Inside DM

The Feminine Critique

Women make up the vast majority of the dance world. Yet it’s no secret that they’re routinely passed over for leadership positions and choreography commissions, confronted with sexism in the studio and stymied by expectations of how female artists should look and behave. Here, 10 industry leaders open up, candidly sharing their stories, and offering ideas for how we can do better.

Jayme Thornton

Q: What makes you a feminist?

“This spring, I decided that if an organization wanted me to do a piece, I would only say yes if they included a woman choreographer on the program. When I look at some of the playbills of programs I have going up, it’s just like, Really? Only men again? The disparity is kind of insane. If someone chooses not to use me because I’ve insulted them by saying that, I still think it’s worth saying and having that in their ear.” —Kyle Abraham, artistic director and choreographer, Abraham.In.Motion

Q: Do female choreographers make different work than men?

Moris Moreno

“Definitely. We experience life fundamentally differently, and that affects our physicality and our sensitivity. In The Virgin Suicides, there’s this line that says, ‘We felt the imprisonment of being a girl, the way it made your mind active and dreamy, and how you ended up knowing which colors went together.’ That’s a really poetic way of talking about the unique humanity of women. There’s a quiet power and also a bubbling revolt, a delicateness and a fierceness that’s a negotiation of pleasing people and not. Men have a freedom we don’t have. As a woman, and as a Latina, I feel like every piece I make is somehow supposed to represent my entire culture. I don’t think white men have that kind of baggage.” —Rosie Herrera, artistic director and choreographer, Rosie Herrera Dance Theatre

Christopher Duggan, Courtesy Gibney

Q: What have you noticed as a female entrepreneur?

“When I opened Gibney Dance Center, there was a huge difference in the way women and men reacted. A lot of women came up to me and said, ‘The space is beautiful and I can’t wait to make work in it.’ Men said, ‘I’d like to show my work in your performance space.’ There was a very different attitude about the plans and programs men wanted. They were making deals. I didn’t get a single business proposition from a woman in that way. It’s up to women to take the reins, and take risks.” —Gina Gibney, CEO and artistic director, Gibney Dance

Rose Eichenbaum for Dance Teacher

Q: How can we help young women in ballet build the confidence to become leaders?

“We have to train leaders. A lot of it is about helping students with their priorities. So many just want to get their leg up, want to be insta-famous. And many are myopically focused on ballet. At Colburn, we expose them to other kinds of dance, and to museums. We offer a unit of drama. It’s so hard for ballet students to talk, to get out there and advocate for themselves. The culture is to be silent and to receive. I have to keep reminding them to find their voice and keep expressing themselves.” —Jenifer Ringer, director, Colburn Dance Academy

Rachel Soh, Courtesy Goebel

Q: What has it been like to rise in the male-dominated world of hip hop?

“I never felt there were different standards for men and women, but a different value placed on what women’s work is worth. But there are a lot of amazing female choreographers making their mark today. My movement style, polyswagg, allows us to use all our woman qualities that the boys don’t have, and at the same time be able to hit as hard as the boys.” —Parris Goebel, choreographer for Justin Bieber, Rihanna and Nicki Minaj

Sylvain Guenot, Courtesy Dendy

Q: Why does the dance world trail behind pop culture as far as trans inclusion?

“It’s a private thing to watch on your television. There’s a safety, and that gets taken away when you’re sitting in a theater experiencing a live performance. There are some gender-fluid characters in dance today, but I don’t think you’re going to see a trans person walk out in Esplanade anytime soon.” —Mark Dendy, experimental choreographer who recently created Whistleblower, about transgender soldier Chelsea Manning

Whitney Browne, Courtesy Camille A. Brown

Q: Why is empowering young black women so important to you?

“One time on tour, we asked a high school audience, ‘What comes to mind when you hear the phrase “black girl”?’ Everything was negative and the way they were saying things really made me uncomfortable. I saw people mimicking the gestures that they associated with black girls—snapping their hands, rolling their neck, putting their hands on their hips—and they were pointing to the few black girls in the audience.

That’s why I do the initiative. Black girls need to know that they are valued and they are more than a stereotype. How often are we able to see a black girl’s story through her gaze? We need to talk about the issues, but we also need to show the full spectrum of who black girls are.” —Camille A. Brown, choreographer and founder of Black Girl Spectrum

James Jin, Courtesy Latarro

Q: What is it like to be part of the first all-female creative team on Broadway, for Waitress?

