Anonymous Story 59

“Here’s kind of a long one… I spent two years as a trainee at a relatively well-known company. During my first season, I was one of only 4 black women, none of whom were in the main company. In my second season, I was the only black woman on their stage. During my second year, I was determined to aim higher and advocate for myself for casting and opportunities, since the trainee program was advertised as a bridge into the company.

Nutcracker came, and I was one of only three trainees, and the only second year, to not be given the opportunity to perform as a Flower. Yes, casting is up to the discretion of directors, but when I asked if it would be possible for me to have the chance to perform, I was told that I seemed to be “too winded” to make it through the choreography, and so would not be cast.

After Nutcracker, the company organized a “Diversity, Equity, And Inclusion” meeting for all the dancers and staff (separately) to discuss how things could be improved. The meeting took place on MLK Jr day, but not one mention of the holiday was made. This meeting was run by 2 white women, one of whom was the HR contact for the dancers. In the meeting, I decided I would speak up and so I told them I felt I was being passed over for roles due to my race. Immediately this concern was dismissed by the HR contact, who asked in a condescending tone if I may just not be getting cast because I “am not the right fit for the role”. Needless to say, this meeting felt useless, and I felt discouraged.

Shortly after this, a fellow trainee left the program due to personal reasons, and had a one on one meeting with our trainee director, as a send-off of sorts, and to get feedback about his time in the program. In this meeting, my friend (who is white), said to the director that he felt nothing changed after the DEI meeting and that he didn’t think dancers of color were being given a fair opportunity, specifically in the trainee program. He mentioned no names, but the (white) director must have taken offense, and so she replied that “(Me), and (two trainees who were Asian), did not work hard enough to be given more casting”.

Obviously, since we were all good friends, he told me and the other girls what had happened. Hearing this shocked me, since, in all of my meetings with the director, she would say I was working hard and she saw improvement. And, on top of that, she knew I have a chronic illness that is triggered by exertion, so to insinuate that I was being lazy in some way, even when she would see me have to run to the bathroom to be sick mid-rehearsals, really hurt.

Obviously, since we were all good friends, he told me and the other girls what had happened. Hearing this shocked me, since, in all of my meetings with the director, she would say I was working hard and she saw improvement. And, on top of that, she knew I have a chronic illness that is triggered by exertion, so to insinuate that I was being lazy in some way, even when she would see me have to run to the bathroom to be sick mid-rehearsals, really hurt.

I emailed HR to express my distress. I met with the director of the school to talk about it as well, cried my eyes out for several days, only to hear back from HR that since the meeting was not recorded, the student who was in the meeting had left, and the director denied saying those things, nothing could be done. BUT! The director asked if she could apologize to me anyway. Apologize for what? If it didn’t happen, why are you sorry? Racial gaslighting at its finest. I’m still dancing, but this experience has shaken me deeply. My confidence in myself is not what it was, and I’m not sure I will ever be fully healed from the ordeal.”

-Anonymous

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