Guest Blog: Nicole Haskins on The Case for Choreography Workshops

Choreography workshops sponsored by ballet companies are an often overlooked way to create more opportunities for female ballet dancers to get the time, space, and freedom to explore choreography. While ballet companies will sometimes support individual dancers who express interest in choreographing, it often happens when the dancer asks for an opportunity, and very often, the dancer is a man. Workshops can expose more women to choreography without requiring them to request extra responsibility or take anything away from their dancing career. In my experience, annual workshops are extremely advantageous and beneficial to both dancers wanting to explore their choreographic ambitions and directors committed to cultivating the next generation of dancemakers.

I was fortunate to dance for two companies, Sacramento Ballet, and Smuin Contemporary Ballet, that dedicated company time and resources to supporting and encouraging their dancers interested in choreography. There were few parameters, and anyone interested could participate. I found myself expected to cast, create, and rehearse on my own, which gave me invaluable hands-on experience into crafting a piece for the stage. I learned how to organize my time, decide on costumes and lights, and lead the room in front of my peers. When I began receiving outside commissions, these experiences allowed me to be successful because I was already well-versed in the choreographic process and comfortable with my artistic voice.

Choreographic Workshops tend to sell well, can engage a different audience than traditional productions, and give directors a front row seat to the creative talents in their ranks. Those who show promise can be commissioned in-house without the expense of travel and housing that outside choreographers entail, while also giving these dancers professional choreography experience. At both companies I danced for, my workshop creations led to my directors commissioning me for multiple main stage productions, as well as recommending me to other companies as a promising new voice in ballet. I know these workshops are why I have a career as a choreographer for they allowed me multiple opportunities to choreograph, provided me with professional materials to include in my portfolio to companies, allowed me to continually hone my craft year after year without having to focus on logistics, and directly led to professional commissions by my directors and other companies.

For me there are four essential factors that make choreographic workshops successful especially when it comes to gender equality:

  1. That rehearsals and performances do not conflict with any other company obligations, as women tend to be more involved in rehearsals and worried about the safety of their career’s trajectory.
  2. That everyone in the company or school be allowed to choreograph if they chose, as ballet instills in women the idea that failure is not an option, a mindset that could limit the women willing to apply.
  3. That there be some sort of informal showing at the end of the process that can be professionally filmed. Ballet often gives men opportunities based on potential and women on past experience, therefore it is essential to give women as strong a portfolio as possible.
  4. That workshops are annual or semi-annual so those on the fence don’t feel they missed their chance. In my experience once one woman choreographs, others follow in each subsequent year. Having yearly workshops leaves openings for those interested, but unsure the chance to participate the following year.

Most choreographers get their start by asking for a chance, something that is much riskier for women to do. I am happy a spotlight is finally being shone on the lack of female choreographers working in ballet and hope that while we work towards rectifying this imbalance, we remember that for a woman to be hired by a major ballet company, she needs to have already had multiple experiences choreographing. While companies slowly create more opportunities for women on the professional end, we need to have experienced women already in the pipeline ready to take advantage of them. Choreographic workshops provide opportunities for women to explore choreography, deepen their skills, and strengthen their point of view without compromising their careers as dancers. By providing strong, tangible, and relevant experience, workshops can inspire, develop, and advance emerging female choreographers who are just waiting for a chance to try.