Performing Whiteness: An Interdisciplinary Analysis of Racism in Ballet

University essay from Linköpings universitet/Avdelningen för migration, etnicitet och samhälle (REMESO)

Abstract: This thesis is a study of race and ethnicity in culture and the arts. It discusses whiteness and racism in ballet and addresses a gap in the literature for both disciplines Ballet and Race and Ethnic Studies. Even if ballet is a privileged art form that for centuries has served statecraft, survived revolutions, and political instability the problem of race in ballet is jeopardizing its validity and acceptance in the contemporary world. I ask if racism in ballet is more than behaviors, if it designates ideology, or if it is a matter of visuality and aesthetics. I do this to provide insight into how race is projected in and through the art form in question. The need to transcend the scope of a single discipline brought me to adopt interdisciplinary research to analyze ballet right at the intersection with crossing perspectives linked to the body, aesthetics, performance, privilege, race, and gender. The thesis shows that ballet gives material expression to whiteness as ideology and is compliant with an exclusive approach to an idea of the body and beauty that presupposes racist attitudes and behaviors. At the institutional level, the experience of ballet is whiteness -unnamed, unmarked, universal. But for those bodies outside the constructs of whiteness, the experience is marked by racism and objective barriers. The study informs that an exclusive discourse of the body, often disguised as aesthetic discourse, translates into limited access to ballet education, body shaming, harassment, and fewer job opportunities. However, ballet is an art form, it is more than whiteness or racism. It creates beauty in the body of the dancer which is both instrument and object of art. Ballet dancers invest their lives learning and performing an art form that some other people cherish, but how come a space of whiteness and racism is perceived as beautiful? The thesis elucidates the importance of this reflection also.  

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