Corps de Ballet Module 9: Balanchine and Blackness: Integrating the Shadow History of Ballet
Most of us are familiar with Balanchine’s original vision of the New York City Ballet as an integrated company with ‘4 white girls, 4 white boys, about sixteen years old, and 8 of the same Negroes.’ However, we also know that it never manifested. We also know that Balanchine was enamored with Americans; he loved the cowboy but was particularly drawn to Black people, culture, and specifically Black social dance. Arthur Mitchell, the first Black ballet dancer hired by NYCB, throughout his career intersected with Black dancers, including Josephine Baker, tapper Buddy Bradley, and Katherine Dunham.
Scholar Brenda Dixon Gottschild has extensively written about this appropriation of the Africanist aesthetic, which is characterized by flexed feet and hands, hips thrust forwards, turned-in legs, and a sense of cool…
If the integration of ballet were a goal, I would begin by intentionally citing the source of the Africanist aesthetic present in Balanchine’s work, instead of attributing it solely to his independent innovation. If we want to create a sense of ownership for Black ballet dancers, what would happen if we intentionally acknowledged their cultural representation within the style? Where are the spaces in ballet where we can inject cultural credit or competence? What about the influences of the Five Moons, or Asian culture, or the dancers who were muses? How do we help expand the narrative to be more inclusive and complete?