“I’m usually hyperaware of my tone—as a woman, there’s a fine line between speaking too softly and kindly and speaking too harshly. But when you’re in a team that you trust, you can be direct. You just say what you need to say.

Also, we’re women writing about a woman. It feels different when you’re watching because it’s a point of view that we’re not used to. In many other Broadway shows, even if there’s a female protagonist, she still behaves the way a male writer might see her.” —Lorin Latarro, choreographer for Waitress

Julie Mack, THEY Bklyn, Courtesy Pyle

Q: Do outmoded gender stereotypes hold ballet back? 

“In my training, I was really discouraged from being strong. There was always the expectation that I would be 15 percent below the typical body weight for my height. Eating disorders come along with that, and then not being able to menstruate—that affects your hormones and emotions and development and your brain. When I stopped ballet, I could think more clearly because I stopped being anorexic. I got a message from my teachers, whether explicitly or implicitly, that I should appear smaller, more fragile, more vulnerable. The archetypes that were presented to me were of women who needed to be saved.

Ballet appears as a very elitist, white, male-run form that will just reproduce the same ideas and images over and over and over again until there is a bigger disruption in terms of types of bodies, genders, race, backgrounds—there’s so much! Having transgender people in ballet companies is what I’m interested in. Bringing in people who have more diverse relationships to their own gender is going to shift the work.”

—Katy Pyle, artistic director of Ballez, an organization and company that explores story ballets with lesbian, queer and transgender people

Jade Young, Courtesy Bond

Q: Do you feel you’re treated differently as a female choreographer?

“I struggle with not being taken as seriously. I look young and I’m in the corps de ballet: I was 16 when I started, and now I’m 33, and I’m still treated as a girl—even when I’m choreographing. I’m not seen as a woman. It’s like I’m pigeon-holed into a box. If I want to do anything I have to initiate it myself.” —Gemma Bond, choreographer and American Ballet Theatre dancer

Interviews by Suzannah Friscia, Marina Harss, Gia Kourlas, Madeline Schrock, Kristin Schwab, Jennifer Stahl and Lauren Wingenroth.

Editors’ List: The Goods
Unsplash

What's better on your morning commute than listening to a podcast, you ask? We'd say, listening to a dance podcast!

Lucky for us, there are more dance podcasts than ever. We're here to provide a guide to our current top dance podcast picks.

Keep reading... Show less
The USC Kaufman graduating class with Mikhail Baryshnikov. Gus Ruelas/USC

Just four years ago, the University of Southern California's Glorya Kaufman School of Dance welcomed its first class of BFA students. The program—which boasts world-class faculty and a revolutionary approach to training focused on collaboration and hybridity—immediately established itself as one of the country's most prestigious and most innovative.

Now, the first graduating class is entering the dance field. Here, six of the 33 graduates share what they're doing post-grad, what made their experience at USC Kaufman so meaningful and how it prepared them for their next steps:

Keep reading... Show less
The Creative Process
Rena Most at work backstage. Photo courtesy ABT

Every dancer knows there's as much magic taking place backstage as there is in what the audience sees onstage. Behind the scenes, it takes a village, says American Ballet Theatre's wig and makeup supervisor, Rena Most. With wig and makeup preparations happening in a studio of their own as the dancers rehearse, Most and her team work to make sure not a single detail is lost.

Dance Magazine recently spoke to Most to find out what actually goes into the hair and makeup looks audiences see on the ABT stage.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancers Trending
James Yoichi Moore and Noelani Pantastico warm up onstage. Angela Sterling, Courtesy SDC.

On a sunny July weekend, hundreds of Seattle-area dance fans converged on tiny Vashon Island, a bucolic enclave in Puget Sound about 20 miles from the city. They made the ferry trek to attend the debut performance of the fledgling Seattle Dance Collective.

SDC is not a run-of-the-mill contemporary dance company; it's the brainchild of two of Pacific Northwest Ballet's most respected principal dancers: James Yoichi Moore and Noelani Pantastico. The duo wanted to create a nimble organization to feature dancers and choreographers they felt needed more exposure in the Pacific Northwest.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get Dance Magazine in your inbox