Gender Inequality in Ballet

For whatever reason, be it toxic ideas of masculinity, associations of artistic expression as feminine, cultural gender norms, there are fewer men than women in every American ballet class and company that I at least, have ever seen. Also, the corps de ballet in many classics is comprised of women. Hard to tell if that’s because of what the narrative dictates or that’s simply who was on hand.

Jessica Ruhlin dance teacher

This is me teaching ballet in Uganda- 2018- where dance is much more culturally accepted for boys. Still only have one in class.

Gender inequality exists because of all these reasons. It takes a great deal of courage going against stereotypes for a lot of men or boys to dance. But it comes with certain benefits to stand alone in the shallow selection pool.

Because of the scarcity, men often receive more attention, opportunities, scholarships, and leniency when it comes to work ethic, talent, even audition policies.

Balanchine ballet

Even numbers of women and women in ballet! NYCB in Monumentm Pro Gesualdo, shot from the wings by fellow dancer Danielle Freedman

I was getting coffee with a friend of mine last week-  a dancer with a fifteen-year career in a top modern company, Momix-  who was telling me about his experience auditioning for the highly prestigious School of American Ballet in New York. Let’s compare the male and female process, shall we?

Jess’ experience: age 11- Poor mom or dad has to drive me to Chicago from St. Louis to audition. Slap on requisite black leotard and pink tights, a metric ton of hairspray, and an identity-obscuring number. Wait as a panel of judges circles the room, taking careful notes on our bodies in first position, releve, and tendu. Take the audition class and wait several months for a letter to arrive through snail mail.

My male friend’s experience: Decide on a whim at age 17 to go to the actual SAB studio, two days AFTER the summer intensive had already begun. Receive invite from Peter Boal himself to join class. Immediately invited to attend the summer workshop on scholarship. Stay for another year, also on scholarship.

Balachine

Mr.B teaching tendus….toa room full of girls. Photo by Henri Cartier-Bresson 1959

I’m not saying that women don’t receive scholarships to SAB, or that when a talented dancer comes along, they should be given such opportunities. But I can’t imagine a world in which even the most incredible female dancer doesn’t have to play by the ballet rules and audition months in advance like the rest of us schmucks….I  mean, budding young professionals.

And speaking of professional, this week I received a list of save-the-dates and information on my new teaching job with New York City Ballet. They provided a nice little bio of the four new teachers in this particular program outreach program, myself included. Of the newbies, three of us are women, one is male. Three of us have masters degrees, one does not. Guess which one?

More beauty from my New York City Ballet Tributes book:

Each bio that I read of my new colleagues is very impressive and we all underwent a massive interview process to secure these incredible posts. There is no way that everyone on the roster is not incredibly deserving But I do think it’s interesting that the women all were in possession of greater advanced degrees.

Both performing and teaching jobs are competitive, and I’m not sure if the requirements for women in dance are higher because there are just so many of us. In order to stand out, are the expectations like the numbers of females in ballet, always piling higher? or is it the case that the requirements for men, like their numbers, remain smaller. It’s not a distinction that unlike the clear gender divide in ballet, I’m able to make yet.

Degas ballerina

A drawing from my sketchbook of surprise! a female dancer. This is a bad take on a famous Degas

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