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Apple-tab-span {white-space:pre}In the 21st century, the politics of neoliberalism and neoconservatism obtain common levels of power which oppress women’s bodies and produce gender inequalities. Among the many social factors that affect the health and well being of adolescents, gender seems to be a pivotal influence, and a topic that is brought up time and time again. As we’ve seen from many scientific studies and published dissertations on gender, its effects are both subtle and overt and can be both immediate as well as long term. It is not the notion of gender itself that holds such a large influence, but the roles and expectations that are demanded. These expectations affect nearly every aspect of life from infancy, one of those aspects being the world of performance art.  The study of gender has increasingly become one of the forefront topics in today’s world. As an interdisciplinary subject, gender studies concerns many different areas including sociology, philosophy, politics, media and performing arts. When addressing gender, it is important to first define the actual meaning of the term and how it differentiates from commonly mistaken synonyms.

Gender refers to the cultural difference between men and women. It is the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities and attitudes that a specific society has deemed acceptable and appropriate. Sex, on the other hand, only consists strictly of the biological differences between a male and a female. In other words, gender is an exaggeration of our natural sex differences. It is difficult to pinpoint the root of these social expectations but they do exist and they are not shy.

These gender stereotypes begin forming within adolescents at a very early stage, and are cemented in their way of life by as early as the age of ten years old. In 2015, Robert Blum launched the “Global Early Adolescent Study”. This would be a six year study of gender expectations around the world. Consisting of 450 children between the ages of 10 and 14, this study will focus on 15 different countries and observe varying degrees of wealth and development. Blum states that, “we found children at a very early age—from the most conservative to the most liberal societies—quickly internalize this myth that girls are vulnerable and boys are strong and independent.

” It is these common stereotypes that begin as “protection” but quickly transform into the expectation that girls should accede to the demands of others rather than making their own choices and taking risks. When these young people are raised in these “gender straightjackets” during this critical stage of human development, they suffer effects that shape their sexual and reproductive health future.  Though these gender stereotypes are very present in common society, its effects are even more drastic in the world of performance art. Dance is an art form that contains deeply integrated gender divisions. For example in the dance style of ballet, classes are broken up into groups determined by gender. This is to accommodate the gender-specific combinations of ballet such as jumps and turns for men and pointe work for women. Ballet demands gender-specific clothing, with the men wearing tights and shirts and the women in leotards. There are also gender-specific qualities that are valued for both men and women that stem from gender stereotypes.

It as seen as masculine when a dancer utilizes steps such as jumps, leaps, and otherwise athletic movement. This is why men tend to portray roles of power, or masculine archetypes including kings and warriors. Feminine movement consists of high extensions, fluidity and overall a more emotional take to each role. Women in dance take on feminine archetype roles such as a mother or a maiden always in need of a man to come rescue her. This being true to ballet there are styles such as modern dance that rebel against these notions. In modern dance, people of all genders, shapes and races partner each other and dance in unison.  According to Judith Butler, an American gender theorist, dancers must literally “perform gender” on stage in a heightened form. From this perspective, this idea of performing gender on stage is parallel to performing gender in everyday life.

It is what is performed at a particular time and place that defines the gender rather than who the individual is as a person. Gender should be seen as a fluid variable, which is constantly growing and evolving depending on the time and context. This continuous performance of our lives then produces a series of effect which society deems as being male or female. In a philosophical sense, Butler states:  We act as if that being of a man or that being of a woman is actually an internal reality or something that is simply true about us, a fact about us, but actually it’s a phenomenon that is being produced all the time and reproduced all the time, so to say gender is performative is to say that nobody really is a gender from the start. With all of these dance gender norms being brought up for debate, the next question would be if it is even possible to challenge tradition and rules that have been in place since the birth of dance.

In contemporary dance there seems to different approaches to the issues of gender within this art form. The method that seems to be more mainstream is erasing gender altogether. It is becoming a social norm in contemporary dance that in order to create equality within gender the easiest way is to get rid of it.

Stages across the world have been accommodating performances of non- gendered intent and non-gendered storylines. Men and women are given costumes that don’t conform with being either male or female and everyone is tailored to look the same. This is quite evident in Ohad Naharin’s piece “Naharin’s Virus” performed by the Batsheva Dance Company in Israel. Ambiguity is Naharin’s signature and so to say this piece is open to interpretation would be an understatement. There are no visible roles portrayed by the cast as the dancers seem to be different units of the same idea. All dressed in nude biketards and black leggings extending past the feet, each dancer’s entire body, excluding the face is covered.

