The Relevance of Black Ballet Schools in 21st Century America
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The Relevance of Black Ballet Schools in 21st Century America

  • Author(s): Lee, Brandye
  • Advisor(s): Fisher, Jennifer
  • et al.
Abstract

ABSTRACT OF THE THESIS

The Relevance of Black Ballet Schools in 21st Century Americaby Brandye Lee Master of Fine Arts in Dance University of California, Irvine, 2021 Professor Jennifer Fisher, Chair

Ballet’s problem with race and inclusion has been well-documented over the last 15 years. One of the natural outgrowths of Black dancers being systematically excluded from the art form - largely because of America’s sordid racist history and Jim Crow segregation laws and ballet’s racial bias towards whiteness- was the early formation of Black ballet schools in the 1920s and 1930s. Separate but equal, by law, has long ended, but the existence of Black ballet schools and their continued draw for parents and students alike cannot be denied. This paper examines the most prominent U.S. Black ballet schools, and the purpose they serve in the larger American ballet ecosystem. The author culls data from twenty-five (25) interviews with various stakeholders in the ballet world to determine why parents choose a Black ballet school, whether students of these schools can matriculate to major American ballet companies, asking what other outcomes are important as well. The thesis focuses on current challenges for Black ballet schools and how the Black Lives Matter movement and the coronavirus pandemic affected Black ballet schools. Included is a history of Black ballet schools, why they were initially established, their cultures, and why they continue to thrive in the so-called post-racist society that is America in the 2000s.

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