On Monday, The New York Times broke a story about ballet that was quickly picked up by other national and international news outlets. Peter Martins, longtime ballet master in chief of New York City Ballet and head of the faculty of the School of American Ballet, has been accused of sexual harassment in an anonymous letter. The dance world may or may not have been surprised by this.
I certainly didn't feel surprise at the news. Writing this on the day that Time magazine has named "The Silence Breakers" of #MeToo "Person of the Year," this story seems of a piece with the many others we've watched in recent weeks with a mixture of horror, relief and vindication as men begin to face consequences for their disregard for the personhood of the women around them.
Ting-Yu Chen believes there is no one path to deserving an A in dance. Photo by N_Link_Photography
The challenges and rewards of grading college technique classes.
Bring up the subject of grading dance in higher education, and professors and students alike will sigh. What does a “B” tendu look like? How can you give a jumping combination an 83?
Grades and art do not get along well, as almost any dance professor will tell you. Still, at most colleges and universities, grades must be given, and so professors must find ways to quantify the unquantifiable.
Grading rubrics may appear straightforward, but they present challenges for both instructors, who grapple with how to define the art form’s inherent subjectivity, and students, who may focus more on scores than refining their skills. Each person has their own aesthetic biases, and there are many ways to dance well.
When Jillian Harris first joined the faculty at Temple University, she helped to create standards for modern technique, which took the form of a checklist where a “5” represents very proficient and confident and a “1” represents not proficient or confident. Temple’s standards for Level I modern include items such as “Overall movement efficiency and proper alignment” and “Using the plié and cushioning through the feet.” Level IV standards include “Ability to seek out and investigate new information as part of the learning process” and “Embodiment of a mature work ethic, consistent with that of a professional performer.”
Ting-Yu Chen, dance division chair and associate professor at Shenandoah Conservatory, looks at grading as a way of determining “how well students are mastering their own instrument.” She relies on a rubric that breaks down grades into Technique, Artistry, Accuracy (how clearly they perform the choreography), Body Maintenance (overall physical condition) and Professionalism. Each category weighs 20 percent of the “Dance” portion of the technique grade, which weighs 90 percent combined with 10 percent for written work.
Attendance is often a critical factor, since showing up for technique class is how the work gets done, unlike in a lecture course where students can catch up on reading and notes if they miss class. In many institutions, students are allowed a certain number of absences in technique over the course of a semester, and for each absence beyond that their final grade will be dropped by one step (for example, from a A to A-, or A- to B+).
Even with the most thorough standards, though, there is often cause to disregard them. “I don’t teach a codified technique, so there’s no exact way to do what I’m asking,” says Cornelius Carter, professor and director of the dance program at University of Alabama. “I just get totally ill when it comes to grading.” Carter teaches jazz and modern, in addition to composition courses, and feels his “job is to get students involved in questioning.”
He’s created a rubric that allows for open discussion and includes elements such as attendance, consistency and work habits. But, Carter notes, “quite often, the brilliant students don’t do anything on the rubric and, when teaching a combination, you are constantly surprised by the different ways students present their intelligence.”
Despite the difficulty of assigning grades, some benefits do emerge. Grades force professors to deeply consider what they are teaching and what results they seek in their students. Chen says, “It’s so much about us, the graders, searching inside ourselves. Every grade we assign, we’re putting out there our philosophy of what dance is.” She also notes that in an academic environment, grades “give you something to strive for. We assign students a grade that helps them know where they are.”
Drawbacks emerge when students—conditioned by endless standardized testing in K–12 education—focus too much on grades, often saying, “Tell me what I need to do to get an A.” There’s no one answer, and the path to an A in dance will not always seem easy, or even fair. Chen says, “Some students with raw talent and a gifted body type come in at a high level; others have to work really hard to get to the A range.” That’s why most grading rubrics take into account elements such as work habits and professionalism, since, as Carter says, “we’ve all seen students who can do anything you ask, but they’re asleep.”