This combined with the pinned up hairstyles of the females, it is difficult to even identify gender from a distance. Another excellent presentation of the use of erasing gender is in the piece “Flesh and Blood” choreographed by Lea Anderson. This approach is slightly different in the fact that it is clear that the cast is all men. However it is seen in one section that the six performers on stage are wearing long, gold, metallic dresses.

With dresses not being the typical attire worn by men, accompanied with thick, drawn-in, straight eyebrows, the question of defining the gender is left up in the air.  In direct connection to this approach of challenging dance gender norms, there are artists in the dance world who are taking gender and not only expressing it but showcasing it, centre stage. Unlike the postmodern and experimental dance that tends to ignore gender, Katy Pyle, artistic director of the dance company Ballez, decided it was time to face the problem rather than run away. When explaining the mission and original intent of her work with the company, Pyle states that “We’re using these definitions of masculinity and femininity to create something that’s not neutral, but it’s layered and complicated.” Pyle is attempting to venture where no other dance company has had the courage to dive into, the world of gender. Through her work, Pyle is trying to represent lesbian, queer and transgender culture. Growing up with a classical background, she soon started to realize that when her body started to change and her gender started to shift, there were parts of her that no longer belonged within the form that she had grown to love, and that was devastating. Through Ballez, Pyle is representing a spectrum of gender identities and is using traditional ballets as a vessel to get her point across.

In 2013, the company performed the popular ballet “The Firebird” with a couple of special alterations. Pyle’s character was instead a lesbian princess while all of the “prince” roles were performed by women, gender-nonconforming individuals. Pyle had created a safe platform for all who had no outlet for expressing their gender, while simultaneously changing the negative connotations with different areas of gender within dance. The question though, is how are these gender stereotypes actually affecting contemporary dance artists and does this help or hinder their level of success within the field of dance. Gender inequality has long affected artists and the cultural sector, but at a first glance this may not seem so apparent. More women than men study fine art. There are large numbers of female actors, dancers, musicians, arts managers, producers and creatives on the whole.

But, in big decision making roles, prize winning works, names hitting the largest stages and recognition, more often than not the winners are men. Crystal Pite, a Canadian choreographer and performer has been all anyone can talk about in the contemporary dance world. Since her choreographic debut with Ballet British Columbia in 1990, Pite has been a sought after choreographer all over the world.

Pite has choreographed works for Netherland Dance Theatre, Cullberg Ballet, Ballett Frankfurt, Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal and many more. In 2013, she was appointed Associate Artist at Sadler’s Wells in London and in 2002, she formed her own company, Kidd Pivot. It is clear that Pite has successfully made it to the top of her field despite any gender disadvantages that are proven in research studies. Pite is paving the way for up and coming female choreographers in contemporary dance.  In 2016, Pite’s work for Royal Ballet in London was the first work created by a female choreographer for the company in nearly twenty years. Looking at the performances of renown companies in the season of 2016/2017, the statistics are clear as day.

The Paris Opera Ballet’s program consisted of 24 choreographers and only one was a woman. The Royal Ballet showcased works by 16 choreographers and 2 were women. The National Ballet of Canada invited 10 choreographers to create pieces for their season, none of whom were women. It is clear to see that attention has not been brought to the subject of why there is such a shortage of female choreographers and what can be done to change that. When questioned about the issue of her gender, Pite explains that there are many different and specific issues at play and she cannot let herself believe that the fact that she is a women is a disadvantage.

She includes the point that the men who enter the profession are already predisposed to being ambitious and successful. Pite states: When you’re a young boy wanting to study ballet you’re already kind of a rebel, someone who is thinking outside the box, so you’re more likely to end up making work or running a company. Dance is a field heavily populated by women, and yet, in 2016, the ratio of male to female choreographers is so imbalanced.

If we look at the history of modern dance, names such as Isadora Duncan, Martha Graham, Mary Wigman, Pina Bausch, all these significant dance idols were women. Despite these gender politics, actions are being taken to challenge gender stereotypes. In 2016, Ballet BC featured an all-female program of choreographers in their first ever European tour. This action alone started up conversation on just how gender imbalanced the choreographic dance profession is. In the U.

K, 2Faced Dance Company ran The BENCH conference in May of 2016. Here many issues are discussed including the serious concerns about the lack of equality currently faced by female choreographers within the contemporary dance sector. 2Faced have been running a UK-wide 3-year programme since 2015 to address this issue to train, mentor and develop around 18 of the UK’s most promising female choreographers. This is not just an issue for the dance sector but it is part of a wider feminist struggle related to social and political factors.

The dance sector needs representation and quality choreographic work from all talented people regardless of sex. In the end the work must speak for itself and quality is key.


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