Examining other art forms with historic issues in hiring women: theater, symphonic/classical music, opera. Also including more contemporary fields: lack of women in country music, hip hop, contemporary pop music, and other genres.
18 September 2015
By Sharon Basco
When the Boston Ballet Company was founded 52 years ago, ballet was a matriarchy, and George Balanchine’s familiar quote “ballet is woman” made sense.
Boston’s was one of eight ballet companies started in cities across the U.S. — including Philadelphia, Houston and Washington D.C. — that were launched with a $7.7 million Ford Foundation grant in 1963. Created and nurtured by strong female artistic directors, these companies grew in size and stature, and all are thriving today. But the women leaders are gone; all of these troupes are headed by men. And the choreography is, with perhaps one exception per season, by men.
“I was staggered by the numbers,” said Boston Ballet’s artistic director Mikko Nissinen. “I’ve heard these numbers before — that there are so many fewer female choreographers — and I don’t have any answer to that, but it’s very interesting.”
Nissinen seems to have a better handle on why it was women who founded the ballet companies: “Those companies were born from the good regional ballet schools,” he said. That was the case with the Boston Ballet and its founding director, E. Virginia Williams. Energetic, indomitable and witty, she was quick with a riposte when told “Virginia, your dancers love you.” “They darn well better!” she’d reply.
Williams was just one of the determined women, all ballet school directors, who started companies with the Ford grant. “At that point these really good ballet schools were all run by women,” Nissinen continued, referring to Barbara Weisberger in Philadelphia, Mary Day in Washington, D.C. and Nina Popova in Houston. “Women who then naturally became the directors of the companies in the pioneering era. Right now it happens actually that lots of these companies are run by men.”
Academics recognize the absence of women in top artistic positions, as well as the absence of female choreographers chosen by ballet companies. Dance writers do, too, though they rarely write about it. One exception is Luke Jennings, who took on Britain’s ballet record in The Observer a few years ago:
“It’s 14 years since a woman was commissioned to create a main-stage ballet at the Royal Opera House. If this were true of women playwrights at the National Theatre, or female artists at the Tate, there would be outrage. But at the flagship institution of British dance, the omission has escaped public notice. As it did last summer when the Royal Ballet and the National Gallery launched a collaboration named “Metamorphosis: Titian 2012.” Of the 15 artists and choreographers involved, none was a woman. An ironic decision, given that the subject was the goddess Diana, the personification of feminine power.”
An icon of woman-power in choreography has, for the past 50 years, been Twyla Tharp. She has just begun a self-organized U.S. tour to celebrate the half-century mark since she, at age 23, started her own modern dance troupe. When she visited Boston earlier this year, I mentioned the absence of female choreographers on ballet company’s schedules, and she laughed.
“Really? Have you noticed?” Tharp said. “And how many famous painters, philosophers, musicians, some writers — it’s not a woman’s prerogative to be an artist. We all know women have a high hill to climb whatever they do, and the world of arts is very chauvinistic, and one knows that going in.”
It’s not just in the U.S. that men lead and choreograph the ballet troupes. “The world class companies, for the most part, are run by men,” said Lynn Garafola, a writer, scholar and founder of the Columbia University seminar Studies in Dance. And why are women leaders gone? “The more professional a company becomes, in my observation, the more likely women are going to disappear from the leadership positions, and they’re going to be replaced by men. I think this is very typical of organizations when they get larger, when they get more important.”
One of the few women in powerful positions — although on the business side, not where the artistic decisions are made — Rachel Moore leaves her CEO job at American Ballet Theatre on Oct. 5 to become president and CEO of the Los Angeles Music Center. Like everyone quoted in this story, Moore is a former professional dancer, so she speaks from her own experience.
“The men are able to get the more stable, the more solid jobs. For a variety of reasons. I think that it’s still a man’s world and for many places the male candidate is going to get chosen over the female candidate,” she says. “Because the boards [of directors] are more comfortable with that, there’s a history there. They’re seen as more credible on some level. I think that’s all still true.”