Outside of academia, of course, grades have little meaning. An artistic director watching a dancer audition is not going to look at college transcripts to check the dancer’s technique grades. They’re going to watch how the dancer performs in front of them and interacts with others. “The grade that comes out at the end does not guarantee you a job,” Chen says.
This tension between the reality of the field and the expectations of academia cannot be erased by the perfect grading rubric. Students ultimately must accept that earning a degree in dance means dealing with grades, even though grades don’t mean much once they graduate. As Harris says, “All I can do is be honest with students about that tension. When you leave the university, no one is going to give you a rubric. You have to be self-motivated and create your own.”
The Pros of Self-Grading
To mitigate the impersonal nature of grades in technique classes, Cornelius Carter incorporates self-assessment into his grading process at University of Alabama. “In my process, the students get to propose their grades. We sit down one-on-one, go through their proposal and see how it matches up against mine.” This self-assessment follows the syllabus-grading breakdown exactly as Carter’s does. Most of his faculty adopted this marriage of self-assessment and instructor feedback. “Let’s come in and hash it out so we can both cry and fall on the floor and get it over with,” he says. It takes a bite out of students receiving electronic feedback and having no way to really engage or respond.
DIY grant-writing advice for your next project
Grant writing can be both intimidating and empowering, tiresome and exhilarating, especially if you are new to the process. I found this true when I started my first grant proposal 15 years ago for Richmond-based Ground Zero Dance, and it’s still true for me today. Yet grants are a key to financial support for your organization, as well as professional validation. In crafting a well-written proposal, you produce not just a clear case for funding, but a detailed road map for the realization of your project.
Dream, In Detail
Your idea should drive your grant seeking—not the other way around. You may end up tailoring your project to better fit a grant’s requirements, but you shouldn’t alter it beyond recognition. Lay out the idea clearly before you begin looking for grantors whose interests intersect with yours. Are you focusing on a particular population or issue? Use those keywords (i.e., “gender,” “youth”) in your search for grantors. Maria Bauman, former associate artistic director of Urban Bush Women who now runs her own dance company, has written many successful proposals and served on grant-review panels. “Start as local as possible,” she says. “You’ll have a better chance with a regional opportunity than competing for national attention.”
Above: Maria Bauman suggests inviting a grantor to see your work. Photo by David B. Smith, Courtesy Bauman.
Read up on the mission and programs of any granting organization that looks promising. Does your mission fit with theirs? What other projects have they funded and how do those compare with yours? What size grants are typically offered?
Most grant applications request some combination of the following: your mission and brief history of your organization, detailed project description (often called the “narrative”), project budget, biographies of key personnel and work samples. Generally, the narrative and budget make up the bulk of a proposal.
Once you’ve completed a draft, ask several colleagues—particularly any with grant-writing experience—to offer feedback. Proofread carefully, and be attentive to length and formatting requirements. After submitting your proposal, be patient: Most grantors give a time frame for responses, and following up will not help your chances.
If your proposal is successful, use your narrative and budget as key parts of your implementation plan. At the end, look at your actual expenses and revenue and compare them to the initial budget. Did things cost more or less than you thought? Note any reporting requirements to complete at the end of the project, and send thank-you notes to staff and directors of the granting agency. If your project is not funded, contact the grantor to ask for feedback. Some will provide the reviewer’s comments in the rejection letter, giving you more information for the next proposal.
Get Real: The Budget
I’ve heard grant review panelists confess that the first thing they read in any proposal is the budget, since it’s a clear guide for translating the project idea into reality. A few things to keep in mind:
Be realistic. Look up what things cost—materials, supplies, postage—don’t just guess. Over-budgeting can erode a grantor’s trust when you file a final report and haven’t spent all the funds you requested. Under-budgeting can impact the success of your project.
Be specific, within reason. Don’t just list “Personnel” with one big number; add dancers, lighting designer, technical director, etc., with each associated fee. Under “Hospitality,” however, just list “post-performance reception” with an amount, rather than a detailed menu of hors d’oeuvres.
