Is the dance industry sexist?

By Felicia Roehm

I have been dancing since I was four years old and danced competitively from 13 to 18 years old. Throughout my experience at various competitions, it was predominantly women competing, but when there was a boy, it seemed that the judges attention was focused only on the male dancer.

Many other female dancers including myself knew that if there was a male dancer competing, he would win no matter what. But this raised the question of why are men and women treated differently in the dance world? An article from Dance Magazine titled “The Boy Factor: Do Boys Get An Unfair Advantage at Competitions” written by Sarah Nagle explains that the ‘The Boy Factor’ is the theory that if a competitive dance has a boy in it then that performance is more likely to win.

Owner of All Star Studios Rysa Childress in Forest Hills, New York, explains that if a boy has good stage presence, judges will usually give him a higher score than a girl with better technique because in dance, the boys are idolized more often. Boys are highlighted throughout their dance experience beginning in their childhood; when there is only one boy in a dance routine, the dance is often created to divert all attention to the male dancer.

When there was a boy at my home dance studio, he was always put in the front and center. He would be dressed differently, all the girls would have to dance around him and the ending pose would center around him being the main focus. Always having the boy in the front and diverting all attention on him is teaching the young dancers that the boys are more valuable. The judges praise the men more because there are fewer in the dance industry, but this sexism can carry into the future after the dancers graduate high school.

If a woman wants to pursue dance as a career and become an artistic director, she will find that the majority of artistic directors are male. An article by Forbes “A Gender Gap in Ballet, Seriously?” by Kim Elsesser describes that the Dance Data Project which promotes equity, leadership and salary data for the top 50 ballet companies in America collected some shocking information.

The article says, “According to DDP, a whopping 72% of ballet companies have a male artistic director. Those women who do get the title of artistic director earn only 68 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts.” Of the 467 dance pieces choreographed for the 2019-2020 season, 79% were done by men.”

Unfortunately, decisions made on the role of artistic director are made based on word of mouth, not credentials. This can cause a lot of bias when these men enter a female-dominated field. They get put on a fast track to succeed and be in a higher position. This causes women to fall behind more often because they are not receiving the same assistance.

Men hear the word “no” less often than women, giving men the opportunity to get ahead, but this mindset can change. If judges realize the message they are promoting, then all dancers, no matter the gender, can succeed based on skill and technique.

I have competed against men at many competitions and knew that even if I tried my best, they were going to win. This was extremely frustrating. The male dancers I went up against were all very talented; however, seeing the same guys go up for numerous awards in different categories is upsetting. Once, I competed against three boys, and they took home the first, second and third place awards.

I hope to see the industry change in the future and acknowledge that every dancer on the competition stage deserves to be recognized for their talent even if they are not placed in the top three. There are numerous categories and awards for a reason, and spreading them out fairly will make the dance competitions honest and more enjoyable.

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