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Steve Gilliard, 1964-2007

It is with tremendous sadness that we must convey the news that Steve Gilliard, editor and publisher of The News Blog, passed away June 2, 2007. He was 42.

To those who have come to trust The News Blog and its insightful, brash and unapologetic editorial tone, we have Steve to thank from the bottom of our hearts. Steve helped lead many discussions that mattered to all of us, and he tackled subjects and interest categories where others feared to tread.

Please keep Steve's friends and family in your thoughts and prayers.

Steve meant so much to us.

We will miss him terribly.

photo by lindsay beyerstein


Bump in the Beltway's Melanie: "Dance Theater of Harlem"

Visual poetry

I've been thinking about this article all day. I used to be a ballet musician, working in the orchestra pit to provide the musical accompaniment to what the dancers were doing on stage. Why are there so few black dancers in the big, established companies? Some of it is just plain unthinking racism, the stuff that infects every facet of American life. But there is another piece to this story which isn't covered by this reporter.

My orchestra absolutely adored the Dance Theater of Harlem. They were our favorite company and the love went in two directions: they were the company most appreciative of the orchestra. Back in New York, they danced to recorded music, so getting a live orchestra on the road was a big treat. When it came time for bows at the end of each performance, they were generous in their recognition of the orchestra and we always
applauded them vigorously. We loved their energy and the spirit (I can't find another word) that Arthur Mitchell embued in his company. The sense of unity of purpose they found on the stage managed to include us: they didn't treat us like the hired help, which most visiting companies did. There's a little sidebar here: Mr. Mitchell was always "Mr. Mitchell" both to us and the dancers. Company directors and choreographers were always referred to by their first names (or obscene nicknames) in other companies. To this day (and I've been out of the orchestra for 7 years) he is still Mr. Mitchell to me. He's an extraordinarily dignified man, the kind that makes you straighten up just by walking into a room.

The untold story in this Times story is that black female dancers don't have the kind of stereotypical bodies that get jobs with American Ballet Theater, City Ballet or the San Francisco Ballet. And this is another of the reasons we loved them. Yes, there are the Virginia Johnsons of the black ballet world, but the dancers of DTH looked like, well, women. They have boobs and hips and don't all look like the anorexic role models presented to little white girls taking ballet class. They are superb artists and atheletes and they have bodies that they are not ashamed of.

I never write about race because I'm so white bread myself that I don't have much experience outside of my
own little world (and Steve, may he return soon, is my touchpoint on race) but this little corner of race I know something about.

If I had any money right now, I'd give it to the Dance Theater of Harlem to bring the company back from the brink they are on right now, and to restore some diversity to the world of ballet. Mr. Mitchell is a genius, and if he were white, he'd have no trouble raising funds.

- posted by Bump in the Beltway's Melanie

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