How do we level the playing field for female choreographers?

A bold, resounding statement made by Luke Jennings, a veteran dance critic and author.

This twitter conversation occurred after Rambert , the national dance company, announced the new topic to its upcoming industry-focused debate – Rambert Revealed.

According to the company, “The number of women entering vocational training for the dance profession vastly outnumbers that of men, yet most lists of ‘established’ or ‘renowned’ choreographers show a predominance of men” – an issue I’ve tried to discuss on this website.

This is an ongoing problem that has caused many choreographers, dancers, and companies such as the Female Choreographer’s Collective (FCC)  to try and find a solution.

What Luke Jennings refers to as “institutions” being the problem is quite simple – those who hire. When I spoke to Luke earlier this year, he said something that struck a chord.

“Producers should do much more, rather than take male choreographers at their own estimation, or female choreographers at their own estimation, they should pro-actively seek out female choreographers bearing in mind that female choreographers are less likely to push themselves aggressively.

“Producers should try a little harder and look a little further and not always make the obvious choice.”

This may imply that female choreographers are passive in the pursuit of “big” choreographer roles, but it also points the finger at those who hire. They essentially have the power to dictate whose work gets shown.

Does that suggest that female choreographers aren’t as creative as their male counterparts? Or that they’re simply not applying? Is it to do with presence in the media or press? Is it to do with money?

Twyla Tharp seems to think so. The famous American dancer and choreographer told Dance Magazine that “there was no money in modern dance. Everybody was in there simply to do it.”

As grants became a big part of making dance, it turned into a field where “earning an income” was the priority. She suggested that “whenever earning an income becomes an issue, men have an edge. Unless women have a driving need to support themselves, and, heaven help us, any children. Then they will compete, as I have done. Otherwise, they will stand back and expect”.

It can be seen as a huge generalisation, but these comments come from experience. However, these crucial questions, and opinionated answers, remain factually empty.

The dance industry is in need of proper research. So far I have Article19, an independent online journalistic website, to quote whenever facts and figures are needed.

Luke concludes that to better the situation of the industry, we must tackle the issue at every level possible, from early school to late academic and performance stages.

“It really is much more to do with the attitudes in schools to encourage women to take on these proactive roles as much as possible.

“There is a gender divide in terms of confidence. I think it’s important that at every level of the process, women should be encouraged to be confident and take leading creative roles.”

These words represent one concept, one way of looking at the issue, and one way of solving it.

What we must do as an industry is collectively discuss the issues as they present themselves at every stage, and come up with many solutions to better the industry, and the role female choreographers have.

It’s good to see active female practitioners and companies such as Rambert, the Female Choreographer’s Collective, and Arts Kaleidoscopic take matters into their own hands.

And let’s not forget the all-female cast of The BENCH. This new programme aims to offer female choreographers the opportunity to discuss, create, debate, network and be commissioned.

The star-studded line up – Tamsin Fitzgerald, Kate Flatt, Rosie Kay, Liv Lorent, Sharon Watson, and Charlotte Vincent – will focus on joining venues, producers, commissioners and arts leaders to try and influence policy and opportunities for women working within the arts sector in the UK.

The right steps towards a more balanced industry.


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