Ballet dropped as audition requirement at UK’s top dance school in favor of diversity

July 19, 2022, 12:41 | Updated: July 19, 2022, 12:43 PM

A ballerina ties her shoe in a dance school.

Image: Getty

The Northern School of Contemporary Dance, the UK’s only dance conservatory outside London, recently announced that it will be removing ballet from its audition requirements.

In a move towards a ‘more diverse student body’, the UK’s only dance conservatory outside London has announced it will drop ballet as a requirement for auditions.

The Northern School of Contemporary Dance (NSCD) released a statement on its website on Monday evening saying: “We want to attract students from as wide and diverse backgrounds as possible. We welcome those with a ballet background, but recognize that not everyone who might want to come to the School has had the opportunity to learn ballet.

Ballet is stereotyped as an art form associated with a certain level of wealth, primarily due to the costs associated with the lessons, clothing, and footwear needed to progress in training.

Many scholars have pointed out that ballet dancers who are accepted into ballet training, as well as those who become professional dancers, appear to be white, middle class, or upper working class.

Attempting to eradicate this stereotype, the Leeds-based school of dance continues: “We will therefore no longer assess a candidate’s ability in ballet as part of the audition for our undergraduate programs.

“Our audition process is designed to assess a student’s potential to benefit from our programs.”

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The NSCD offers higher education courses focusing on contemporary dance, cultural dance forms and contemporary dance education. None are specific to ballet, however, all will have the opportunity to learn the art form.

“Following the philosophy of our Founding Director, Nadine Senior MBE, we aim to identify those whose primary form of expression is movement and provide them with a rigorous, inspiring and valuable dance education,” the school statement continues. of dance. “Although ballet is not part of our auditions, our students will have to learn ballet during their studies at the School.

“Ballet is an integral part of our curriculum and training, as we recognize how much ballet can contribute to the physical, creative and technical development of our students. The Northern School of Contemporary Dance supports and will always support its colleagues and practitioners in the classical sector.

“We recognize that many have done incredible things in their own institutions to drive change and move with the times. We are committed to providing an inclusive and inspiring dance education that ensures our students are versatile and can enjoy lasting careers. We continue to listen to our students; their needs and ideas.

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Posted by Northern School of Contemporary Dance on Friday, July 15, 2022

In a Telegraph article published over the weekend, head of undergraduate studies at the conservatory, Francesca McCarthy, told the large format that ballet “is a very specific discipline [dance] form that is built around particular white European ideas and body shapes that are often alienating to young people who do not fit this aesthetic ideal.

In 2020, French professional ballet dancer, Chloé Lopes Gomes, came forward to speak out against racism in her work. The dancer, known for being the first black ballerina at Berlin’s Staatsballett, said the company’s ballet mistress told her she shouldn’t have been hired because she was black.

Gomes was told by the choreographer that “a black woman in the corps de ballet is not aesthetic”.

The ballet mistress continued to make continuous racist comments and jokes, but one event that particularly shocked Gomes was when the dance teacher handed out white veils to the performers to wear over their heads as a costume. When Gomes’ turn came, the ballet mistress refused to give her the veil, saying “the veil is white and you are black”, before laughing in the dancer’s face.

Gomes was even asked to wear white makeup to “blend in with the other dancers” in a practice she calls “old school”, “identity erasing” and “racist”.

Read more: Black ballet dancer who had to ‘bleach’ for Swan Lake wins Berlin racism case

Chloe Lopes Gomes was told to wear white makeup to blend in with other ballet dancers

Chloe Lopes Gomes was told to wear white makeup to blend in with the other ballet dancers.

Photo: Chloe Lopes Gomes/Instagram

“Ballet should reflect society and represent each of us,” Gomes told the BBC last year. “I don’t want a little black girl to think this job isn’t for her because she has the wrong skin color.”

Gomes was supported by Royal Ballet soloist Fernando Montaño, a Colombian ballerina who also spoke about her experiences with racism in the classical art form.

montano said The Sunday Telegraph in 2018 that he used “light makeup on my hands and face [to] look like others and blend in with the rest of the company.

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The NSCD also tries to move away from the gendered language of ballet in the vocabulary of movement and when addressing dancers.

McCarthy said The telegraph which said that the NSCD was trying to “integrate the use of the pronouns ‘they’ [as opposed to him/her] so as not to presume the identity of a dancer”.

McCarthy explained that ballet is a gendered dance form. Women being more likely to learn pointe work, while men will uplift their female co-stars, has been a problem for non-binary and non-binary dancers.

Ashton Edwards, a non-binary American ballet dancer, was featured in the New York Times earlier this year as part of a “growing generation of gender-nonconforming dancers challenging ballet’s rigid gender roles.”

Edwards, who was raised as a boy, says they were crushed when they found out only girls were allowed to dance on pointe.

However, in 2021 Edwards joined Pacific Northwest Ballet as an apprentice, where they danced in historically feminine and en pointe roles.

In April this year, Edwards joined the ensemble of The Swan in the ballet company’s production of Swan Lakea role much appreciated for its traditional femininity.

Although critics say there is still a long way to go to dismantle the binary in ballet training, a shift towards more inclusive dance training for all genders and sexualities can be seen in dance schools across the country. across the UK and beyond.

The Royal Ballet School in 2021 artwork shared by grade 11 students to celebrate pride monthwhich included flags representing the non-binary community.

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