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Black ballet dancer Lopes Gomes wins Berlin racism case

Black ballet dancer Lopes Gomes wins Berlin racism case thumbnail
media captionChloé Lopes Gomes: ‘I don’t want a little girl to think ballet is not for her because she has the wrong skin colour’

A black ballet dancer who complained of racism at the Berlin State Ballet has been awarded €16,000 (£14,000; $19,000) in compensation and had her contract renewed, in an out-of-court settlement.

Chloé Lopes Gomes, a 29-year-old French dancer, was the first black ballerina to be hired by the company, in 2018.

On Instagram she welcomed the settlement as “a small victory but a huge step for the ballet world”.

She said she had been refused a white veil and told to wear white make-up.

The company said her allegation of racial discrimination “deeply moves us” and it launched an internal investigation into racism among its staff.

In January the Staatsballett held workshops for all staff to raise awareness of diversity and discrimination and it pledged to build a culture of openness to tackle the racism problem.

Lopes Gomes got many expressions of support on social media after going public with her complaint.

“I realised that even if I feared the consequences, speaking out was the best thing to do. I encourage everyone to break the silence,” she wrote.

‘A wake-up call’

She had complained of harassment by a ballet mistress.

In one production, Lopes Gomes said, the ballet mistress was handing out white veils for the dancers to wear and told her: “I can’t give you one. The veil is white and you’re black.”

She said the same dance teacher had forced her to wear white make-up to “blend in” with other dancers in a production of Swan Lake.

She began legal action after her fixed-term contract was not renewed last summer.

The company said that under the court settlement her contract would be renewed until the end of the 2021/22 season.

Before moving to Berlin she performed with Opéra de Nice in southern France and Béjart Ballet in Lausanne, Switzerland.

The Staatsballett’s acting director Christiane Theobald said: “I regret the discrimination which Chloé Lopes Gomes described, which we take very seriously and are addressing comprehensively.”

She said the case was “a wake-up call”.

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