Are female dancers still discriminated against?

This piece discusses the issues revolving around female dancers being discriminated against in both the educational and professional industry.

Are female dancers still discriminated against?

I have chosen to focus on the issue of female dancers still being discriminated against because I have always felt strongly about the topic. Soon after I started dance I realised that there was a difference between how male and female dancers are treated and viewed in the industry as well as in schools. Once I started getting more and more involved in dance and began auditioning for higher education, the issue became more apparent and I saw another side to it. I have done my primary evidence through the internet and have read articles and interviews on the topic. I carried out my secondary evidence on the Survey Monkey website. I will be discussing sub-topics throughout, such as body image, wage difference, competition in the industry, first hand experiences and opinions of others, to come to a conclusion about the main issue.

For my primary research, I carried out a questionnaire on Survey Monkey and advertised it on social media for people to fill out. I asked questions based on the things I feel surround the issue of gender discrimination is dance and to find out others opinions and personal experiences. I have picked out two respondents answers to look into more detail about – a male and female that see themselves as a feminist and whose answers back up some main points I wanted to look into more. I firstly chose respondent 41 as she raised the issue around the LGBT community and where transgender people stand in dance, which is a difficult topic to discuss and something I find is becoming more apparent in the modern dance world and dance education. This person is a female aged 11-18 who sees herself as a feminist and has a little dance knowledge. She answered the majority of the agree/disagree questions with either agree or strongly agree, a few were neutral/not sure, and none were disagree. This shows that the respondent feels similar to the topic as I do and feels strongly about the statements I wrote. Some of the statements I wrote I disagreed with myself so I was interested to see that this individual didn't disagree with any. I did this intentionally so I could see if people had different views to myself within the topic. This respondent didn't answer the question asking 'If you are a dancer of any gender, write anything you have experienced as discrimination against yourself when it came to something in dance'. I wasn't expecting everyone to answer this particular question as it was a bit personal, and even though the answers are anonymous I know people don't like to remember or talk about times they've been discriminated as they can be traumatising sometimes. Their answer to 'Are there any gender issues in dance that frustrate you in particular and why' was particularly interesting to me as it was something I didn't consider and that no one else mentioned. 'Someone that identifies as transgender male from female can't take part in a "boys company" because the way they feel in their head is not enough to class you as a "male". It's belittling to anyone that struggles with this transition and in dance communities they should all help one another be who they want to be, besides their gender. This is the same for male to female.' This can be classed as a whole other issue in itself concerning transgender rights and the dance industries views on transgender people. I do feel that this issue needs to have more awareness raised about it to let people know that being a transgender dancer is no different to any other dancer and that they should have the same opportunities as everyone else whether they're male or female. Their answer to question 9, 'What do you think gender discrimination is in general, and you feel that something could be done it change it', is similar to 7 and mentions things like 'There's so much more that can be taken in a negative way. But it means treating someone differently because of their gender. It's a disgusting behaviour and it should never be taught.' I agree with this too. I feel that the world and people in general are becoming more aware and acceptant of the LGBT community and transgender people in particular. These people are becoming less afraid to talk about their feelings which has reduced the rate of suicide amongst teenagers and young adults. However it definitely needs more attention within the dance industry and something needs to be done about where transgender people stand.

I also chose respondent 5 as he raised points about gender roles and characters within dance and the choreography itself. I feel very strongly about gender roles being changed and twisting what is known as 'gender stereotypes' to show that both genders are very versatile. This person is a male aged 11-18 who sees himself as a feminist and has a lot of dance knowledge. Similar to respondent 41, this person answered either strongly agree, agree or neutral/not sure to the majority of the questions, however disagreed with the statement 'Female dancers are sexualised when it comes to their costume'. I'm not sure how I feel about this statement as usually when a woman is sexualised for her clothes it's within the media or in day-to-day life. Contemporary dance isn't really in the media and is kept more within the arts community where things like this aren't discussed or really even thought about. If I'm watching a piece of dance where the women are wearing minimal costume, I look at it as if it's been done to be more pure and so the audience can see the dancers body and shapes better. However if someone that wasn't as involved in the arts, they may look at it as 'strange' and may even sexualise it in their head. This person's answer to question 6 was 'Because I am male I am always given the lifting role rather than being lifted.' I have seen this issue quite a lot too from my experience at school. It's more apparent in younger students as they think that the "smaller" person has to be lifted because they won't be able to lift the "bigger" person, although they don't even try it. Their answer to question 7 was 'Men lifting women. Male and female love duets – why are the only love duets we see in dance heterosexual relationships?' I also agree with this answer. In the majority of professional works I have seen, there only male and female love duets. However I must admit that one choreographer who goes against this is Matthew Bourne. In his work 'The Car Man' the main character "Luca" was a bisexual man. At the beginning to the middle of the story he gets with a woman called "Lana" and then towards the end he is with a man called "Angelo". He dances in love duets with both of these throughout as well as other females AND males. In his most recent work 'The Red Shoes' there was a gay male relationship throughout. Whenever there were male and female love duets, there was their one gay male duet. It was quite humorous as their characters were quite extravagant. However, I feel it should have been taken a bit more seriously as it can raise quite a lot of awareness and if other choreographers see, they might incorporate this in their works too.

