Dancing is an art form. It is also a sport. It requires endurance, agility, determination, concentration, flexibility, strength, hard work, dedication, passion and sacrifice. Many times dance is considered something only girls do. Many of you probably have a sister, female cousin or friend who took a dance class growing up. These classes are filled with little girls in tutus aspiring to be prima ballerinas. But hardly ever do you see a boy in a dance class. Why is this?
In media, male dancers are always portrayed as sexy, muscular, fit, handsome and even sometimes a bit of a rebel or bad boy and they often get the girl in the end. Take for instance Gene Kelly, John Travolta, Patrick Swayze, and Mikhail Baryshnikov. These men were portrayed in this way and yet society still puts a negative connotation on aspiring young male dancers.
This was apparent in the recent remarks made by Lara Spencer on Good Morning America regarding young Prince George taking ballet lessons as part of his school curriculum. Lara made a joke, however, many people found it offensive. In fact, the dance community took to social media and even the streets of New York to demonstrate that dance is for everyone and the stigma behind it needs to be changed. Having conversations about it like the one Lara had with three very successful male dancers can help but is it that simple? According to Kevin Fallon, Senior Entertainment Reporter for the Daily Beast, “there is a switch waiting to be flipped that reveals how embedded these hurtful cliches about gender and sexuality are” and that “we allow ourselves to forget it does.” It is so ingrained in our society that even public conversations about it might change a person’s view of it but they will eventually revert back to their old way of thinking.
Despite our society's way of thinking; that male dancers are viewed as feminine, flamboyant, or sissy, a great percentage of male dancers hold the highest-paid and highest respected positions in the female-dominated career field of dance. In her article for Forbes.com, Kim Elsesser, Senior Contributor, states that there is a huge gender gap in the dance world across the nation. Her research came from the Dance Data Project, which studies and analyzes large national and international dance companies as well as venues and choreographic awards and is an advocate for equality in dance. Her findings from DDP show that “a whopping 72% of ballet companies have a male artistic director” and female artistic directors “earn only 68 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts.”
When it comes to choreography, gender bias is even greater. Elsesser reported that “DDP found that in the 2018-2019 ballet season, men choreographed 81% of all works performed by the top 50 ballet companies.” With society’s view of the male dancer, this seems shocking. Also surprising, is the view that some have regarding females in dance. The founder of Dance Data Project, Elizabeth “Liza” Yntema has experienced gender bias in her everyday life. She has been told, “‘women don’t want to choreograph, they just want to have babies and dance’” and “‘women cannot choreograph because they are used to being lifted on stage, so they cannot see what is going on behind them.’” Shockingly, this way of thinking is still prevalent in today’s culture even after everything women have fought for.
It is clear that there is gender stigma in dance that pertains not only to men but to women as well. Male dancers are perceived to be strong, confident and tough in the media but society oftentimes sees them differently. We are finding that female dancers endure inequality even in a female-dominated field. Television shows like So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing With The Stars are hopefully changing this stigma for men but what about women? How do we prove that we are just as creative, passionate and dedicated as our male counterparts? Media is such a huge part of our everyday lives now with apps like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. The messages these social platforms hold can be critical to shaping our society’s way of thinking. These prejudices have been around for many, many years however maybe today’s media will help open minds and change the way men and women are perceived in dance.
Elsesser, Kim. “A Gender Gap In Ballet, Seriously?” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 12 Sept. 2019, www.forbes.com/sites/kimelsesser/2019/09/12/a-gender-gap-in-ballet- seriously/.4
Fallon, Kevin. “What Lara Spencer's Apology to Male Ballet Dancers Gets Right-and
Wrong.” The Daily Beast, The Daily Beast Company, 26 Aug. 2019, www.thedailybeast.com/what-lara-spencers-apology-to-male-ballet-dancers-gets-rightand-still-gets-so-wrong.
Yntema, Elizabeth. “The Ballet World Is Still Male-Dominated, Research Shows.” Women's Media Center, 29 Aug. 2019,www.womensmediacenter.com/news- features/the-ballet-world-is-still-male-dominated-research-shows.