Pay yourself. Include a budget line in “Personnel” for yourself as grant writer or administrator. Even a modest fee shows you respect the work put in by yourself and others.
List diverse income sources. Most grantors don’t want to fund an entire project. What will your other sources of revenue be? Ticket sales? A Kickstarter campaign? Private donations?
▪ Use positive language, like “will” instead of “would.” You want to convey dedication to the project’s ultimate success.
▪ Contact the organization with questions. “Applying cold can work,” says Bauman, “but is less likely than if you’ve gotten a little more information, or a staff person from the organization knows your work.”
▪ Don’t mention partners or collaborators if you haven’t talked with them yet. You need to have at least broached the idea with anyone you’re including in your proposal.
▪ “Have someone read what you wrote and make sure they can understand the project,” says Bauman. “You can see what parts you illustrated clearly and what you might want to be more explicit about.”
Dance/USA Keeps an updated list of current funding opportunities (local to national), with deadlines and many other resources: danceusa.org/opportunitiesforfunding
National Assembly of State Arts Agencies Provides a directory of state and regional arts agencies with contact information: nasaa-arts.org
U.S. Regional Arts Organizations Lists regional funders, such as Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation, with descriptions and web addresses: usregionalarts.org/funding.htm
Foundation Center Offers free or paid search of a substantial database of foundations with areas of funding interest, in addition to resources on national trends, grant writing and more: foundationcenter.org
GMU dancers perform Stephen Petronio’s Lareigne during a residency. Photo by Evan Cantwell, Courtesy GMU.
Choreographer Monica Bill Barnes has been an artist in residence at more than 10 universities over the last decade. These gigs have given her the chance to hone her teaching skills and develop and present her work. “I feel so lucky my residencies have always gone well,” she says. “I choreograph not because I know how but because I’m trying to figure it out, quite actively, and to invite people into that conversation.”
College residencies can be a boon to working artists. Funding! Dancers! Space! Audiences! Institutional validation! And artists in turn benefit college dance programs through performing, teaching and perhaps even hiring students they have worked with. There’s rarely an application process, but there are a few steps you can take to work your way toward coveted artist-in-residence status.
Starting the Conversation
Getting considered for a residency starts with researching what college programs might be a fit for you and your work. Sending out press kits (whether in print or by e-mail) to a wide swath of possible presenters is unlikely to get you anywhere. A college administrator is usually overtasked and may not have time to review them, especially if it seems like they were mailed out en masse.
Learn as much as you can about university programs before approaching them—research the aesthetic of institutions that interest you, says Susan Shields, director of dance at George Mason University. Then show the director you’ve done your homework through an e-mail, phone call or letter describing your work and how you think it fits with their program. “What’s helpful is when someone can say, I’ve got this piece—click here. And this is why I think your school might be interested in it,” she says.
Networking is key. Try watching a college company perform at a festival and approaching a faculty member afterward with your card and a reflection on what you saw and why it interested you. Barnes notes that when performing on tour, she used to reach out to nearby universities (if they had dance programs) and offer to teach a master class, sometimes even for free. Faculty who have seen you teach will remember your name when opportunities arise at their institution.
What to Offer
When you approach a director, be clear and articulate about your aesthetic, teaching interests and experience. What parts of the curriculum intrigue you and why? And how might you fit in? Can you teach modern classes? Composition or choreography? Does your work emphasize community engagement? Are you interested in advising or mentoring students? The answers to these questions should be apparent on your resumé or website, or in your conversations with faculty or directors. Some schools may want you to teach, set work or perform; others might be interested in offering lecture demonstrations or master classes in their community. Be clear about what you will and will not be available to do, and how much is included in your artist fee.
In general, your offerings should reflect an interest in college dance. “You have to have a love of students, and no snobbery toward dance in higher education,” says Shields.
Keys to Successful—and Future—Residencies
Once you’ve made it in the door, do your work well and make good on what you offered. “The only thing that has ever gotten me the next job was, whatever job I had, doing it really well,” says Barnes. “I’ve always tried to represent myself accurately. So that when I came somewhere, they didn’t feel disappointed that I didn’t teach Cunningham. It is a small network and people know what they want. And everybody is honest about it. There’s an integrity to the way the system works.”
