Curtain Up

July 31, 2007
The dance field has long been on the front lines of the gender revolution. Choreographers have been experimenting with gender roles for years, and dancers are going outside of gender stereotypes to get their training. It’s no longer unusual to see men wearing skirts and women lifting men. In this issue, we explore the changing perceptions about gender, with our education editor Karen Hildebrand overseeing all the elements.
One theme that came up again and again is the freedom of expression that both women and men feel when expanding gender roles. That’s the reason that women like to take men’s ballet class (see Cheryl Ossola’s story “Bold Move”) and it’s the reason men take on women’s roles in a company like Les Ballets Grandiva (see Rachel Straus’ story “A Grandiva Diva”). It can be liberating to step outside your gender destiny into a world where anything is possible.
When it comes to the public’s perception of gender roles, though, old attitudes die hard. In “Fear of Men in Tights,” Kathy Valin finds that there is still, in some quarters, a lingering unease about seeing men in ballet costumes. I say, to those who are afraid of men in tights, give ’em men in tutus. And to the folks who don’t want to see women lifting men, I say let them see women lifting women. In “The Feminine Mystique,” Ann Murphy writes about four all-female companies who sometimes do just that. However, these groups are not about women taking on men’s roles, but about getting beyond gender to something universal. 
Although the dance community has embraced broader definitions of gender roles, it has done little to address the gender gap, which, in our field, has more to do with opportunity than money. (The Gender Project, a group of women dancers who conducted studies on the disparities, lasted only a few years.) In 1976, I co-wrote an article in
The Village Voice
about gender inequities in dance, and, unfortunately, not much has changed since then. Millions more girls than boys take dance classes, so the very few boys (or young men) who train seriously are treated like precious commodities. They build confidence more easily and, as adults, they get the jobs more quickly. This is true not only for temporary work or corps work, but also at higher levels—for instance, artistic directors of ballet companies. Given our society’s preference for men in leadership roles, it’s no surprise that men are afforded more opportunities on that level. Or is it that women are less accustomed to seizing the opportunity? Dance Magazine contributing writer Rita Felciano spoke to eight women ballet directors about how they came into their current positions and the challenges they face.
In “He Said/She Said,” we interview a variety of dance artists including some of the choreographers most noted for pushing the gender boundaries—Peter Anastos, Elizabeth Streb, Jane Comfort, Mark Morris, Stephen Petronio, Joe Goode, and Jawole Willa Jo Zollar. The result is a kaleidoscope of opinions, preferences, and life experience.
Wendy Perron
Editor in Chief