A year ago, the Joyce SoHo sponsored a panel called “Getting the Gig.” A house packed with choreographers listened attentively as New York dance presenters explained how they picked shows. Then one young woman raised her hand and asked, “Of the choreographers you present, how many are male and how many are female?”
The question electrified the room. These are tough times for women in dance. They have dominated the field historically and numerically, but there is a lot of evidence that they are now struggling with a system working against them.
Here are some statistics:
Why are these statistics so unbalanced? Surveys show that fewer women receive crucial mentoring, fewer are paid for dancing and choreography, and at all levels women get less attention for their work from the press and presenters. Women in dance are raised in a complicated atmosphere of competition, self-hatred, excessive modesty, and conflicting values. In technique class, female dancers learn the values of the past—superiority, not originality, is the goal. Women tend to censor themselves in a way that men don’t.
As importantly, the field is heavily focused on encouraging men in dance, because of their scarcity. This focus has changed the priorities and values and skewed the playing field. There may be no conscious conspiracy, but the effort to help men in dance has been so intense that women are shortchanged. Few in the field think of themselves as sexist, but the cumulative effect discriminates against women.
How do we change the situation? Talk about it. If that doesn’t work, complain about it; protest to the powers that cause it. The field is small and sensitive. Small numbers can make a difference.
Liss, a dancer, choreographer, and former booking agent, is publicity manager for a large booking company.
Other veterans share their stories in
What’s Eating the Dance World?
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 24, 2001