Strengthening ties with its community, North Carolina Dance Theatre has rebranded itself as Charlotte Ballet.
Gregory Taylor and Emily Ramirez in Dwight Rhoden’s Gateways. Photo by Peter Zay, Courtesy Charlotte Ballet.
To some, it was a surprise when North Carolina Dance Theatre announced in April that it had changed its name to Charlotte Ballet. But for artistic director Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux and his wife, associate artistic director Patricia McBride, who took over the Charlotte-based company in 1996, solidifying NCDT’s regional brand had been a long-term goal. “Jean-Pierre and Patricia have always thought the name should be Charlotte Ballet,” says executive director Douglas Singleton. “Everything we do is ballet.”
The name change has come in response to an evolving Charlotte, now home to Bank of America and many other large financial operations. Today, the city ranks as one of the fastest growing in the U.S. As its population has shifted, so has NCDT’s audience. “Many folks moving to Charlotte haven’t brought an understanding of the ‘dance theater’ tradition with them,” says Singleton. “They are bringing a ‘ballet’ tradition with them.”
North Carolina Dance Theatre had spent recent years refocusing its audience development and marketing strategies. It has paid off: Ticket sales have increased 75 percent and donor gifts have tripled. And in 2010, NCDT moved into the Patricia McBride and Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux Center for Dance. Still, consultants agreed that renaming the company would substantially help it bridge connections to Charlotte’s artistically conservative community: In a preliminary poll surveying potential local customers—people who had not attended a performance in at least three years—nearly 50 percent said they were familiar with the name Charlotte Ballet, even though the brand did not yet exist.
Singleton emphasizes that the company programming of family-friendly classics and innovative contemporary works will not shift. “The product has not changed,” he says. “Our name has aligned with the product.”
Choreographers need to be smart in how they showcase work.
A choreographer must be able to show work to presenters and competition judges in a portable format. But creating an effective reel can pose challenges, the biggest being that no single sampling is appropriate for all opportunities. Sometimes you must submit an entire piece, or a collection of excerpts that indicates your range. Sometimes the wording is vague: The American Dance Festival, for instance, simply requests a DVD of recent work.
Those who routinely vet footage urge choreographers to invest in their reels. Make sure you have the tools you need to shoot and edit good video—or hire those who do. “If you’re really serious about touring,” says Walter Jaffe, general manager of the White Bird Dance festival in Portland, Oregon, “you should put aside money to create video that shows off the work.” Here are five tips to keep in mind.
1. Represent your work honestly.
It can be tempting to pursue as many opportunities as you can, especially early on in your choreographic career. But if you edit a video to conform to someone else’s aesthetic, presenters will see through it, or will realize it after they give you a gig. Only pursue the opportunities that fit your particular style. Then, says choreographer Nathan Trice, “you want to ask the presenter what they prefer to see.”
2. Follow the rules.
Once you focus on an opportunity, dig into the details. Are you sending unsolicited work to a presenter? Or applying to a choreography competition? Each probably has specific requirements. Do they give a time limit on the excerpt? Do you only send a sampling of one work, snippets of several works or a complete piece?
Choreography competitions, such as the Joffrey Ballet’s Choreographers of Color Award, or Hubbard Street’s National Choreographic Competition, have detailed requirements. Ignoring guidelines can get your reel tossed without viewing.
3. Include credits and a description.
Don’t omit the details that will give a complete picture of the work. Each excerpt should include credits, date of creation/premiere, full length and contact information, including a web address where more content can be found. Sometimes, a written description (usually a page or less) may be required as well. “It should tie together what they’re seeing on the video,” says Trice. Make sure you edit your description as carefully as you put together your reel. You don’t want a presenter to stumble over it.
