In light of recent events, one question has plagued me, “What can I do?” I wanted to choose long term action, and to do so I had to define my role in the world and listen, really listen to see where I could possibly learn enough to make more than just a casual show of support. I am continuing to listen and hopefully learn but I am ready to pledge myself in what I believe is my most valuable way.
Ballet is an ancient, awesome art form that has the power to elicit extraordinary growth, character, beauty. I believe this. And for a very long time, I carried that belief with me into every class, looking at each individual dancer and asking myself, “What can ballet do for this child?” I still intend to approach my classes that way but now more is needed. Many more children of color need the confidence, the belief in their own beauty and uniqueness that an education in ballet provides. In turn, Ballet needs the strength and beauty and soul of our multi-ethnic community. It needs an influx of those who may have felt unwelcome and let me assure you, I know first hand that many people of color have been made to feel unwelcome in ballet. I want to say now, clearly and loudly, as long as I am Artistic Director of Westmoreland Ballet, this organization is going to welcome people of color side by side with every member of our community and I personally pledge to give you everything I have, not just because I see you or because I love you but because I love dance, I love ballet and YOU are an important part of breathing life into this art form I so appreciate. These are not just easily said and then forgotten words. I will work hard to make Westmoreland Ballet Company inclusive and am working now on programs for outreach. I will make you welcome. Now, I have to share with you some things that are very difficult for me but knowing why I am personally taking this stance may help you be more secure in my sincerity.
Since the horrific murder of George Floyd, I have been struggling with my own smallness. The times I failed, not out of malice but out of blindness and to my shame, sometimes cowardice. I thought back on an incident a few years ago when I was exiting the ladies room at our local theatre and overheard a conversation between two men who were standing in the intermission suite. After hearing one man say to the other, “It is really a great performance but they have these pretty little white girls dancing with these black men. It kind of ruins it,” I was so shocked and furious that impulse took over. I marched over to them and said something like, “Excuse me gentlemen, I am the choreographer of this performance. Our dancers are honored to have these wonderful black men as partners so I want you to please go to the box office. Tell them that the choreographer has asked that you be refunded for your ticket because you are no longer welcome at this performance.” I then marched away, trembling and angry but I should have said more and I absolutely should have made certain that they were ejected from the performance. But I was afraid. Although I was the choreographer, it was not my production and I really didn’t have the right to eject anyone, at least that was what I told myself. I had run into my husband and after relaying the situation, I had just about talked myself into returning to the intermission suite to make certain they were leaving when the Ballet Company Artistic Director stopped me. She was furious at what I’d done and I was more intimidated by her anger than I was moved by my love and respect for the men who were working so hard to make my beloved ballerinas have a performance they would take pride in and treasure their entire lives. I rewarded the gift these Black men were giving to my choreography and my students with cowardice. It is one of the great regrets of my life. I wonder if my Sweet Prince will ever read this or if his fellow male dancers will ever hear but I want desperately to say I am sorry and that regret is what has solidified my resolve now. I will never be silent again. I swear it. Whatever gifts I possess are no longer bound by the past.