Ballet Companies: Stop Tokenizing Dancers of Color in Your Marketing Materials

Fans of the sublime English National Ballet first artist Precious Adams were probably excited to see her image splashed across the company's website in a promotional image for an upcoming production of Swan Lake.

But those who took a closer look were met with a disappointing reality: Adams, who is the only black woman in the company, is not listed on the principal casting sheet for the production.


Luke Jennings, dance critic at The Observer, first pointed out the issue on Twitter, and the company responded:

Yes, Adams is only a first artist, so it would have been unusual—though not unheard of—to see her perform Odette/Odile. And the company argues that the photo depicts her as Lead Swan, a respectable but not particularly significant role. But wouldn't anyone looking at the photo assume that Adams would be playing Odette?

It's a misleading choice at best; a manipulative one at worst. But ENB isn't the only company to use dancers of color in their marketing more than they feature them onstage. New York City Ballet prominently features black dancers Olivia Boisson and Christopher Grant in their marketing, but rarely casts them in proportionate roles. (They feature some of their other dancers of color—like Rachel Hutsell and Preston Chamblee—rather frequently, too, but at least these dancers get the roles to match.)

This is not an argument for whitewashed marketing. But companies can't slot dancers of color into their photoshoots and marketing videos to make themselves appear "diverse"—a term that has come to be a commodity for institutions vying for funding and audiences—and then not give them casting opportunities (or promotions, for that matter). This amounts to tokenism, and taking advantage of dancers who deserve better.

So please, use images of your dancers of color. (We know how powerful representation is for aspiring dancers, after all.) But also cast them. Invest in their success. Promote them. Acknowledge the emotional labor that it takes to be an artist of color in such a white art form. Because otherwise, the image of "diversity" you're hoping to portray is just a sham.

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Jason Samuels Smith, photographed by Jayme Thornton

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I turned to tap at the outset of the European lockdown as a meaningful escape from the anxiety of the pandemic. As a dance historian specialized in dance film, I've seen my fair share of tap on screen, but my own training remains elementary. While sheltering in place, my old hardwood floors beckoned. I wanted to dig deeper in order to better understand tap's origins and how the art form has evolved today. Not so easy to accomplish in France, especially from home.

Enter the L.A. Tap Fest's first online edition.

Alongside 100 other viewers peering out from our respective Zoom windows, I watch a performer tap out rhythms on a board in their living room. Advanced audio settings allow us to hear their feet. In the chat box, valuable resources are being shared and it's common to see questions like, "Can you post the link to that vaudeville book you mentioned?" Greetings and words of gratitude are also exchanged as participants trickle in and out from various times zones across the US and around the world.

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