Is the dance industry sexist? – News from the rider

By Felicia Röhm

I’ve been dancing since I was four years old and I danced competitively from 13 to 18 years old. Throughout my experience in various competitions, it was mostly women who competed, but when there was a boy, it seemed like the judges’ attention was focused only on the male dancer.

Many other dancers, myself included, knew that if there was a dancer competing, they would win no matter what. But it raised the question of why are men and women treated differently in the world of dance? A Dance Magazine article titled “The Boy Factor: Do Boys Get An Unfair Advantage at Competitions” written by Sarah Nagle explains that “The Boy Factor” is the theory that if a competitive dance has a boy, 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, boys are more often idolized. The boys are highlighted throughout their experience of dance from 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 in my home dance studio, he was always 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 front and diverting all the attention to him teaches young dancers that boys are more valuable. Judges praise men more because there are fewer of them in the dance industry, but this sexism can carry over after dancers graduate from high school.

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

The article says, “According to DDP, as many as 72% of ballet companies have a male artistic director. Women who achieve 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 performed by men.

Unfortunately, decisions made on the Art Director role are based on word of mouth, not referrals. This can cause a lot of bias when these men enter a female dominated field. They are put on a fast track to success and being in a higher position. This causes women to fall behind more often because they do not receive the same help.

Men hear the word “no” less often than women, which gives them the opportunity to move on, but that mindset can change. If the judges realize the message they are promoting, then all dancers, regardless of gender, can succeed based on their skill and technique.

I faced men in many competitions and I knew that even if I tried my best, they were going to win. It was extremely frustrating. The male dancers I faced were all very talented; however, seeing the same guys win multiple awards in different categories is heartbreaking. Once I competed against three boys and they won first, second and third place.

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

Colleen D. Ervin