This was not a session held on the day, but as Dr Sara Houston of Roehampton University and Chair of People Dancing was unable to attend, she prepared the following, which fits in beautifully alongside the session reports.
Some thoughts on the dance in higher education institution (HEI) perspective (thoughts are my own rather than from the HEIs in general or the place where I work)
HEIs (I include Universities, FE colleges and vocational training colleges where programmes are at degree level) have a unique perspective on the gender debate. Firstly, here are some facts about HEIs in relation to dance sectors (I use ‘sector’ for want of a better quick word):
• They are places of education and learning, as well as places where you are taught to question assumptions, analyse, etc.
• They are places that often become residencies or rehearsal spaces or performance spaces for dance artists
• They provide work for dance artists teaching or choreographing
• Sometimes they offer students for work placements in dance organisations
• They sometimes collaborate with dance organisations on artistic projects, research, discussion, books, articles.
• (Flip side to above point: Sometimes HEIs do not reach out to the dance sector and sometimes some people in the dance sector openly take an anti-intellectual stance (for example over the years I’ve heard comments from certain people, such as oh you don’t produce dancers so what are you doing?).)
• They have potential access to different funding pots (note, ‘potential’)
• What happens in the dance sector and performance work produced sometimes gets aired in lectures for students to learn from.
Gender in HE:
• Most dance departments are led and staffed mainly by women with at least three degrees and with a vast knowledge and understanding of dance/wider arts/other subjects such as anthropology, politics, sociology, history etc and with a lot of expertise in standing in front of a room full of people teaching, debating, chairing, or presenting. A few also are Board members of dance organisations.
• Some female dance academics hold positions high up in the HEI, although HEIs have their own problem of elevating men to senior positions and the culture of work favours people without children to look after. Dance and arts departments often buck the trend here in terms of male and female representation in positions of influence, but many departments in Universities and HEIs are small compared to others so carry much less weight and tend to have to fight for their place (but not sure student see this side of things).
• Issues of gender in dance works and practices and in relation to social behaviours and assumptions are debated within modules at several HEIs (my own being one of them) at undergraduate and postgraduate level, together with political issues of institutionalisation.
• The majority of students are female in dance departments.
• I don’t know whether male dance students volunteer more, get better grades, get favoured in class. There has been some research about HEIs in general on BME students missing out, but not sure whether there’s anything for male/female students, certainly not exclusively for arts students.
What HEIs could do to help gender equality of representation in positions of influence in the dance sectors?
• More female dance academics to sit on Boards of dance organisations. Boards are the top level of governance for many organisations and being one step removed from the politics of the dance sector, academics can be seen as more neutral, but with expertise and understanding of the field. (I myself chair the Board of People Dancing where the majority of Board members are female). (In general I think this is something independent female dance artists could do)
• Dance students need to be aware of what their female (and male) lecturers/teachers are doing with dance organisations. Lecturers/teachers are often role models.
• Since they are role models, female academics with children could be open about working and having children at the same time.
• Dance organisations to call upon female academics to chair public debates (chairing is a role that most academics are experienced in) or take part in panel discussions that are in their area of expertise, or be part of a judging panel (academics/teachers judge all the time). HEIs to make more clear that this is something that they could offer to organisations.
• (dance) HEIs to commission research into whether there is a gender bias when teaching and then do something about it if they are.
• To actively point out when teaching gender issues about any institutional bias that is currently seen in the dance sector (so not just within dance works but the socio-cultural environment in which they take place) and bring it as a point of debate for students.
• To use examples of organisations with female leads for examples within lectures.
• To link vocational modules, such as arts management, explicitly to other modules on gender issues.
• Academics to mentor recent high flying minority (ie female, BME, disabled) graduates
• HEIs to double check that their residencies and other opportunities for dance artists conform to gender (and BME and disabled) equality.
• To support through collaboration more organisations and indie artists, particularly on projects which have a minority (ie female, BME, disabled) lead.
• To encourage female students to attend leadership workshops that are sometimes offered by HEIs and to attend and give presentations at conferences.
I’m sure there are other things too which can happen, but these are for starters!
We also need to bear in mind transgender in this debate and note that the debate also extends to ethnic minority and disabled professionals.
Dr. Sara Houston