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For Women, Dance is Still Perceived as Not a Job
By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2000 The Dance Insider
Now that I've
got your attention:
Forgot to mention
a fundamental point which came out of the Women in the World, Women
in Dance panel at APAP.
if this was actually raised directly by one of the panelists, or
if I reached this conclusion based on what was said:
Might have been
related to this:
To sort of encapsulate
the whole situation, Ellis Wood gave the set-up in her family. Her
mother trained as a dancer from age 3; her father started at 25.
They both got into the Graham company. He became the rehearsal director;
she became his demonstrator. When they retired from dancing, he
got offers to direct five of the major modern dance companies in
the world; she got no offers. They eventually started the dance
department at the University of California at Berkeley. He was named
director; she was made his assistant, at a salary less than half
From this and
other facts, I came to this conclusion: The attitude of many in
society towards women who dance is that it is not a job, but just
a manifestation of being a woman: You're a woman, of course you
dance. It's not a profession. But when a man does it, it is imbued
with seriousness of labor and intention.
a personal chord with me for two reasons. First, as a trained childcare
worker, I remember being laughed at by a kibbutz coordinator, in
1980, when I said the job I wanted was to work with children. "That's
for women," SHE said. I think one reason childcare jobs do not paying
living wages is they are not really considered work, but just part
of what women do, and not really a profession. There is also an
archaic assumption that women are supported by husbands, and don't
really need to make a living wage.
Second, a couple
of years ago I was hanging on a beach in Ocean City, Maryland, with
a dancer I was dating. Some teenagers were playing catch, and their
ball threatened to strike us. My friend told them to move. I, half-jokingly,
warned, "Yeah, you'd better listen, she's a dancer and she might
kick you." My remark was really a compliment to her strength. One
of the boys responded, "Oh, do you dance in a strip club?" I was
shocked by this, but my friend, who had heard it before, explained
that outside of New York, this was the equation a lot of people
made to the description dancer: it must mean dancer in a strip club.
In other words,
"dancer" was perceived not as a job, not as an artist, but as it
related to serving men.
The irony, of
course, was that what I had learned from dating this dancer was
that, if anything, dancing was not only a profession, but a 24/7
job at that. As a writer, my job is in my brain, and the condition
of my body doesn't really matter that much. I can leave the job
behind when I turn off this computer. I can pig out. I can get three
hours of sleep. I can abuse my body. Not so for a dancer.
I have had other
smart people tell me, earnestly, that because dancing is a passion,
that should be enough; its practitioners should not expect decent
is a supposition that since you're a woman, you are supported by
a husband, or will be, so you don't need decent pay.
I have one more
question to add to the list in Flash APAP, one that unfortunately,
we must still ask in January 2000: When will it stop? When will
society stop using the fact that dance is an art to excuse the indecent
level of compensation? When will it stop using the fact that dance
artists are doing something they love as an excuse to not pay them
a salary they can live on?
I had one more
epiphany when dating my friend. Even as a senior dancer with a major,
busy modern company, she made less in one year than a high-priced
baseball pitcher makes for one inning of play.
happening here, and it's gotta change.
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