Misty Copeland, Dancer or Politician: Indentity Politics and Ballet



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Identity Politics Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Identity Politics

First published Tue Jul 16, 2002; substantive revision Tue Feb 7, 2012

The pithy phrase “identity politics” has come to signify too wide a variety of political theorizing of members of certain social groups, when it should be used to secure the political freedoms of us all. Division of groups by traits of its members: religious, ethnic, and the old stand-by, race, should be cautiously broached. Members of any constituency whom assert or reclaim ways of understanding their distinctiveness that challenge dominant oppressive characterizations, with the goal of greater self-determination should be lauded. When it comes to telling lies, in order to get people to unwittingly identify with you, people should be wary of those who seek to use any means possible for promotion rather than world good or the good of the group. What is good for one person, may be good for the group or it may not.

No, I am not talking about Misty Copeland in particular, but she is a good analogy, and there are many others who have a platform available to them to do many things due to their prominence. She is an astute woman in the vein of J Lo and we should not detract from her ability to use that for her own benefit and those groups she wishes to encourage-that is up to her. Jose Manuel Carreno has spawned a summer intensive in Florida, which plans to create a group of investors/individuals who are interested in Cuba by taking them there. YAGP has its own platform. Many other groups claim to have a mission to do something. I just think that they should do it, and not commingle the funds. I think not-for-profit groups should be very up-to-date and professional about their bookkeeping and plans, and keep us all informed. Otherwise they give legitimate enterprises a bad name. I am talking about something else.

The identity of dance, ballet, in particular. I am worried it is being made into a pop genre, and it is not. Personally, I have seen Misty Copeland dance, in person, and have stood face to face with her. She is tiny! She has a big persona, and she can use that for good and for bad. I do not think her video with Prince is good. I like Prince. I like Misty Copeland, but not together, and I do, in a way, see how they could be friends, have something in common, but I think she comes off looking like a sex symbol, because she has a beautiful body, is in a music video, and Prince is using her for that, as the epitome of his muse. Does anyone remember the Whitesnake video with Tawney Kittaen? The music, again in my opinion, was better, and Tawney might have been, too.

I look at the many ads and photos she has done, as able to be seen in Google images, and I know she is working hard, trying to prove herself and using this once in a lifetime opportunity to make an impact, money, and provide for her retirement. You do have to be somewhat careful in the scripts you choose. What are you trying to say? Are all of your points relevant? Are they truthful, logical? Contradictory? I do not think her dancing is as good as Marcelo Gomez’s is in the Paganini video clip. It worked with him, not with her. I did not say she failed, and it is hard for this stuff not to get around if it is public. Which is true? Are they all true? I said it doesn’t work. She cannot possibly be dancing when she is posing. That makes her as much of a model as it does a dancer. Is she a dancer or a model, or both? Where is the significance in that? Maybe its oversaturation. I am a rock music fan as well as a classical, and other, music fan. Misty seems less in his video, rather than more. She is more. A lot more. A Queen in the role of a engenue-at least not what I would have thought of as a groupie. Prince does not have the most remarkable history of upholding women’s integrity in his music videos, lifestyle or philosophies. Let’s just say I thought Misty was his equal, but perhaps it is just Prince that is the problem in this pairing. I mean afterall, his attorney did come up with the idea of using the “Artist formerly known as Prince, in order to avoid contractual restrictions and to allow him to continue performing.” CLever, but not Prince, his attorney.

I think Misty Copeland has a long way to go with her dancing before she is prima ballerina ssoluta-that’s all. She still has a long way to go with finding herself, with her dancing that is, and maybe with her pr as well. Sometimes her statements perhaps run afoul of her goals, verbally and pictorially. That can happen to us all in this day and age. I think she runs the risk of misinforming a whole generation of Misty-want-to-be’s about what ballet really is. What is it?

