One Org Making Good On Covid Era Diversity Commitments

A number of arts organizations made strong commitments to diversify their offerings and the composition of their staffs and performers as they emerged from Covid restrictions. Recently there was a story on about the Pacific Northwest Ballet’s (PNB) new dancer roster which is younger and 50% composed of persons of color.

The organization had already begun moving in that direction, including the composition of people whose works they were choosing to dance, but their efforts have accelerated since venues were allowed to reopen. The article cites a woman who wasn’t entirely comfortable being in the company in the pre-Covid era who is more engaged with the organizational culture now.

In addition to changing the face of who is dancing and whose works are being danced to, the company has also addressed the body type and costuming issues which have been a somewhat controversial element of ballet.

Even when PNB performs full-length classical ballets like Swan Lake and Nutcracker, the rows of tutu-clad swans or snowflakes on stage are no longer made up of identical white dancers with long necks, narrow hips and flat chests.

Now dancers wear shoes and tights that match their skin tones, and sometimes Black dancers free their hair from the tight buns that have been de rigueur for ballerinas.

Going into the article, I was looking to see if there was any mention of audience growth or diversity. I was partially thinking of the post I made about Dallas Black Dance Theatre which has thrived since the Covid shutdowns. While anecdotal evidence, if PNB also saw an increase in audiences, it might be a sign there was an undertapped, unmet need that was finally be recognized. I was interested to see the article’s authors didn’t just depend on PNB’s claims about a more diverse audience, but spoke to a media outlet that serves the local Black community.

TraeAnna Holiday of Converge Media, an outlet that covers Seattle’s Black community, wrote in an email that while it has yet to be a major topic of community-wide discussion, she’s seen more diverse audiences at PNB performances.

“People are noticing this shift in diverse representation,” Holiday wrote. “PNB is setting a precedent in the industry; it’s impressive and notable.”

There was paragraph in the article that jumped out at me which I wasn’t entirely sure how to interpret:

To an outsider, PNB seems to be evolving into a contemporary ballet troupe, but Boal politely declines that moniker. “We’re a company that moves, a company that can dance,” he says.

I wondered if the term “contemporary” was being used as a qualifier to suggest PNB isn’t a “real” ballet organization. I am sure there are purists who might say that regardless of the terminology, but those couple sentences made me question if the internal politics of the dance world employed labels like that to signal acceptable boundaries.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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