The Politics of Women


by Neil Nisbet

“We did ask a lot of women to apply but there aren’t that many who want to take on that job and I think that because it is such a male dominated world. Women are insecure about doing it because we [women] have always been led by men. So there you go!”

Those words were spoken, out loud, by Assis Carreiro, the Artistic Director/CEO of Dance East, in response to questions from Article19 about why only one of seven participants in the agency’s “leadership” programme was a woman.

Ms Carreiro also said during the interview;

“Because that seems to be the case around the world. I’m a woman, I think it’s a big issue but [in] most companies around the world, women, at that age are getting married, having babies, when it’s time to think about being a leader and so men take those posts.”

Numbers like those are surprising because women out number men in dance by a considerable amount. Dance UK’s best estimate was 80% in favour of women. If presidential elections were determined by female dancers voting for Democrats and male dancers voting for the Republicans then Barack Obama could be President of Planet Earth if he so desired!

A quick check of the calendar reveals that it is, in fact, 2008 this year. It’s not 1908 or 1808 but 2008. A year of amazing advancements in technology, politics and, one hopes, thinking! Sadly there does not appear to be a lot of thinking going on at Dance East.

In trying to defend the imbalance Ms Carriero pointed out that only two women applied to be on the programme in the first place. However, applications were restricted to those taking part in the organisation’s much maligned ‘Rural Retreats’ project. Reading through the documentation for those projects, past and present, reveals 18 female participants to 72 male participants. Hardly surprising then that few women bothered to apply, or could apply to take part in the “leadership” project.

Ms Carriero protested that “[Dance East] did ask a lot of women to apply” but at least one experienced dance maker we have spoken to, and no shrinking violet at that, told Article19 that she approached Dance East about the project but was rebuffed.

That so many men took part in the retreats project emphasises their focus on classical ballet and classical ballet companies. Ms Carriero denied that with a curt “no they are not”. When over 90% of attendees are representatives of ballet companies or from a classical background you have to call that comment exactly what it is, a patent, deliberate falsehood!

Troubling Arguments

More problematic and worrying than the numbers or the arguments about ballet versus contemporary, or other forms, of dance are the arguments used by Ms Carreiro to justify those numbers.

Throughout Article19’s short interview with her, Ms Carreiro brought up the greatest hits that every woman in the world, not just in dance, should be infuriated to hear.

Women don’t want leadership because they have “babies”, because they get “married”, because they are “insecure” and so much other outmoded, risible drivel it’s difficult to know where to start when rebutting because your eyes are rolling so much it makes your head hurt!

Yes women have children, they get married and, shocking I know, some women might even be ever so slightly insecure. But here’s the scoop Ms Carriero, men do all of those things too! They also feel insecurity, perhaps more so, than their female counterparts!

It might be trivial to point out, but let’s do it anyway, that the National Director of Dance Strategy, Janet Archer, is a woman, directors of several NDA’s are women, the Speaker of The House in the United States House of Representatives, the third most powerful position in the US Government is not only a mother but a grandmother! A woman, Hilary Clinton, came within a whisker of being the nominee for the Democratic party for President of the United States. Oh the humanity!

Article19 has covered several superb dance festivals this year. Urban Moves: run by a woman, Big Mission: run by a woman, British Dance Edition: run by a woman, Forbidden: run by a woman, the list goes on and on and on!

To further add insult to injury when it was pointed out, as an example, that Jasmin Vardimon has both a family and a successful dance company, that has been ten years in the making, Ms Carriero appeared to disparage that achievement because Ms Vardimon’s company was not sufficiently large enough to merit acknowledgment!

Javier Du Frutos, by comparison, lasted just two years when entrusted with the reigns of Phoenix Dance Theatre, a company of comparable size.

Heavy Irony

It is ironic that the project which prompted questions from this publication was entitled “International Placements for Artistic Leaders of the Future”. What is obvious here is the complete lack of leadership on the part of Dance East.

Article19 would suggest that if your projects are not encouraging enough women to apply to participate then there is something fundamentally wrong with your projects. If your “Rural Retreats” programme is, irrefutably, heavily skewed towards ballet companies and leading ballet companies (four of the seven placement are with ballet companies) then it will follow that few women will be interested in taking part.

There is no doubt, evidenced by Dance East’s own published information, that classical companies don’t like having women in charge. Whatever the reasons for that (it’s hard not to yell “sexism” very loudly) there is no need for a National Dance Agency to perpetuate the problem with projects that are hopelessly skewed towards men.

When, as a women, you are facing competition from hundreds of others for each job that competition makes you try ten times as hard and work ten times as hard because you have to be ten times as good just to be in the same place as a male counterpart.

Within the dance profession, especially in big companies, there is a serious issue that needs to be addressed with regard to hiring female dance makers to the top jobs. That issue is diminished and trivialised when those in positions of influence make stupid comments about babies, marriage and insecurity that paint women as teen movie cliches unable to cope with the harsh realities of the world.

Were this the political arena such comments would undoubtedly lead to calls for Ms Carriero to be ousted from her position. This isn’t politics however. Article19 would suggest that Dance East takes a long hard look at the fundamentals of their in-house projects.

They should attempt to discover the real reasons as to why more women are not in top jobs within dance companies and take steps to correct that imbalance.

Should it become obvious that the out of date views mentioned in this commentary persist then it might become prudent for Article19 and many others to ask the National Director of Dance Strategy if it is at all appropriate for Ms Carriero to remain in her job!

[ News: Dance East and Women ]