I think it is more like the case with the disabled. “Do not treat them like they are disabled”. You either want men to open the door for you, or you don’t. It’s not that black and white. Or is it? Are we still?I do fear, compartmentalizing a large powerful group, into smaller, less powerful ones that divide the vote. fans of ballet and fans of Misty Copeland, blacks, whites, cubans, gays, straights, men, women, whatever. We are all dancers; Ballet dancers in particular. Is it possible to use race in an arena where race is not the issue, talent is? The great black athletes of the world did not use the race card. They didn’t have to, and most of them were not half-white. With a mixed-race society, as our world is continually widening the reference of, aren’t race identity cards cliche-will they not be in the near future, completely? Misty is anxious to be the first black prima ballerina, a pr plug, but little else, because she is not completely black, so it is unreasonable to assume that that will be taken very seriously, unless there is something we do not know about. Likewise, she won’t be taken very seriously as a dancer if she is seen as a pr mongrel instead of a devoted student of classical ballet.

If she does not use that position to create a deep understanding of what classical dance is, the beauty of it, the art of it, not just the art of the body, posing, when dancing is the point, then she is just typifying dancers, and putting them into a pigeon-hole (even further) of being models, gays, skeletons, bunheads, a lower-than-average intelligence person who doesn’t really contribute to the world politically or economically. Ok, she must spend money, but it is sort of veering into a wanton, self-aggrandizing parade of cvichy photos about nothing really, but her. Shallow, but meant to be seen as intensely serious. Hype.

She is interesting, and though she tries to sublimate her late start, not recommending it for girls generally, because “she could just do things,” I have to say, despite that she must have worked very hard to become a dancer in many ways-so use that, remember that. To me, her background, her mother,  her poverty, her age, are her main charms, not her background,color, or body-type. All of those things just add to what could be, but sadly, is not. It just seems that she has yet to strike her own style, depth or soul in her dancing, consistently. She inevitably has one, but it is not always apparent when she is dancing. She is just the girl who can’t say, “no.” She is possibly a new-kind of dancer: the thinking kind, the business woman-I almost expect to see her in a racy sitcom about two girls from well-off families who go noodling through America’s heartland looking for work on farms. She is hot, but what happened to her commitment to ballet-to art? She is smart enough to make her own way, create her own image, and she is trying very hard. If she is volleying for those roles, why not speak to the producers of the next Bond film? Who says dancers can’t be sex symbols?

But true classical ballerinas are dancers first and foremost. I am not convinced that Misty is really impassioned about dancing, as she is about the vehicle for other self-promotion. Not since Isadora Duncan or Pavlova, have we seen someone so photographed, even Margot Fonteyn did not hold this allure and she was much photographed-however, they were purely, and amazingly soulful dancers-artists. Margot Fonteyn also devoted her life in a sense to her paralyzed and philandering husband for which she should have received the Victoria Cross. Isadora Duncan supported her whole family and theirs. Pavlova was difficult, but an ambassador of ballet, and constantly seen dancing, beautifully.

So what if Misty doesn’t have that finesse, yet, but she isn’t really sending the message that she is. Her message doesn’t seem to have very much to do with classical ballet, and is somewhere between modern and ballet, but not quite. I cannot blame her for being greedy-I would be too. But it seems like she uses it to create her own platform, totally unrelated to dance. She is interesting to the media, but what is interesting to the media, may not be the best thing for the future of real ballet, or popular for very long. Sometimes less is more, like Leontyne Price, Geraldine Blunden, Judith Jamison, and the list goes on. They each devoted their lives to their art, first. Honorably. Because they did this, they did not have time to pose and do pr. Is Misty done with dance? Has she reached her pinnacle?

You have to make a choice. If she started a school, one in each state, for the training of young dancers, and used her persona to at least train others in a totally classical program, with emphasis on acting, acrobatics, real pure ballet training, paying for their medical bills, shoes and dancewear-in other words, put her money where her mouth is, I would be her biggest fan. Maybe she will one day, like Debbie Allen, but the time to do this, to use your power for good, is now. While you are hot, and while you can use your power within the current political administration. Better hurry up before the conservatives rush in. Create dance education reform, rip a page out of Jacques d’Ambois’s book-read. Reading is a good thing for celebrities to do-show people they read! Not just for people of color-we all are-but for male and female, American or non, young or old, but for dance-your savior! That is really where I think her strength lies. It is just that this is not the best, most productive and valuable use for her site. She needs to reappraise her best use.

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