4. Don’t edit the reel yourself.
You know your work better than anyone, but that’s why you’re not the best person to edit it. “Have someone who’s not so close to the work make the selection, so they can give you perspective on what they see,” says Trice. “If anything, you want your editor to read your description and then go in and edit. He or she is going to have an outside eye.” Benoit-Swan Pouffer, choreographer and former artistic director of Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, adds that dancers or choreographers who know you and care about your work can be ideal editors or, at a minimum, provide useful feedback.
5. Avoid clutter.
Resist the temptation to overedit, add special effects or otherwise clutter up the viewer’s experience of your work. Your reel shouldn’t feel choppy. Let passages develop, and try to achieve some kind of emotional or thematic arc. Says Trice, “A two- or three-minute clip should really be able to give you some feel of the beginning, middle and end. Make clear, clean, basic edits. No spinning, or sparkly stars—all that stuff is unnecessary.” Jaffe also cautions about superimposing music. “Sometimes you see reels with sound that has nothing to do with the movement being shown. That’s not helpful at all,” he says. Stick with music from the work or, in the case of a series of quick excerpts, use music that reflects your movement. Don’t forget the basics, either. Jaffe points out what should be painfully obvious—work that is darkly lit will not show up well on video.
Bottom line, your reel should help the work speak for itself in a way that piques interest. Says Pouffer, “I think the more simple a thing you have, the more truth that comes out. You see what this person is about and what they have to say.”
Lea Marshall is a writer and interim chair of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Department of Dance & Choreography.
Maggie Small in Karinska costume for Balanchine’s Liebesleder Waltzer.
Photo by Matthew Karas.
Maggie Small’s pointe shoe swings inches from the ceiling of a corner studio at Richmond Ballet, as partner Fernando Sabino presses her through a lift, her body arched across his hand. After a slow spin down, the pas de deux continues through shifting romantic moods—lyrical and earnest, charming and flirtatious—punctuated by more gravity-defying lifts. Small and Sabino are rehearsing ballet master Malcolm Burn’s Pas Glazunov under the gaze of artistic associate Igor Antonov. At the end of the run, Antonov mentions to Small that a pirouette seemed late; she says quickly, “Yes, I felt it.”
Small, 26, generates crackling energy from within her small frame. Her vivacity makes you want to run up and hug her onstage sometimes. In sprightly roles such as the mischievous Swanhilda, she brims with comic energy. She dances an elegant and gracious Sugar Plum Fairy, skimming joyfully through her grand jetés. But audiences love best her rippling, smoldering snake in the Arabian Dance. And in a contemporary work such as Ma Cong’s Luminitza, she spirals and arcs through luscious partnering sequences.
“Her range, both technically and emotionally, is very impressive,” says Stoner Winslett, artistic director of Richmond Ballet. “There’s a deep honesty about her performance.” Richmond Ballet is particularly proud of Small’s accomplishment, since she is a homegrown talent. She started dancing at age 3 in a local studio, and by age 5 her mother enrolled her at the School of Richmond Ballet. She came up through the school, served her time as a trainee, then an apprentice, and joined the company six years ago. “You were immediately drawn to her…a little sparkle going on there,” remembers Burn.
As a young teenager Small rode horses, played piano, and roller-skated. “But ballet was always my favorite,” she says. “There was no question that eventually it would take over, once I was allowed to take more classes.”
Small feels a tremendous respect for her teachers at RB. She took as many classes as she could, and even though she’d audition for summer intensives, she ended up staying in Richmond for the chance to work with Burn, who doesn’t teach in the school during the year. Over the course of her career, she has participated in every aspect of RB, even the Minds in Motion program, which brings dance to children in area schools. When the program came to Richmond Montessori School, where Small was in upper elementary class, she says, “I remember thinking it was so cool to see my ‘regular’ friends doing dance moves.”
At right: As Clara in Richmond Ballet’s Nutcracker, 1997.
Small’s mother is African-American; her father is white. Race, however, did not play much of a role in her experience inside or outside the ballet. Small doesn’t remember ever being the only student of color in her ballet classes. But, she says, “I also don’t remember looking for it. I really wasn’t very aware; I grew up in a bubble.”
