Black British Ballet
: Race, Representation and Aesthetics

  • Sandie Mae Bourne

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

Abstract

This thesis documents black British dancers’ experiences in the UK ballet industry in order to investigate the relationship between race, representation and aesthetics. Racial discrimination and institutional racism are key topics of this thesis, which will assess whether Eurocentric perceptions have contributed to black dancers’ slow progression in ballet. The historical construction of an ‘ideal’ white ballet body is analysed in relation to negative stereotypes of the black body that emerged from evolutionary theory and pseudo-science during the nineteenth century. By exploring these ideas from the past, concepts and ideologies can be connected to the present perceptions of the black dancing body in twenty-first century ballet.
Due to the lack of documentation of the experiences of British black ballet dancers, secondary literature on African American dancers helps map their historical representation, as documented by dance critics and writers from the 1930s onwards. Through interviews with dance practitioners carried out between 2002 and 2015, including directors, teachers, administrators, and dancers who trained or worked at major institutions like the Royal Ballet School, the Legat School of Russian Ballet and the Rambert School of Ballet and Contemporary Dance, this study presents their first-hand experiences. These interviews provide vital evidence that potentially discriminatory acts have occurred within ballet training institutions and companies. These interviews provide insight on the complex issues of race in dance, highlighting where problems are established and offering suggestions for improvement. This thesis also provides a platform for black dancers to be identified and acknowledged in British dance history. The evidence is not only an important contribution to an issue that affects all black dancers, but also increases awareness within the wider arts industry and indeed within British society. Its implications are far-reaching and relate to black dancers throughout the world who have trained or worked in the ballet industry.
Date of Award7 Nov 2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Roehampton
SupervisorAndrée Grau (Supervisor) & Stacey Prickett (Supervisor)

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