I asked a friend of mine within dance a few questions about some past auditions for further professional training that I know she didn't get into and her opinion on why she thinks she wasn't successful. She auditioned for Trinity Laban CAT scheme three years in a row. I asked her if she enjoyed the auditions and she mentioned that they were really enjoyable and involved a technique and creative session that included things she hadn't really experienced before. I then asked her if she was worried about other female competition before the audition and she responded with: 'Yes, I was because I knew that they only took a certain amount of male and females each year and that as a female you really and to stand out at such a young age in a field of competitors'. From my own personal experience with auditions for Higher Education, I also felt the same as this. I also asked her whether she thinks her not being successful was anything to do with her body image or being female and she answered with: 'Personally no because I understood that I wasn't at the time what they were looking for within their scheme'. I feel that this is a good answer as dance isn't always based on body image or your gender, although it is more difficult for females in the dance industry and to get into training programmes such as this one.

I finally done some secondary research on this topic to find out about more things that revolve around the main issue, such as body image, wage difference and the professional competition. On Prezi.com I found a transcript on 'Body and Racial Discrimination in Dance'. The opening few lines say: 'Directors want the audience's approval so the dancers need to look the same because it adds to the effectiveness of the dance on stage. Dancers are supposed to make movement look graceful and effortless, on and off stage; which is not easy. Many directors believe this would be impossible without the required ballet body. It's all about the aesthetic'. To some extent, I agree with this statement. However, at the same time I completely disagree with certain points. I do agree with the fact that dance is about aesthetic for the audience as that is the whole point in choreography – for it to look good on stage. However, it is also about getting the stimulus/message across to the audience and the pure emotions being shown through the dancers. However, I don't think it is down to body image that makes a dance look aesthetic, it is more down to technique and the choreography itself. I next looked into whether there was a difference in wages that professional male and female dancers earn in a year. As many people know, there is a wage difference between males and female in other careers such as business companies, and men usually get higher promotions which ends up with them earning more. After doing some research into this same issue within the dance world, I realised that this isn't the case within professional companies. The wages is more based on the skill level of the dancer and the company they are in and how much work they get within the company. The average experienced dancer on a short term contract earns about £450 a week. Dancers that have newly graduated are looking at a wage of £13 an hour if they are lucky enough to be on a 12 months contract. The fact that there is no difference in male and female wages is relieving and shows that female dancers aren't discriminated in this unfair way.

As I said at the beginning, I have a strong view on this topic being a female dancer aspiring to get into the professional industry, so I am going to quickly discuss my own thoughts and opinions. I feel that female dancers are discriminated against in some ways, but other ways they are not. In professional companies I feel that sometimes females don't get the same opportunities as men to show their physical strength due to the roles and characters that they get given. This is the reason I like choreographers such as Matthew Bourne and Jasmin Vardimon so much. Bourne twists the roles between males and female of an original piece, for example in his version of 'Swan Lake' he used male dancers instead of female like how the original was. Jasmin Vardimon's choreography for her companies 'JVC' and 'JV2' is very physically demanding which makes it hard to get into her companies for both males and females. However, she has equal male and female dancers and sometimes even more females in JV2 particularly, which an amazing opportunity for those females to show that they are just as strong as male dancers. I feel that there needs to be more opportunities for female dancers to show their strength, not so much in the professional world, but more within schools and education as female strength can be underrated easily.

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Author

Jazmin Gramson

Jazmin Gramson

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5 Comments

  • Stella McAuley

    On 6 June 2017, 11:50 Stella McAuley commented:

    I think this is a very important issue and I definitely agree with many of the points you made. This piece is very well written and has some really in depth research, I found the personal stories that you gathered very interesting.

  • Emma Del'Nero Williams

    On 6 June 2017, 14:50 Emma Del'Nero Williams commented:

    This is an interesting issue. You found some interesting research online and your survey sounds great. I got a little lost in the first section though. I agree that their needs to be more opportunities for female dancers to show their strength.

  • Tom Guilliard

    On 7 June 2017, 11:35 Tom Guilliard commented:

    I think you have some great research! and some great points! I like the way you are strong about this point and agree that female dancers can be discriminated against.

  • Olivia  Keaney

    On 7 June 2017, 11:36 Olivia Keaney commented:

    totally agree! great points made

  • E M

    On 24 July 2018, 11:57 E M commented:

    Go girl power! I am gratefull that the pay is equal. Jasmin Vardimon and Matthew Bourne seem like good people. Some people think that boys should not dance, but I disagree with them.

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