Actress Lea Thompson is one of the new contestants on Dancing With the Stars. She’s 5’3” and the youngest of five siblings. She grew up in Minnesota and lived with her family in a Starlight Motel where all of the children shared the same bedroom. Her parents divorced when she was six years old. Lea was a ballet prodigy who loved to dance since she was very young. She danced in children’s roles in a number of regional ballet companies and eventually ended up in ABT II. When she was age 20 and weighed a trim 98 pounds, AD Mikhail Baryshnikov told her that she was a lovely dancer but would not be invited to join ABT because she was too stocky. Her brother, Andrew, also a ballet dancer in Minnesota was extremely thin but also stocky.
Following her professional assessment by Baryshnikov, Lea quit ballet and suddenly found herself with an acting career. It’s hardly worth mentioning the story of Lea, who is white, except that it parallels to some extent Misty Copeland’s story which some think is unique because she is not white. Lea didn’t create a public relations campaign to convince anyone of her hard times in order to land a ballet job or demand that everybody else's standards needed to change in order to accommodate her.
While Misty continues her public media campaign to get herself promoted through the use of vague, baseless accusations of racism, it has recently come to our attention that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has been considering the flip-side to Misty’s claims. Why the EEOC would be interested in alternative viewpoints of the fiction in Misty’s memoir can only be speculated, but it’s a government office that doesn’t launch investigations without being prompted by a complaint from someone claiming to be a victim of unfair treatment.
On May 30th of this year, again on June 12th, and again on August 18th, the EEOC came directly to this blog to read our review of Misty’s memoir in which we took exception to much of what she claimed. They accessed nothing else on the blog except for the entry and reader comments relating to the review of the memoir.
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Regardless of the outcome, a long, spun-out EEOC matter highlighted by Misty’s self-promotion in the media could be a costly distraction for ABT - a distraction that might be avoided by a negotiated agreement to give Misty a premature Swan Lake, which would entail denying more qualified, more deserving dancers the opportunity, and also help plump up her profile in the company - as if she hasn’t done enough of that herself.
These days when one views ABT’s social media, one sees nothing about Marcelo Gomes' upcoming debut in Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake. One sees no mention of the “Stella and Tom” video which was recently featured in TimeOut New York and which was created and performed by ABT dancers. One sees no mention of the short film, On a Grass Field, which was created through a collaboration of five of ABT's dancers and is now being presented at film festivals around the area. One sees no mention of Stella Abrera's charity to help the Philippines where she is starring in Giselle. One sees no mention of young corps dancer Lauren Post’s work as an official Wilhelmina Agency model. There seems to be a complete blackout on ABT’s social media about outside accomplishments by its artists – except when it comes to Misty Copeland. Misty Copeland’s books, Misty Copeland’s interviews, Misty Copeland’s UA billboard – which by the way is only half the size of the huge double billboard that featured two Martha Graham Company dancers for GNC and which hung by the prestigious Ernst & Young building in Midtown Manhattan for several months this past year – all seem to hold great importance on ABT’s social media. Why is there a blackout of the accomplishments of so many of ABT’s dancers with a corresponding promotion of Misty Copeland’s activities?
National Public Radio is the latest media outlet to help fuel Misty’s racism campaign by publicizing her claims without any checks or balances, without any appraisal of their truth, and without any concern for accuracy.
Misty says: "I don't think every African-American or Latino have the same body type, but yes, that's been one of the excuses ... saying that African-Americans are too muscular or just aren't lean enough. Usually they say, "Oh, they have flat feet so they just don't have the flexibility that it takes to create the line in a point shoe.””
In speaking about Raven Wilkinson in the 1950s, Misty asserts with supreme authority, "She experienced a lot more severe, life-threatening racism than other minorities experienced in the ballet world at this point.”
NPR should have asked Misty to elaborate on her personal knowledge of what “other minorities experienced in the ballet world” at that time. A good journalist would have asked.
NPR should have asked Misty who she was quoting, that is, who said African-Americans are too muscular or aren’t lean enough. A good journalist would have asked that.
NPR should have asked Misty who said, “Oh, they have flat feet so they just don’t have the flexibility that it takes to create the line in a point shoe.” A good journalist would have asked.
Who said this crap? WHO SAID IT? When? To whom? How did it negatively impact Misty’s career?
Misty is, herself, actively promoting stereotypes and racism in order to create an environment which she can then claim that she overcame. It is a hero syndrome of fueling and fanning a fire so that she can jump in as a hero and put it out. She has soared on the media’s blind willingness to allow her to make unchallenged, vague, unsubstantiated claims of racism by unnamed people. Don’t these people deserve an opportunity to admit, deny, or clarify whatever racism Misty is alluding to and using to propel her career and propel her public campaign to be promoted to principal over more qualified, more deserving colleagues?
Never mind that she’s dragging the art form through the mud; never mind that she’s dragging ABT through the mud; never mind that she’s being so disrespectful of her colleagues, some of whom are being shoved aside so that Misty can stand under the spotlight. I want what I want and I will run over whatever and whomever I want to get it seems to be her true tag line. For Misty, ballet is an individual sport where her own ranking is the priority.
Unfortunately, it’s beginning to look like it was our mistake to ever support this dancer. A couple of seasons ago during the Nutcracker coda, Misty took an unfortunate spill as she and her Nutcracker Sisters were exiting the stage. Moments later they returned to the stage for bows. We watched in horror as a visibly angry Misty turned to her colleague on stage and proceeded to trash her in front of everyone on stage and in front of a couple of thousand people in the audience in the most disgraceful, arrogant display of unprofessionalism we’d ever seen. At that time, we hoped that the aggressive behavior was just an aberration. In retrospect, we can’t help but now notice that the object of Misty’s aggression was a pretty, white, long limbed blond dancer who fits the description of those who Misty now loudly complains in her book are ballet’s race-based preference.
As Misty continues to try to advance her rank by making vague, unsubstantiated complaints about racism and attempting to take on the victimization of black artists who came before her, she dilutes the meaning and power of the word racism. Anne Benna Sims, Nora Kimball, Shelly Washington, Keith Lee, Carld Jonaissant, and Carlos Acosta are all black artists who arrived and excelled at ABT before either Misty or Kevin McKenzie arrived. That the first twenty years of McKenzie’s tenure failed to build on the progress by previous directors is not the fault of ballet, the art form.