'Turning Pointe Gender Equality in Australian Dance'

 

Gender equality in creative leadership has recently and importantly been placed on the agenda in film, music, dance, theatre and visual arts. Both locally and internationally, gender imbalances have been a source of concern. In dance these conversations have been had both in Australia and internationally, with a particular gender imbalance observed on our main stages. This project was instigated after conversations with a number of choreographers while making the Delving into Dance podcast, who were concerned at what they were observing in Australia, and by the little action on equality.


To date, statistical data about gender equality in Australian dance has not been collated across the sector. This report uses data sourced primarily from Major Performing Arts (MPA) dance companies and multi-year Australia Council–funded companies, as well as information from interviews with 23 individuals. This data presented will be significant for future benchmarking.

This report examines the current state of gender equality in dance. It addresses significant issues experienced by women in dance and is concerned explicitly with the advancement of women in artistic and leadership roles, more specifically as choreographers. We must recognise that if issues of gender cannot be adequately addressed in dance, we have little hope of addressing other forms of social and cultural inequities within dance.

Key Findings:

  • Over an 11-year period MPA Companies programmed the works of women 13% of the time for full-length works and 24% of the time for shorter works.
  • Over an 11-year period women were being commissioned at a rate of 26% in MPA Companies compared to men at 74%. .
  • Data examined over a six-year period from the multi-year funded companies revealed they are more reflective of the overall number of women working as dancers and choreographers than the MPA Companies are. Hence, the most heavily funded part of the sector has the worst outcomes for women.
  • Project funding through the dance stream of the Australia Council indicated stronger sector interest from females for project based grants.
  • Women are strongly represented at key industry awards, unlike in other creative industries, including music. This indicates that, despite being programmed at a significantly lower number than men, there is a body of work created by women that is of an exceptional standard.
  • There are significant and intertwined issues that were raised during the interview process that revolve around particular gender bias:
    • There was the perception that men were given increased opportunities at the expense of women. These ideas were consistent with ideas of a “boys club” and it’s said that men often have a sense of entitlement in the industry.
    • Men were said to be given more opportunities at MPA companies as they were seen as safe bets.
    • Confidence was said to be fostered in men and was indicated as being problematic in women. These perceptions limit where women sought to work and their willingness to pursue a range of opportunities.
    • Childcare responsibilities were said to be a significant financial burden and also mean that there are particular opportunities that women miss out on, including international residencies and important networking opportunities
    • The role of the company boards came up for critique with many questioning why boards appointed men as artistic directors more so than women in MPA companies.

 

Key recommendations:

The issues are complex and, as a result, the solutions are not at all straightforward. Key recommendations are based on Visibility and Programming including quotas, Mentoring and Support, Childcare and Family-Friendly Practices, and Benchmarking and Vigilance.

This report indicates that there is a role for everyone including companies, industry and the broader sector, female dance makers, audiences, men in
the industry and training institutions. Specific recommendations include but are not limited to:

  • Quotas to be introduced as funding requirements.
  •  A separate grant category, which is open for applicants year-round, to provide support for childcare responsibility and to allow individuals to apply for funding on top of project funding or when commissioned at a company.
  • Men to take issues of equality seriously and to use their agency for positive change.
  •  Increased mentoring opportunities, specifically in the skill sets required for artistic directors, to ensure there are women ready for these roles.
  •  All seasons should have a 50:50 gender balance.
  • Childcare arrangements should be included in the ticket cost of networking events like National Dance Forum.
  • Training institutions to assess the ways they can better support women and students for considered choreographic opportunities.
  • Audiences to take responsibility for ensuring they hold companies accountable for taking equality seriously.
  • Better sector-wide advocacy to ensure gender equity remains on the agenda.

While these are immense challenges, the time is right to set a stronger directive for an equitable future. The high participation of women in dance is not an excuse for an imbalance at the top levels. If there was one creative field where women should be leading, it would have to be dance with far more female participants. There are many good reasons we must act on this issue, namely Australian stages must reflect the diverse perspectives and backgrounds of the society from which they emerge.


It is hoped that this report will help stimulate the dance industry to consider the complexity of the issues contained within and provide a strong basis for action. This report is timely to these conversations and helps to articulate a way forward. The dance industry can only gain through increasing the diversity of works. The dance industry itself can reimagine a more equitable future with strong leadership, resolve and a desire for change.

Everyone has a role to play.

  Chameleon by Stephanie Lake for Queensland Ballet - photo: David Kelly

Chameleon by Stephanie Lake for Queensland Ballet - photo: David Kelly


This research has been undertaken alongside a research advisory committee including Lucy Guerin, Amy Hollingsworth, Stephanie Lake, Carin Mistry, Frances Rings, Michelle Ryan, Meryl Tankard, Maggie Tonkin & Jordan Beth Vincent.

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