Ballet star Misty Copeland told Yahoo Finance in a recent interview that the ballet industry remains “extremely behind” on issues of racial justice, criticizing the continued use of blackface in dance productions and the lack of diversity she has witnessed in her career.
But the nation’s racial reckoning in the aftermath of the police killing of George Floyd has prompted the ballet community to address such issues “for the first time,” says Copeland, who in 2015 became the first Black principal dancer at the American Ballet Theater, one of the most prominent ballet companies in the U.S.
“It’s something that the ballet world has been very easily able to just kind of get away with,” she says. Now “our eyes are wide open and people are listening.”
“It’s something that I’ve talked about very openly and freely in trying to be the most respectful as I can,” she adds. “Because I know the deep rooted traditions and history in classical dance.”
“Being a European art form and the fact that we still perform those ballets that were created in that time in Europe to this day,” she says. “Just says a lot about where we are in the ballet world when it comes to racism.”
In June, as racial justice protests arose in the U.S. and around the world, ballet dancers called on their companies to acknowledge the lack of diversity and Black representation within the industry. The American Ballet Theater — among other ballet companies and cultural institutions — released a statement mourning the death of Floyd and vowing to do more to address racial injustice.
As ballet companies remain closed amid the coronavirus outbreak, Copeland has spent much of the hiatus pushing the dance community to improve.
“I feel like I’m truly being heard,” she says. “To me, that’s a step.”
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