A recent study found that 86 percent of the country’s 43 ballet companies with budgets of $2 million or more are run by men. The 2002 study, by DanceUSA, is part of that organization’s long-standing project to document trends in the field. The data shows that those holding positions at the highest levels in the largest companies are mostly men. Dance companies with smaller budgets are subject to the same influences that have created this trend in the field’s largest organizations. What is unclear is whether the trend in dance is simply an expression of the gender imbalance that occurs in the leadership of all corporations. According to a 2003 study by Catalyst, an international advocacy organization, just 8 of the 500 largest for-profit corporations are run by women.
Gender disparity in leadership is noticed by female artistic directors working in the D.C. area. Gesel Mason, Artistic Director of Gesel Mason Performance Projects, observed the intensity of male-female inequity in the dance world. Ms. Mason stated that in a female dominated industry the existence of a small minority having significant power over the majority resembles “a kind of apartheid.” Another female artistic director (who asked to remain anonymous) said she has regularly faced challenges because of her gender. She believes that men get preferential treatment when it comes to bookings, grants, and publicity. “I think female directors have to work much harder and be much better than a man to achieve the same respect and admiration,” she wrote.
Alexandra Nowakowski, Executive Director of CityDance Ensemble, has a more neutral outlook. She stated that she thinks the phenomenon of male-dominated leadership exists in all industries. Ms. Nowakowski said, “In terms of sexism, I do experience it every now and then…. it may take me a bit longer to earn their respect, but ultimately it is up to me to either gain or lose the respect I deserve.” Mason agrees with Nowakowski that the leadership disparities reflected in the dance field echo gender imbalances in society as a whole. While Mason did not speak to personal encounters of sexism, it is hard to ignore the data. Men may be more encouraged and have more opportunities to be in leadership positions. Ms. Mason stated that, “Women are seen first as dancers, not necessarily as running a company.” It is possible that programs to address the disparities would be a valuable asset to the field.
In a perhaps un-related issue, in 2002 The Kennedy Center created the “Capacity Building Project” for companies in music, theater and dance. The program allows “companies of color” to collectively – and with the Kennedy Center’s assistance – address challenges particular to the population. Several local companies benefit from participation in the Capacity Building Project, including Step Afrika! and The Dance Institute of Washington (both male run companies.)
Heather Risley graduated from Marquette University with a BA in History. She is currently the Editor of a website for international corporate ethics and anti-corruption. She has been involved in the dance community from a young age and continues to take classes in the Washington DC area.
originally published in Bourgeon Volume 3 #2