Why male choreographers dominate the industry

Matthew Bourne, Akram Khan, Wayne McGregor, Michael Clark and Russell Maliphant. These are familiar names to the public and dancers alike.

With successes such as Matthew Bourne‘s all-male cast of Swan Lake – wracking in 27 International and British awards over 9 years of touring – it is no wonder male choreographers are particularly in the industry’s limelight.

At Sadler’s Wells, a well-established dance theatre, of the 14 associate artists which are choreographers, just four of them are women – Kate Prince, Crystal Pite, Sylvie Guillem and Jasmin Vardimon.

Historically, the contemporary dance art form was pioneered by female choreographers, the likes of Martha Graham and Pina Bausch come to mind.

But looking at the current industry on a national scale, it seems men are much more prominent.

Matthew Bourne's all-male cast of Swan Lake. Photo: Sadler's Wells

Matthew Bourne’s all-male cast of Swan Lake. Photo: Sadler’s Wells

One trait that has been talked about as a reason for men’s successes is overt confidence.

Luke Jennings, a veteran dance critic for The Observer, has written a number of features talking about men’s dominance in the industry.

“Men are more aggressive I think in pursuing contracts and commissions,” he told Gender in Dance. “It’s not just my opinion, producers would report that when men come to them with projects, they’re far more authoritative and far more confident about it. They push their case much harder.

“Whereas women in the same scenario tend to be more equivocal, doubt themselves more and don’t overstate their own abilities in the same way that men do. This is not something that is peculiar to dance.

“Male choreographers engineer things so they are the obvious choice. They’re good at that. There is a gender divide in terms of confidence.”

James Middleton. Photo: Facebook

James Middleton. Photo: Facebook

James Middleton, a freelance dance teacher and choreographer in Kent, agrees with this idea but stresses that it can become a generalisation, as it is such a complicated topic.

“In general, men tend to be more direct in their approach to things, ‘so this is this, we’re going to go for this, we’re going to do that’.

“You find that men rarely teach the classes, women tend to be more nurturing for that. You find that men would just go into classes and do the choreography side of it.

“But you can’t be too general. I would say I’m a fairly confident choreographer. I wouldn’t necessarily say I’m overly confident because I think it [making choreography] is always a learning process.

“At the end of the day you can’t be too confident because you learn from the people around you and the people you work with”.

This remains a complicated issue and any discussion of a male-female divide would create generalised comments and conclusions. However, it’s an issue that needs attention.

The most important question remains: ‘Where are the female choreographers?’

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