
Pennsylvania Academy of Ballet Society, Narberth, PA
Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, Pittsburgh, PA
San Francisco Ballet, San Francisco, CA
School of American Ballet, New York, NY
Texas Ballet Theater, Fort Worth, TX