In the midst of her apprenticeship, Small tried college for one year at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. “After my first apprentice year it was really hard to decide what to do,” she says, “because it was important to my mom that I went to school, and I didn’t want to. I was happy dancing all day long, and it was really difficult because the company offered me a position and I didn’t know what to do. You know…you want to make your family happy. So I said, OK, I’ll go to school.”
Small was not particularly happy at Tisch. She was not interested in choreographing, for example, which was a big part of the program. After the first year, she called Winslett and asked to return to finish her apprenticeship. Winslett was able to make it happen, and Small has not looked back since.
Growing up at RB has yielded some magical experiences for her, including the chance to work with Antonov, a dancer she had idolized as a child. During her apprenticeship, she remembers, “I was giggly excited to be in the studio with him.” Later, “It was really cool to dance with Igor. For his retirement performance [last fall] I got to dance Who Cares? with him. And it was sort of like a pinch-yourself moment, even now when I’ve been in the company with him for so long.”
Back in the studio, Small and Sabino take a few minutes to work on another lift from Pas Glazunov, with help from Antonov. Small is concerned about her balance at the top of the lift; Sabino is not sure if he can slow down and still manage to press her to full extension.
Small’s partnership with Sabino has developed almost inadvertently. Says Winslett about her 14-member, unranked troupe, “In a small company like this we usually move people around, and we never purposely try to develop partnerships. But they’ve been put together a lot, and work together beautifully.”
Sabino enjoys their complementary styles. “We are completely different,” he says. “But when we are together we become one. I like a lot of improvisation, and she likes to be told what to do. It’s a good marriage. I go with her, and she goes with me.” They call each other “work husband” and “work wife,” though their relationship remains platonic. Small has been dating RB dancer Thomas Garrett for several years. They are rarely partnered, however. “Tommy and I don’t dance together very much,” says Small, who is 5' 5". “He’s real tall, and there are a lot of tall girls here. I’m little.”
Maggie enjoys a rare rehearsal with fellow RB dancer (and offstage partner) Thomas Garrett. Photo by Sarah Ferguson, Courtesy RB.
After going through Pas Glazunov, Small and Sabino run After Eden for Burn. They are rehearsing for the company’s London debut in June. They throw themselves into the emotional work full-out, breathless and sweaty by the end. Burn compliments them and gives a few notes. Later, he says of Small, “She’s always been wonderfully open to try anything—and laugh while she’s doing it. She’s gutsy and courageous. You can take her and throw her into the air, and she’ll go ‘Wheee!’ as she comes flying down.”
Eve, in After Eden, is Small’s favorite role. “I really love that the steps come from the character and the character comes from the steps,” she says. “It can be different every time—there’s room to make it my own without feeling like I’m not being true to the choreography.”
When studying a new role, Small calls herself “a homework girl.” For Coppélia, in which she performed Swanhilda last February, she studied other dancers’ interpretations on DVD and she read up on the history of dolls. “I had a lot of fun researching automatons,” she says. “It was really creepy. But it’s difficult to decide how you’re going to be a girl, or a doll, or a girl being a doll.”
Burn appreciates the dancer’s intelligence and versatility. “Maggie continues to surprise me. I don’t think there’s any limit to what she will be able to accomplish.”
Small loves the challenge of RB’s repertoire. If she were in a bigger company, she says, “I wouldn’t get to do what I do here. There are days when I cannot possibly give any more. I would love to sit down for an hour. But whenever we actually get that break, I think, ‘Oh, I’m so bored. I should probably go run something downstairs.’ It’s just the way I enjoy dancing—dancing a lot.”
During the summer she explores other opportunities, such as the National Choreographers Initiative, in which she participated for three years as a dancer, and this summer she performed with Jessica Lang’s new company at Jacob’s Pillow.
But she is always glad to return to RB. “I dance with people I like, for people I like, in my hometown. My family is here. I work with my boyfriend every day, and he’s happy. It’s a real good gig.”
