Hard Out Here For A Black Girl: Ballerina Faces Racial Discrimination At Russian Ballet Company

January 8, 2014  |  

 

Source: Moscow Times courtesy of Precious Adams

It’s no secret that when you think, historically, about ballet, you’ll realize that there haven’t been a slew of black and brown faces. The dance is largely dominated, throughout the world, by whites. But that doesn’t mean black girls haven’t dreamed of tying up their own set of powder pink slippers and stretching their bodies into graceful angles.

Eighteen year old Precious Adams, of Detroit, was able to make that dream a reality. Her talent even led her away from the U.S. to pursue ballet at Russia’s iconic Bolshoi Theater. And though the opportunity is great for her career, it hasn’t come without its own set of challenges. In an article from The Moscow Times, Adams explained the discrimination and outright racism she’s had to endure since dancing at the Russian company.

In one anecdote, an instructor evaluating which students would be able to participate in the academy’s 240th anniversary celebration, walked up to Adams and asked her plainly, “What are you doing here?” and then told her to leave the audition room. And that’s just the beginning. Adams says she’s been left out of performances and been told to ‘try and rub the black off.’

Adams says she does have allies at the academy but sometimes they are rendered powerless.

Some of the teachers know in the back of their minds that it is unfair, because they know that I can do what these other people are doing just as good if not better than them. Teachers have tried to vouch for me before, but if the almighty voice says it’s not right — it doesn’t look right — then whatever they say goes.”

Adams says she knew that there was a pervasive element of racism in Russia before she ever got there. But she wasn’t willing to forgo the opportunity. Though this is the farthest she’s had to relocate, it certainly wasn’t the first time. After she began ballet lessons at 5, her craft led her farther and farther away from home. She’s studied in New York City, Toronto and Monaco before winning a scholarship to study Russian and ballet at the Bolshoi program.

Though the school has become more open to international students, including Americans whose tuition is helping fund the school’s renovations, Adams says her darker skin tone has singled her out from her classmates and prevented her from being cast in certain roles, particularly group pieces.

Adams has endured injustices like a teacher suggesting she use skin bleaching cream to be here at the Academy. And though she was only there to progress, the racism may be negatively affecting her career. Adams says, “If I’d gone anywhere else, I’d probably have a lot more experience.” Adams explained that performance time, “directly relates to you getting a job. If I can say I’ve only performed on stage four times out of the past three years, it doesn’t look good.” 

When the Bolshoi Academy was asked to address Adams’ concerns they said that they had not received any complaints of discrimination and noted that all students get to participate in onstage practice and said that Adams has received high marks for her time on stage.

Adams said she hasn’t complained about the discrimination she’s faced because she didn’t feel like it would have been taken seriously.

“I don’t think there would have been much of a response.” She said that she did not want “to look like I’m weak or that I feel sorry for myself.”

Instead, Adams is choosing to view Bolshoi as a stepping stone instead of a stumbling block.

“I am really just here to get the best training that I can so I can go and be amazing somewhere else, where it is not so racially discriminatory.”

Adams doesn’t plan to stay in Russia after the spring and is looking to study in Western Europe, and North America. She hopes to receive offers from the Canadian National Ballet and the San Francisco Ballet where her younger sister studies.

Later this month she’ll be competing in Switzerland, in front Europe’s top ballet companies, for the Prix de Lusanne. The winner can basically choose their employer.

We’re wishing Precious the best of luck and commend her for her bravery in breaking down racial barriers in ballet.

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