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First Black Dancer at German Ballet Wins Discrimination Case

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Chloé Lopes Gomes, the first Black female dancer at Berlin’s Staatsballett, who said she was the victim of repeated racist practices has won US $19,000 in compensation and had her cancelled contract renewed, after she exposed the ballet company.

Speaking to The Guardian, Lopes Gomes said that when she was selected to join the company in 2018,  “It was the fulfilment of a childhood dream.” 

The 29-year-old dancer trained in Marseille and at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy. She previously danced for the Ballet de l’Opéra de Nice.

Last November, in an interview with German magazine Der Spiegel, Lopes Gomes said she was repeatedly harassed because of her skin color. Her ballet mistress forced her to wear white makeup in a production of Swan Lake to “blend in” with the rest of the dancers. This teacher, she said, let it be known that she didn’t think a Black dancer fit in the company.

She specifically claimed racial abuse from her ballet mistress, who often told Lopes Gomes that her skin was not “aesthetically pleasing,” had forced the dancer to wear white makeup in a production of Swan Lake, to “blend in.” She shared that the same teacher used her to recreate a painting of a Black dancer surrounded by white dancers, so that the teacher could show her friends that the company “also has one of those.”

On Instagram the dancer said her case “was a small victory but a huge step for the ballet world.”

This past January, the Staatsballett held workshops for all staff on diversity and discrimination, and pledged to create a more inclusive and racially appropriate culture.

Acting director Christiane Theobald said this was a “wake up call” for the company and that “I regret the discrimination which Chloé Lopes Gomes described, which we take very seriously and are addressing comprehensively.”

Lopes Gomes said her fellow dancers were often uncomfortable at the way she was singled out for treatment, but they were too scared to say anything.  

Several anonymous dancers corroborated her complaints.

Lopes Gomes said she recognized that she deserved her place in the company and that her historic position could be an inspiration to other girls. She explained that being the company’s first Black female dancer, made her feel “happy that I had the chance to show other young Black girls that they could do the same.”

Originally Lopes Gomes was told that her contract, due to expire in July 2021, would not be renewed due to the COVID-19 crisis.  But she disputed this reasoning, saying “I know I was fired because I’m Black. From the beginning, I didn’t stand a chance.”

Under her court settlement, the company said, Lopes Gomes’s contract will be renewed until the end of the 2021/22 season.

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