Fittingly, this was the only session on offer for the final slot today, called by myself, which enabled us to revisit the themes of the day and prioritise actions, changes and areas to tackle - and where we go from here.
The topic of gender in dance is a very complex and multilayered one, which is why we needed people to explore so many aspects of it in the time that we had. But I felt that the topics proposed weren't action-focussed enough, so I decided to propose one titled "What Do We Want?" And as the schedule panned out, only one session was held in the final hour, and this was it, which meant that everyone present could attend it and contribute. The session largely touched on the recurring themes from throughout the day, but in a way which enabled us to consider actions and change rather than discussing the ongoing status quo.
Because everyone was present, and we were largely recapping the day anyway, this became an extended session so that we could cover more ground.
The notes were very generously taken by Kimberley Harvey of Subtle Kraft Co, as I've never been capable of talking and doing anything else at the same time.
- The way women communicate is a fundamental part of the problem; people are afraid of upsetting others, and jeapordising our future chances.
- It's important for us to be more aware of how we communicate with each other as artists on a daily basis (as females), and it's especially important for us to support each other.
- Our tendency to be indirect needs to be challenged: the industry has a need for "REAL DIALOGUE", to discuss and confront what is really happening. Unless we do, we're ignoring what's happening around us and acting passively; it's only once we start talking properly that we can start claiming ownership.
- We agreed that there is room for both the female and the male perspective, as both perspectives are simply human.
- However, as there has been so much negativity around the stereotypical female choreography, it's important to find a female identity which feels comfortable, so that we can develop a sense of ownership and which allows room for diversity within it.
- We also have to recognise that the current patriarchal system does a disservice to both women and men.
Programmers and Beyond
Throughout the day, we returned to the topic of programmers and what we can do to better engage with them.
- We felt that programmers would benefit from exposure to more female work, as male work tends to dominate showcases such as BDE, and by exposing programmers to female work, they could appreciate the diversity of work on offer rather than just tokenism. And until programmers start engaging more with female choreographers, the programming in this industry will continue to be very heavily male-dominated.
- Female choreographers would also benefit from greater visibility in dance criticism; while this would give programmers and audiences more confidence in their work, we do still need programmers to give the female choreographers the chance to show their work so that it can be written up.
We also discussed positive reinforcement, so to speak, as proposed by Julia Gleich; rather than challenging and condemning people and institutions which don't support female choreographers, we discussed an equivalent of the Bechdel Test, where a stamp of good practice - possibly just represented by a logo - could be awarded to programmers, venues and institutions which choose to support and celebrate the work of female choreographers and female artists.
This could then lead to a publication or more reviewing which would cover the work of these organisations, which would bear witness to their work and its rewards.
Getting smallscale work reviewed by critics is an ongoing challenge, and while some of us argued to seek funding for setting up a website to post reviews, others (me) suggested that the funding for something like that doesn't exist. So instead we discussed the wider reviewing context.
In terms of reviewers to approach, we discussed Nicholas Minns, friend to many of us, who writes generously, insightfully and thoroughly on his website writingaboutdance.com
The benefit of the website would have been the chance to grow dance writers who are looking for writing opportunities, however this led to a discussion between Susie Crow and myself about the challenges I've found over finding and retaining dance writers versus her successful Oxford Dance Writers scheme which has nurtured many writers over the years.
What is paramount is that we need more visibility of female choreographers, and of role models for them. This feeds back into supporting each other.
As Luke Jennings commented, "we are only seeing 50% of any picture".
- Everybody needs to keep making a noise. Don't be afraid to challenge the norm. Say what we see: we can all write and/or blog online. And others can provide platforms for our words.
- We must seek and provide support for female choreographers, including through writing and mentoring.
- Help each other out. Ask for help if you need it, and don't worry about how that's perceived; we asked if women are too independent.
- Networks are needed, especially of 'more mature' (female) artists, and also of artists with children,
- We should also make a stand on offering better pay for women (eg choreographers and dancers) to make a statement about the value we place on ourselves, and also to ensure longevity in the artform.
- Dance UK was identified as a specific contact point as a voice for the dance, and therefore female sector, and therefore coverage of this issue by them would be very beneficial in gaining more support.
- Open discussions with programmers who we feel able to approach.
- We discussed publication options: independent publications which we felt would be sympathetic towards the issue of female choreographers and artists and who might volunteer to publish an article (eg Dancing Times) or dedicate a whole magazine (eg Dance UK) to this topic; for the latter, it would be relevant because it's a topic which affects their members. This led to the question of who do we want to reach?
- We agreed that the problem fundamentally lies with the structure of the artform and that things can't change until the underlying structure changes. But we can do what we can in the meantime, rather than do nothing.
- Choreographers should put in higher rates of pay for artists in their funding applications: we need to support each other, not exploit each other.
- Ask a writer to write (online) about your work; this helps to give your work an extended life.
We called ourselves the "Guerilla Girls" (and Guys) of Dance.