Although Black people may be the best dancers, the dance industry still has issues with racism. Ballet dancer Chloé Lopes Gomes did a grand jeté to victory this week when she won a discrimination lawsuit against Staatsballet, a German ballet company.
In December, Daily Mail reported that the ballerina was ordered to whiten her skin so that she could perform in the company’s presentation of “Swan Lake.” Company leaders claimed the request was made so that she would “blend in” with the other dancers on stage. Gomes, the first Black dancer in the Berlin company’s history, joined in 2018.
But the skin whitening comment was just the tip of the iceberg. Gomes, a French citizen, said that an instructor also refused to give her a white veil for a performance of “La Bayadére,” a 19th-century ballet, and told her that she couldn’t have it because she was Black.
When the dancer complained to the creative director, he agreed that she shouldn’t be ostracized but that the mistress (the term for a woman who is in charge of classes and rehearsals of dancers in a company) had a lifetime contract. Nothing could be done about the problem.
Of course, the Staatsballet did what every company does when Black women are vocal about mistreatment and told Gomes they would not renew her contract for the next year. It initially blamed it on the pandemic. Then, they stated that artistic differences were the reason for not renewing her contract.
So, she lawyered up.
Back in 2020, the interim artistic director, Christiane Theobald, said, “The racist and discriminatory behavior that was brought to light in our company deeply moves us … The necessary skills and tools to deal with issues of discrimination need to be worked on thoroughly.”
That sounds like an admission of guilt, not artistic reasons.
This week, Berlin State Ballet agreed to renew the dancer’s contract and give her compensatory damages of €16,000 ($19,240). The company also held seminars for the staff on diversity and discrimination.
The lesson here– when racists try to be bullies, pirouette all over their pockets.