Small in costume for Cong's Luminitza. Photo by Matthew Karas.
Lea Marshall is a freelance writer and interim chair of dance at Virginia Commonwealth University.
Maggie’s tips on building strength:
Skinny Legs Early on in her apprenticeship with RB, Small realized, “I had really skinny little legs, and I wasn’t superstrong.” So she began strength-building exercises using a Thera-Band.
Practicing the Hard Parts “I like adagio, and I don’t really like petit allegro. But I push hard at all of it, because there’s no variation where you’re going to do just adagio.”
Doubling Up “I always do the exercises at least twice, so that I can build up my strength. If you push yourself in rehearsal and class, then when it gets to show days, it’s not as hard.”
Daily Pilates Since starting Pilates three years ago, she says, “It’s made me even more aware of my core and made me re-think the way I work.”
In America, Balanchine's famous quote does not apply offstage. Last week The Richmond Ballet convened a panel to examine the question, Why aren't more women in charge of ballet companies? I came away from a discussion of and by a group of female artistic directors on the generally male-dominated leadership of American ballet companies with more questions than answers. The panel, titled “The Glass Slipper Ceiling,” was put together by the Richmond Ballet under artistic direction of Stoner Winslett. Participants were Andrea Snyder (executive director of DanceUSA), Anna Kisselgoff (former chief dance critic of The New York Times); Celia Fushille (artistic director of Smuin Ballet); Victoria Morgan (a.d. of Cincinnati Ballet); Dorothy Gunter Pugh (founder and a.d. of Ballet Memphis); and Ms. Winslett herself. (Suzanne Farrell was to have attended but could not due to a last minute scheduling conflict.)
The climate that gave rise to this panel: All top-tier ballet companies (budgets over $7M) in the U.S. are run by men. Of the next tier down, only four companies are run by women, all of whom participated in the panel. This male domination of leadership roles is not true outside the States; England’s Royal Ballet, France’s Paris Opéra Ballet, the National Ballet of Canada, and the Royal Ballet of Flanders, are all run by women.
Kisselgoff, as moderator of the panel, provided a fantastic historical perspective, and asked great questions herself. She pointed out that many major American ballet companies had been founded or originally directed by women, but that by the 1980s, ballet company leadership had become overwhelmingly male. She attributed this to the star power and draw of artistic leaders such as Balanchine, Nureyev, and Baryshnikov. But she questioned why, as soon as ballet companies became institutionalized (and thus legitimized), women faded from leadership roles. Ms. Snyder pointed out that this was also around the time when nonprofits began to adopt corporate, “business-like” models of operating, which at the time lent themselves to male leadership.
The women, most of whom had not originally set out to direct companies themselves, agreed in general that when they first stepped into leadership roles and met with other directors at conferences and meetings hosted by the likes of Dance/USA, they faced a sort of “boys club” atmosphere. Dorothy Gunter Pugh noted that more recently, with a younger generation assuming directorial roles, that atmosphere has softened—less pontificating, more asking questions.
The panelists offered a wonderful range of experience and perspectives: Pugh, in particular, noting that while balancing her company with family demands has been “a juggling act, I’ve created what works for me.” Winslett recounted her founding of a dance school in a neighbor’s basement at age 13.
Yet I found myself wanting more pointed answers to Kisselgoff’s questions—answers that moved beyond the women’s individual experience and addressed issues of the field as a whole (although Snyder, whose position provides her with excellent and far-reaching insights into exactly that, did offer excellent information). I want to know: Are female dancers encouraged with equal enthusiasm to choreograph? Do they have access to similar mentorship opportunities as male dancers, opportunities that might foster their potential as leaders and directors? Are they encouraged to even think of directorship as a possibility? And if not, can the field’s current leaders begin to fill these gaps? How?
Left to Right: Celia Fushille, Victoria Morgan, Andrea Snyder, Anna Kisselgoff, Stoner Winslett, Dorothy Gunther Pugh
Photo by Aaron Sutton, Courtesy Richmond Ballet