It sounds like the way of the world, not just the ballet world, where women are underrepresented at the top reaches of organizations. Women founded these companies, and when the groups became established and no longer danced on wobbly legs, their boards of directors put men in charge, which may be simple sexism. But there’s more to the picture, and it begins with the inescapable fact that girls in ballet schools outnumber boys by at least 10 or 20 to one.
Moore describes the outcome of this imbalance: “The culture of how boys and girls are trained, and how men and women are treated in professional ballet companies is very different. The girls are trained to be ‘good girls,’ obedient and silent and to stand in a line and look all the same. And that’s not true with the corps de ballet for men or for the boys in the schools. They are encouraged to be much more individuals, to do solos, to stand out more than the girls.”
Read the full article here.
DDP ally and choreographer Nicole Haskins shares her thoughts on what foundations and funders can do to better support female choreographers.
1 June 2021
By Siobhan Burke
As a teenage ballet student in the 1990s, Katy Pyle had no interest in dating: not boys, not girls, not anyone. A serious love interest — all consuming, really — was already in the picture: ballet.
“I didn’t have space for any other relationships in my life,” Pyle, who uses the pronouns they and them, said in a phone interview from their home in Brooklyn. “It’s silly, but that was my true love.”
Looking back now, at 40 — as a genderqueer lesbian and the founder of the joyful, iconoclastic ballet company Ballez — Pyle can see that relationship more clearly, how it kept them from knowing their full self. Growing up, they knew many openly gay male dancers. But in Pyle’s mind, they said, to be a ballet dancer, gay and a woman “just wasn’t a possibility.”
“I truly was a stranger to myself until I got out of ballet,” said Pyle (who notes that while they are a lesbian and feminist, they don’t fully identify as a woman). “I did not ever know a lesbian in ballet in my training, and it was hard to even find lesbians in the culture at large. There was a real lack of representation, which kept me closeted and confused.”
As Pyle observed from a young age, ballet — a form based in rigidly gendered aesthetic values — is not a world without queer people. But those who are most visible, and have been historically, are gay men. To be a lesbian in ballet, or queer and not a man, is often to feel like the only one, to wonder, in the words of the choreographer Adriana Pierce, who trained at the School of American Ballet: “Has anyone ever done this? Has anyone like me ever walked these halls?”
Ballet upholds narrow ideals for everyone: for men, the archetype of the chivalrous prince; for women, the elusive swan or sylph. Women are expected to look weightless (an image reinforced by the pointe shoe), men more outwardly muscular. Men learn to lift, women to be lifted. In classrooms, strict male and female dress codes often apply.
But within these confines, women typically face greater pressure to conform, in part because there are more of them; competition is steeper. As Pyle puts it: “If Katy Pyle is not living up to the expectations of how to be, there are 20 other young women who want that place.”
Challenging those expectations can be risky and isolating. But more celebrations of difference are emerging. Over the past year, aided by the downtime of the pandemic and the ease of meeting online in the age of Zoom, queer ballet dancers, in particular those socialized as women in their training, have been forging stronger networks and creating work that affirms they’re not alone.
To read the full piece, click here.
26 May 2021
By Elaine Sciolino and Alex Marshall
Move over, Mona Lisa. You may be about to have competition as the most-talked-about woman in the Louvre.
For the first time since its creation in 1793 in the wake of the French Revolution, the Musée du Louvre will be headed by a woman, Laurence des Cars, the current head of the Musée d’Orsay and the much smaller Musée de l’Orangerie.
Des Cars, 54, was appointed on Wednesday as the museum’s president-director by the president of France, Emmanuel Macron.
“Four years at the Orsay gave me this confidence, this crazy idea that I could be the next president of the Louvre,” des Cars said in an hourlong telephone interview. “The president probably saw that I was ready for the job and that I am somehow serene. I am not overanxious. I have to stay very calm.”
On Sept. 1, des Cars will replace the museum’s leader of eight years, Jean-Luc Martinez, who had waged an intense media campaign to stay on for a new five-year term.
