Note from BW of Brazil: Today’s story is great for a number of reasons. 1) As in stories of Afro-Brazilians excelling in areas such gymnastics and classical music, it represents another example of members of this population finding success in genres that Brazil considers them to be “out of place”. 2) As we’ve pointed out in numerous articles, Brazil has for decades held itself up as being a ‘racial democracy’ or at least less racist that the United States, yet one finds, even continuing to face widespread discrimination, blacks in the United States are found in areas/disciplines that would be next to impossible for black people in Brazil. 3) Brazilians often speak negatively of race relations in the US, where everything is segregated.
Although segregation never existed by law in Brazil, the fact is that the country separates by race using various other mechanisms. Reports show that middle-class white Brazilians often react negatively when persons of the “wrong race/class” are seen in spaces they believe to be theirs exclusively (1). And when one speaks of areas in the US where blacks have carved out their own spaces after being excluded by whites, the typical Brazilian will turn their nose up and point out what they see as segregation while ignoring the fact that Brazil systematically reserves certain places/spaces for white/whiter Brazilians. And as singers Corona and Gaby Amarantos and now Ingrid Silva point out, classical dance is yet another of those spaces in Brazil!
A native Rio, ballerina Ingrid Silva finds success in New York.
Courtesy of R7 and Globo
At the age of eight, Ingrid Silva already knew what path she wanted to follow. As a child, with her mother’s encouragement, she entered exercise, swimming and ballet classes. But it was the latter that Ingrid fell in love and decided to dedicate herself to.
And at 18, she would begin to see the results of such dedication: In 2007, Ingrid decided to pack her bags and go to New York, after being approved in an audition to join the consecrated company Dance Theatre of Harlem.
“Bethânia Gomes was the main dancer at the Dance Theatre of Harlem and suggested I send a video to the company. So I decided to send one, they liked me and I decided to go to summer school, which I was accepted with a full scholarship!”
Her parents always encouraged her and didn’t think twice about letting their daughter follow her dream.
“My mother was always the first to support me in my ballet rehearsal in the project [the Dance Theatre of Harlem], she’s a wonderful person to have let her own daughter to come to New York at age 18.”
Even being so young and separating from her parents so soon, she said she didn’t have any great difficulty in New York, except for communicating.
“I didn’t speak English, but I didn’t even need! to The ballet classes and rehearsals were always super tranquil. I struggled to learn English and getting used to the culture.”
Silva is the first solo dancer of ballet in New York: ‘I felt welcomed’
In the United States for seven years, Ingrid says that there the prejudice is less: ‘In Brazil, don’t know any black ballerina in classical ballet’
The daughter of a maid and a retired officer of the Força Aérea (Air Force), Silva, 26, is living a fairy tale. On Encontro com Fátima Bernardes (talk show) last Wednesday (May 6th), she said that after much effort and go through moments of racism she is a highlight of the Dance Theatre of Harlem, one of ballet companies in New York, where she has been for seven years. The dancer also saw her face stamped on several posters in the city’s subways in last season.
In ballet companies almost all of the groups are comprised of white dancers. Asked about the matter, the young carioca (native of Rio de Janeiro) said that racism exists anywhere. “Any profession is beyond your race, color or anything. Are there black dancers? No. They are rare. In Brazil, I don’t know any black dancer in classical ballet. But in the Dance Theatre of Harlem, I felt welcome. It was one of the first black dance companies in the United States. I went to a place that where I was well received. There, you learn to dance and grow as a human being. Being the only black in all classes, there in the beginning, was no obstacle. There was racism, yes. But that never stopped me from dancing.”
The young dancer also commented on some strategies to adapt to the aesthetics of dance, very focused on the white students, such as selling only pink colored sneakers, causing such a big contrast with her skin tone. “I get a makeup, that we buy there, paint the slipper and the little ribbon with this makeup that would be for the face, with a liquid base. Already there are pantyhose in our skin tone,” said Ingrid, who also learned how to make a bun in a natural way keeping her hair in a natural style when letting it down.
With her attempt of getting a visa denied from the United States, the dancer’s mother, the maid Maurnei Oliveira, revealed what her greatest wish would be: “My dream is to see her dancing on stage.” The mother of the ballet star has already seen her daughter’s routines but might not have the pleasure of seeing her shining during a spectacular of the New York-based company.