A vigorously reported critique of common policies and practices in the ballet world.

TURNING POINTE

HOW A NEW GENERATION OF DANCERS IS SAVING BALLET FROM ITSELF

A journalist takes a hard look at social injustices in ballet and how to end them.

Angyal argues that as ballet schools and companies cope with Covid-19, they face a threat older than the pandemic. The ballet world is in crisis, “made fragile and brittle by years of inequality and rendered dysfunctional by sexism, racism, elitism, and a stubborn disregard for the physical and mental well-being of the dancers who make the art possible.” Many of the ills the author laments have been covered in some of the ballet books published since Joan Brady’s signal 1982 memoir The Unmaking of a Dancer: injuries, burnout, eating disorders, taunting of male dancers as “sissies,” and brutal treatment by Svengalis like George Balanchine. But Angyal substantially updates the story by highlighting persistent social injustices, such as relegating Black male dancers to “comic sidekick roles, the Mercutio to the white man’s Romeo,” and sidelining LGBTQ+ talent. She also shows how trailblazers have fought back with actions such as the founding of the Manhattan-based Ballez company for lesbian and gender-nonconforming dancers. Drawing on interviews with insiders who include artistic directors and principal dancers, the author is particularly insightful about companies’ “doublespeak” on issues like thinness. One psychiatrist noted that ballet masters—no longer able to tell dancers to lose weight without risking criticism—speak in code such as, “You need to be more ‘toned’.…Every dancer knows that means they have to lose five pounds.” Angyal slights some of the broader social and economic forces that have contributed to ballet’s problems, such as declining U.S. audiences for high culture and the role government regulators might play if discrimination or unfair labor practices are involved. However, she ends with clear, well-reasoned recommendations that schools and companies anywhere could adopt—a list that, in itself, might be the spark many need to make overdue changes.

A vigorously reported critique of common policies and practices in the ballet world.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-64503-670-8

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Bold Type Books

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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This guide to Black culture for White people is accessible but rarely easy.

UNCOMFORTABLE CONVERSATIONS WITH A BLACK MAN

A former NFL player casts his gimlet eye on American race relations.

In his first book, Acho, an analyst for Fox Sports who grew up in Dallas as the son of Nigerian immigrants, addresses White readers who have sent him questions about Black history and culture. “My childhood,” he writes, “was one big study abroad in white culture—followed by studying abroad in black culture during college and then during my years in the NFL, which I spent on teams with 80-90 percent black players, each of whom had his own experience of being a person of color in America. Now, I’m fluent in both cultures: black and white.” While the author avoids condescending to readers who already acknowledge their White privilege or understand why it’s unacceptable to use the N-word, he’s also attuned to the sensitive nature of the topic. As such, he has created “a place where questions you may have been afraid to ask get answered.” Acho has a deft touch and a historian’s knack for marshaling facts. He packs a lot into his concise narrative, from an incisive historical breakdown of American racial unrest and violence to the ways of cultural appropriation: Your friend respecting and appreciating Black arts and culture? OK. Kim Kardashian showing off her braids and attributing her sense of style to Bo Derek? Not so much. Within larger chapters, the text, which originated with the author’s online video series with the same title, is neatly organized under helpful headings: “Let’s rewind,” “Let’s get uncomfortable,” “Talk it, walk it.” Acho can be funny, but that’s not his goal—nor is he pedaling gotcha zingers or pleas for headlines. The author delivers exactly what he promises in the title, tackling difficult topics with the depth of an engaged cultural thinker and the style of an experienced wordsmith. Throughout, Acho is a friendly guide, seeking to sow understanding even if it means risking just a little discord.

This guide to Black culture for White people is accessible but rarely easy.

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-80046-6

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2020

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A fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change.

BEYOND THE GENDER BINARY

From the Pocket Change Collective series

Artist and activist Vaid-Menon demonstrates how the normativity of the gender binary represses creativity and inflicts physical and emotional violence.

The author, whose parents emigrated from India, writes about how enforcement of the gender binary begins before birth and affects people in all stages of life, with people of color being especially vulnerable due to Western conceptions of gender as binary. Gender assignments create a narrative for how a person should behave, what they are allowed to like or wear, and how they express themself. Punishment of nonconformity leads to an inseparable link between gender and shame. Vaid-Menon challenges familiar arguments against gender nonconformity, breaking them down into four categories—dismissal, inconvenience, biology, and the slippery slope (fear of the consequences of acceptance). Headers in bold font create an accessible navigation experience from one analysis to the next. The prose maintains a conversational tone that feels as intimate and vulnerable as talking with a best friend. At the same time, the author's turns of phrase in moments of deep insight ring with precision and poetry. In one reflection, they write, “the most lethal part of the human body is not the fist; it is the eye. What people see and how people see it has everything to do with power.” While this short essay speaks honestly of pain and injustice, it concludes with encouragement and an invitation into a future that celebrates transformation.

A fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change. (writing prompt) (Nonfiction. 14-adult)

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-09465-5

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Penguin Workshop

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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