African-American Oral Histories
Clip 1: Transcript
An African American Ballet Dancer
Running Time: 4 min 54 sec
CC: How diverse was the school when you were growing up?.
NK: So being thankful is the core of your conviction. You said you should remember where you come from, and be thankful. Where does that idea come from?
LA: Well, there was me. Let’s see, there was Joy Huckabee, let’s see, the first person in the school was Debby Allen. So there was Debby Allen. Then there was Joy Huckabee and I. So Debby’s gone. There’s Joy Huckabee and I. I can give you the chronological order of the Black chicks in the school. And then there was, I’m always there, I’m a constant. Then there was Tonya LeStrap [?] and I. And there was, after Tonya LeStrap there’s a gap. There’s guys that come and go, Keith Crossman, there’s guys coming up.
And then there’s Sandra Organ. Now Sandra Organ was an issue because I wanted to be the first Black female in the Company, but she got in, but that’s okay because, I mean, she deserved it. She was older, she was better, she deserved it. But then when we became soloists together, we got bios we could put in the program and she showed me her bio and I was, like, “Okay, well, where is it?” She said, “Where’s what?” I’m like, “Where is you are the first Black female in the Company? You got to put that in.” She was like, “Why?” I’m like, “Because I wanted it and I would have put it in and you’ve got to put it in for me.” So she did which, it was a big thing, you know.
There was Adrien Vincent James was the first Black guy in the Company. And he was in the Company when I was a kid because one of the times he used my dad in the Nutcracker. And this was what was so great about Ben is that, like Janie Parker who was our prima ballerina was my mom and this, I can’t think of his name right now, this other White guy with blue eyes and dark hair was my dad. It didn’t matter; we were all dancers. He didn’t say, “Well, she has to have a Black mom or a Black dad.” No. That she’s just one of the kids in the party and we’re all dancers, it doesn’t, you know. Not that he’s color blind, because he’s not. He said, “I’m not color blind. I can see that you’re brown, that you’re a Black person, but you’re a dancer,” you know. Which is what, which is like the healthiest attitude to have.
I think that whole color blind thing is kind of stupid. Because that means that you, you’re, well, maybe you just can’t see. If you’re blind then you are color blind, but if you can see, there’s no way you’re color blind. I mean, that’s just retarded [laughs]. It’s just crazy. And we’re in the visual arts, so I always thought, you know, being brown is going to make a difference because I’m going to stick out. How can you not look at me; I’m different. One of these things is not like the other, but it’s not that one of these things doesn’t belong. It’s just one of these things is not like the other. So it was kind of, it was cool. I took it as a big advantage, being Black. But I do, I was happy when more Black people came, I was really happy [laughs]. But I mean, so then there was Sandy and I. And then, of course, the Company that had up to six or seven Black people at one time. That was kind of cool.
CC: What other things do you think about having changed from when you, say, joined the company or—
LA: How people view me.
CC: What do you mean by that?
LA: Well, it’s that Black issue thing. That’s what, when I’m doing an interview, what am I thinking about the most? How am I going to address this Black issue thing when they come to it? Because it’s not an issue with me, which is probably a good thing, but I’m thinking, but I have to, I started to think about how it’s going to be an issue with them and what they’re going to be comfortable with, and it was one time in my life where I was into making people as uncomfortable as possible, which is kind of silly, but just to show them that this is really a stupid question.
Like how, well, the question generally is: “How do you feel being a Black ballerina?” “Black, and I guess like a ballerina.” I mean, but that’s a stupid answer, but it’s the only answer I can really give. I don’t know how I feel; I feel just like normal, because I’ve never felt any other way or been anything else. So I try to make people think about what they’re asking me when it comes to that so it can actually have some relevance in the piece, if that makes any sense.
CC: Have you ever gotten to a place where you just don’t want to talk about the whole race thing?
LA: No. Because it’s not an issue with me. I mean it’s obvious that I am, one of these things is not like the other, but, no. Because it’s part of the whole, it’s part of my whole thing. Being a Black ballerina is kind of part of it. At first I was like, what’s the difference? What’s the point? I’m like, “Well duh Lauren! It’s a visual art, there’s a big difference,” you know. So then I sort of got into the brown tight thing, had to wear brown tights. And I thought that was kind of cool. But it’s, you know it’s never, it’s not a non-issue, it’s just isn’t a big issue. And it’s never been a problem for me because I know it has been a problem for some people and an issue for some people. But I have been so blessed and so fortunate that Houston Ballet has never, like I said before, has either shielded me; sheltered me from it or it’s not been an issue with them, even if it’s an issue with someone coming in, I’ve never known about it until either later or I just never knew about it. But I’m almost positive there’s no way in today’s society that, I just know I must have missed something because it’s been too good and too smooth. Do you know what I’m saying?
“Oral Narrative as History.” Students received class credit for this work, and were under the supervision of Dr. Martha Norkunas, director of “The Project in Interpreting the Texas Past.”
Every effort has been made to transcribe the audio recordings exactly. On occasion a word, or phrase, was difficult to hear and this is indicated by a question mark in brackets.
Date of Interview:
September 9, September 10, 2006
Wortham Theater, Houston, Texas
Audio: Edirol digital recorder, Uncompressed wave file
Mini digital videotapes