The two museum directors could not be more different. Both studied art history at the École du Louvre, the museum’s prestigious school. But the Louvre has traditionally been run by upper-class art historians, and Martinez, a trained archaeologist with little expertise in painting, was the son of a postman from a working-class suburb of Paris. Des Cars, a specialist in 19th- and early-20th-century painting, is descended from a French noble family of writers.
To read the full article, click here.
14 April 2021
By Valentina Di Liscia
It has been over a year since the COVID-19 outbreak was declared a global pandemic, but another health crisis has been silently brewing. Experts are beginning to grasp the virus’s devastating effects on our collective mental well-being, particularly for communities disproportionately impacted — essential workers, low-income populations, and people of color among them.
In the museum field, workers experienced sweeping job loss, salary cuts, and burnout that exacerbated the pandemic’s stressors. A new survey by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) finds that the sector’s workers have suffered “a grave toll on their mental health and wellbeing,” rating the impact at an average of 6.6 out of 10. Though many institutions remained shuttered during peaks in virus cases, half of museum staff reported a heavier workload.
Unsurprisingly, independent consultants, contractors, and freelancers — often hired as educators and other key roles in museums — bore the brunt of financial insecurity. More than half had contracts canceled or indefinitely postponed, struggled to find work, and lost over 50% of their pre-pandemic income on average.
Similarly, nearly two-thirds of part-time staff said they lost a median of $8,000 due to reduced salaries, benefits, or hours. Compared to their full-time colleagues, this group of workers faces greater instability: they are more likely to live paycheck to paycheck and less likely to have enough disposable income to save or spend on leisure.
The survey’s findings also reveal the role of gender and race in these workers’ experiences of pandemic-related mental health factors. Museum staff who identify as women were more likely to report an increase in workload and adverse effects on their schedules, salary, and mental health, and BIPOC respondents experienced more financial stress and fewer financial resources than their white counterparts.
9 April 2021
By Kerry Reid
Back in 2019, I interviewed Chicago set designer Arnel Sancianco for a short Reader profile. In the course of our discussion, he mentioned that, while creating a sustainable career as a designer is never easy, he felt that his peers in costume design (a profession that tends to have more women in its ranks than other design fields) had a harder road. They frequently work without the benefit of full crews, leaving the designer to do a lot of the hands-on work of making and even sometimes maintaining costumes during a show’s run. And they tended to be paid less overall.
How much less they’re paid has come to light in recent years, thanks to the efforts of organizations like Costume Professionals for Wage Equity (CPWE) and the Chicago-based On Our Team. Elsa Hiltner, one of the founders of the latter, created the anonymous crowd-sourced Theatrical Designer Pay Resource spreadsheet to collect data on who gets paid what and where in American theaters.
When Reader freelancer Sheri Flanders spoke to Hiltner last October, she was celebrating the fact that Theatre Communications Group had agreed to list salaries for all jobs posted in ARTSEARCH, the job search engine run by TCG. Now CPWE and On Our Team have convinced two more major theater publications—Playbill and Broadway World—to require salary ranges to be listed for all industry job postings.
As Flanders noted in her article, “It is common practice for a job seeker to respond to a posting for a seemingly full-time or contract paid position, only to discover upon receiving a ‘job’ offer that the position is unpaid, paid in ‘exposure,’ or paid at a stipend rate that averages out to far less than minimum wage.” In 2018, OffStage Jobs began requiring salary information for listings, and the League of Chicago Theatres soon followed suit.
Genevieve Beller of CPWE and Theresa Ham, one of the cofounders of On Our Team, know that transparency in listings is just part of the battle for wage equity. But even getting that victory on the board took major effort. Beller notes that CPWE “reached out to Playbill with a letter in December of 2019 that over 800 people had signed. And we sent that letter to the editor in chief at the time, who is no longer with them, as well as every member of their board that we could find information for. So we received zero response. Which is pretty much par for the course.
To read the full article, click here.
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