Dance as a gendered space and working in sessions in a non-gendered way


As we have discussed in previous blogs, a primary motivation for us at Attik is to create learning environments, exercises and experiences that give our participants opportunities to explore their identity.

Exploring dance with children and young people continues to throw up interesting and challenging questions that pertain to gender, to gender and the body, gender and training and ultimately gender and identity.

We would argue that dance is the most gendered of art forms. Aspects of contemporary dance performance push towards a neutral gender profile, but mostly dance is a binary of male and female, of males do this and females do that. What annoys us the most, and Rachel alluded to it in her recent blog, is how a large part of the dance community continues to support the ‘feminine’ way of dancing as one which is soft and demure, that is mostly obsequious and is ‘done to’ by the male. This is balanced by masculine moves that are physical, energetic and loud, and that makes sure everyone knows who is in charge. We also believe this imbalanced gender stereotyping ultimately leads to the situation where the vast majority of senior posts in dance companies and choreographers working in the UK are male, despite females outnumbering the guys by around 9 to 1.

This gendered compartmentalization of movement also happens within education. When I (Ben) go into schools, I get the regular comments from teachers about how dance is great for the boys so they can throw themselves around and let off their boundless energy. What I love to do is point out to the teachers in my sessions how extraordinary the girls are at throwing themselves around (doing boys move) and that it isn’t just a boy trait. It is remarkable how many teachers don’t actually see the girls doing it.

So this brings us back to our training, our exercises and our workshops. What we challenge ourselves and our participants with are creative making and improvisational ideas that are gender neutral, and with delivering responses that are purely reflections on identity for that individual or group, and that aren’t patterned in gender assumptions. Now that doesn’t mean that there are no gendered movement ideas in their work, but that whatever choices they make as young artists are just that, choices.

Because ultimately that is the most important thing. That whatever any of our participants makes, whether improvised or choreographed, every moment is a reflection of a choice they are making. They can choose to explore a stereotyped gender profile of femininity or masculinity, or they can explore their own version of whatever gender profile they wish. Or maybe they wish to neutralise themselves as much as they can so no assumptions can be made about what they are doing.

And when we start to empower our young female dancers to reject the gender identities being forced upon them, to make the choices they wish to make and to be the extraordinary artists, leaders and change makers that they can be then we will start to change the imbalance of power within our dance world.