Ballet has a lily-white reputation. The great “ballet blanc” works glorify white swans, white shades and white sylphs.

And ballet goers might expect some progress in racial diversity onstage, especially in the U.S., where populations of color are growing.

Ballet Memphis dancers in Steven McMahon’s Being Here With Other People

But comb the rosters of most American ballet companies and you’ll find a striking sameness.

While a few have established inclusive policies in training and hiring, they are the minority.

There is a notable exception—Asian and Asian-American dancers have made real inroads. However, dancers of other ethnic backgrounds continue to face challenges, especially women.

Many factors contribute to ballet’s lack of diversity: economic inequality—ballet training is notoriously expensive; a lack of role models for aspiring dancers to emulate; a failure on the part of schools and companies to provide support for young dancers of color on the uphill road to professional success.

And another factor looms large in the discussion: Many believe a thread of racism still runs through the ballet world.

“There are people who define ballet in a very specific and historic sense and think it should look like the Mariinsky in 1950,” says American Ballet Theatre executive director Rachel Moore, who last year launched the company’s Project Plié, an initiative to support the training of ballet students from underrepresented communities.

Read more about Ballet’s Ethnic Diversity Problem in The Pointe Magazine

Project Plié – Tackling Ballet’s Ethnic Diversity Problem