Diversity Amongst Principal Dancers in Top Ballet Companies: By The Numbers

San Francisco Ballet's Yuan Yuan Tan and Davit Karapetyan in George Balanchine's 'Scotch Symphony,' 2012 (Odette's Ordeal)

San Francisco Ballet’s Yuan Yuan Tan and Davit Karapetyan in George Balanchine’s ‘Scotch Symphony,’ 2012 (Odette’s Ordeal)

It’s a well-known fact that classical ballet companies aren’t known for their diversity. With the news that American Ballet Theatre (ABT) dancer Misty Copeland has been promoted to principal, I was curious to see just how (non-) diverse the major ballet companies are.

First, I identified the top classical ballet companies in the U.S.: ABT, New York City Ballet (NYCB), San Francisco Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet, and Houston Ballet. (I didn’t look at Chicago’s Joffrey Ballet because the company doesn’t use traditional levels, as far as I could tell.)

Next, I looked at each company’s roster, looking for diversity. I decided to narrow my search to solely the principal dancers to save time. I then made a spreadsheet of my findings:

Principal Dancer Diversity at Top Ballet Companies Excel Spreadsheet

Principal Dancer Diversity at Top Ballet Companies Excel Spreadsheet

The first glaring thing is none of the companies have any Black principals at this time. (Copeland will change that when she begins her new position in August.) Every company listed has at least one principal of Asian descent, and San Francisco has two.

Here’s how the various companies break down.

American Ballet Theatre (ABT):

ABT has 15 principal dancers. Four Latino/Latina dancers make up 25%+ of the company’s diversity.

Houston Ballet:

Houston Ballet has the smallest group of principals with just eight dancers. The one Asian dancer and one Latina dancer combine to make up 25% of the diversity.

New York City Ballet (NYCB):

NYCB has the highest number of principal dancers at 24. Latino/Latina dancers comprise 12%+. Though not noted above, NYCB also features one dancer of South Asian descent.

Pacific Northwest Ballet:

This company has the worst diversity score. No Black or Latino/Latina dancers, and only one Asian dancer, in a group of 12 principals.

San Francisco Ballet:

With six dancers among 20 principals, San Francisco Ballet’s Latino/Latina contingent make up 30% of that company’s diversity, the largest of the studied cohort. Though not noted above, the company also features one dancer of South Asian descent.

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#ThrowbackThursday: Lauren Anderson in the Houston Ballet’s “Don Quixote,” 2006

Lauren Anderson, with Carlos Acosta, in Houston Ballet's 'Don-Quixote' (DanseTrack)

Lauren Anderson, with Carlos Acosta, in Houston Ballet’s ‘Don-Quixote’ (DanseTrack)

Misty Copeland may be the most recognizable Black almost-principal ballet dancer right now. But she’s not the first.

Lauren Anderson danced with the Houston Ballet from 1983 until her retirement in 2006. Born and bred in Houston, she began training at the company’s Ben Stevenson Academy (named for the company’s artistic director, now emeritus) before joining the company itself.

In 1990, Anderson was named principal dancer. She was the Black woman to achieve the rank within the Houston Ballet, but also became one of the most visible Black classical ballet principal dancers within a major company.

The above photo shows Anderson dancing with Carlos Acosta in the Houston Ballet’s 2006 production of “Don Quixote.”