The Evil Imp

What Lies Beneath

Dance is a sexist profession. It is gender biased towards men, this is demonstrable and undeniable. Women don’t get hired to top jobs as much as men and they don’t get commissioned as often as men despite outnumbering those men by a wide margin. It is simply not believable that when considering candidates for the position of running a National Dance Agency, for example, that the only qualified candidates that could be found were mostly male. The same applies to classical ballet companies and numerous other top jobs.

It’s not a coincidence or a quirk of fate or some other nonsense about children, attitude or personal determination. The problem is systemic, and the only solution is to burn down that system and start again, but that’s not what we are going to talk about today.

Over the last few months there have been a flood of stories from women all over the world, working in a range of industries detailing the abusive behaviour they have been subjected to by men in positions of power and influence. These stories detail encounters that range from inappropriate comments and physical contact all the way to serious sexual assault and rape.

Dance Immune

Thus far the dance world, at least from the outside looking in, has been mostly immune to the onslaught. Peter Martins, the 71 year-old former “leader” of New York City Ballet initially took a leave of absence following multiple accusations of violent conduct and sexual harassment during his tenure of both the ballet company and the School of American Ballet.

From the New York Times piece;

“In recent interviews, two former City Ballet dancers and three former students at the school described a culture in which Mr. Martins was known for sleeping with dancers, some of whom received better roles because of their personal relationships with him.”

He has since resigned from that organisation along with releasing the all too familiar statement about how he will be proved innocent by the investigation that has been initiated both the company and the school. At the time of writing though, Mr Martins is the only person in the wider world of dance that has, thus far, been publicly taken down by accusations of improper and potentially illegal behaviour.

The Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten (The Evening Post) published a piece of December 13th last year that featured a dozen descriptions from female dancers and former dance students of their experiences with harassment and assault by male colleagues and teachers. A closed Facebook group has also been started with 1100 members (at the time of publication) under the banner #nårdansenstopper (When The Dance Stops).

The stories told by these women in the Aftenposten piece are both disturbing and distressing, even with the slightly clumsy auto-translation into English. Each story follows a predictable pattern. A man, in a position of influence or power behaves in an unprofessional or, in some instances, illegal manner towards a younger woman, sometimes in the presence of others. He does this because he wants to and he knows he’s probably going to get away with it. The women are left embarrassed, humiliated, afraid and isolated, with nobody in a position of power to turn to.

No names are mentioned in the piece, either of the women writing their stories or the men they are accusing. The piece leads with the all too familiar refrain that in dance, jobs are hard to find and dancers that cause trouble will find it all the more difficult to get work. In so many ways dance is no different from any other profession anywhere in the world at this point.

What Lies Beneath

Just as we, here in TheLab™, are sure that dance is a sexist profession we are also just as sure that sexual harassment is, if not an everyday occurrence then a common occurrence. The law of large numbers is hard to argue with about this. That we don’t hear about it is almost certainly because there is no trustworthy process for a woman to follow in order to report such harassment, even if they happen to work in a large-scale institution. Given what we have been learning over the last few months it is likely that the larger the institution, the more likely and able they are to cover things up even if harassment is reported.

For an independent dancer or choreographer or administrator who are they to turn to? One Dance UK… Equity……………………………..The Arts Council?

A few years ago, Article19 had credible evidence that the Director of a well know NPO was engaged in the persistent bullying of employees and others they came into contact with as part of their job. The accuser was willing to go on the record, but nobody else would support the claims being made. They didn’t deny that bullying had occurred, they just didn’t want to talk about it, even after they had left the dance world. Somebody was willing to speak but when they turned around there was nobody standing there to back them up.

In the dance profession harassment is taking place. The stories being told in the piece by Aftenposten are Norwegian, a small country with an even smaller dance profession. If you extrapolate the numbers to larger countries with a larger dance workforce then it potentially becomes very scary. People across the industry know that this is happening, they know who is doing it and they know who it is happening to.

Somebody, somewhere, is going to have to summon the enormous amount of courage needed to step forward and go first, as the dancers with NYCB did when they spoke out about Peter Martin’s behaviour. Taking that step when you know there is a very strong possibility that you will be on your own and could potentially ruin your career in the process places a crushing burden on the individuals at the sharp end of this problem. It is, perhaps, one of the biggest failings of the profession that the very people who make the whole thing function have little to no support when harassment almost inevitably comes calling.

As always Article19 is listening, waiting and watching. Does anybody have anything to say?

Photo by Patrice-Photographiste