Gender Inequality in Ballet from Teachers

Does it ever seem to anyone else that the minute you decide to pay attention to something, the more you notice its insidious presence?

Sometimes this kind of feedback can lead to positive change. For instance, this year, I decided to notice how often my mind was filled with negative self-talk and to try to challenge this or at least not express it verbally.

But other times it leads to worrying over nothing. I’ll give you two silly examples;

  1. I’ve been reading a lot about demonic possession recently -don’t ask me why, I don’t even know- and I just noticed that my closet door seems to not want to stay closed. Unless I firmly shut it, it slowly swings open an inch or two. So now I think I’m being haunted. I wish I had never noticed this little innocent flaw in my household.
  2. I became seriously sunburned after one day on the beach with my family a few weeks ago and now I find myself asking, ‘was that mole there before? Is that cancer?” Again, I wish I had never noticed this little innocent flaw in my bodily household.

I’m just trying to keep my eyes open in life and now I’m not sure which will kill me first, the ghost I invented or the self-diagnosed cancer.

After my last post on gender inequality in ballet, I had an experience that you’d have to be totally blind not to notice.

I was asked to join a distinguished panel of teachers here in New York for a mock audition following a weeklong dance boot camp held in Lincoln Center. The students were 48 preteens and teens attending public schools about to go through the audition process for the coveted spots at some of New York’s more selective performing arts schools, such as La Guardia or Frank Sinatra School of the Arts. Over the course of the week, they took ballet and modern everyday, and worked on solos that they either asked a teacher to help with or choreographed themselves.

Juilliard

Juilliard at Lincoln Center

I hate Adam Levine

It was EXACTLY like this except our chairs didn’t swivel. And Adam Levine wasn’t there, thank heavens because I hate him. Photo via Parade.com

On the final day, the mock judging panel of myself and about seven other teachers, observed their shortened ballet and modern classes and solos. We took notes and filled out rubric-style assessments on aspects of their dancing such as foot articulation, coordination, ability to quickly pick up material, and performance quality. We were also encouraged to give a few comments on the written form. As the papers were collected, the group of students then came to listen to some collective group feedback from the teachers.

ballet arabesqe

“I mean, you could at least try to lift your leg…” Amazing dancers from Dance Magazine AU

lack of diversity in ballet

The stereotypical ballet audition- young, skinny mostly white girls. Photo via pascb.com

Oh, did I say collective? What I meant to say is, collective including a few isolated comments to students who illustrated a particular point. For instance, one teacher praised one female’s core control during her solo work because he was talking about the importance of carriage in dance. Another teacher spoke about the importance of performing, even while in class, and called out one student for his excellent dancing but his need to get his eyes off of the floor.

And then one teacher decided to speak ONLY and at length to the three boys in class.

I understand the reason behind this. We need men in dance. We need to encourage them, to make them feel seen. It’s understandable why a male teacher would want to look out for the boys and emphasize the positive impact that special attention from a successful male in the industry can have on another male’s path in dance.

However.….

This was a pretty clear focus on a few students that had nothing to do with their talent. Did none of the girls catch his attention? Did he write them off from the beginning? Maybe he was only assigned to watch the boys, I don’t know.

judging ballet

“I will only sentence the bearded elderly white men because I am one….you’re all going to jail.” Photo via Wisegeek.com

It didn’t seem like an example of meritocracy from an educator’s standpoint. From the audition set-up, even in this mock trail, this moment was a crystal-clear example of the uneven special attention given to boys over girls

If you’re wondering, I gave a collective suggestion about how curiosity leads to refinement and the importance of attention to details to hopefully inspire a learner’s attitude while dancing. And then I told them all to tuck their thumbs in.  Basically I am trying to rid the world of ‘hamburger hands’ in ballet. Or I’m trying to make everyone neurotic about noticing stuff.

I swear that mole wasn’t there a month ago. Oh hey, did you notice….

I wonder if there had been 45 boys and only 3 girls, if this teacher still would have spoken to all of the boys individually. Maybe we as humans are just drawn to protect and prune what is rare rather than what is objectively best.

Sylvie Guillem

The beautiful Sylvie Guillem with the Tokyo Ballet- Photo via DanceLines.com/au

I’m just trying to look at this issue from all sides. At least, when I’m not peering behind my closet door, looking for ghosts

judging ballet

My ballerina ghosts- want more doodles? Follow My Illustrated Life pinterest board

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