Sexism in Ballet: Dance Data Project Report is En Pointe

A newly published Dance Data Project (DDP) “Season Overview” report indicates that men choreographed 72 percent of works produced by the United States’ top 50 ballet companies during the 2019-20 season. While the gender disparity is significant; the figure represents an improvement over 2018-19 when 81 percent of works were choreographed by men. Nevertheless, as the report indicates, ballet equity has a long way to go.

Tamara Rojo as Frida in “Broken Wings” by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa. Photo by Laurent Liotardo.

“The entire DDP team is inspired by the rising number of commissioned women’s works,” said Liza Yntema, DDP Founder and President. “Yet, inequity is still present in some of the most notable categories of performance. Works choreographed by men continue to overwhelmingly populate the main stage, while women’s works are often relegated to special programs and sandwiched into male-dominated mixed bills.” Yntema also worries that women’s gains will be lost if company directors perceive that hiring more men represents a “safe choice” in a turbulent economy. Such thinking will make it more difficult to attract the new audiences that are critical to ballet’s survival.

Details of Ballet Equity

Other highlights of the 40-page report include:

• 62% of programs in the 2019-2020 seasons featured work choreographed exclusively by men.
• 55% of world premieres in the 2019-2020 seasons are choreographed by men.
• 83% of full-length world premieres in the 2019-2020 seasons are choreographed by men.
• 53% of mixed bill world premieres in the 2019-2020 seasons are choreographed by men.
• 60% of main stage and 48% of non-main stage world premieres in the 2019- 2020 seasons are choreographed by men.

The list of ballet companies surveyed represents the U.S.’s 50 largest by operating expenses, and the report examined the gender composition of each company’s productions. DDP researchers obtained information from ballet organization websites and press releases, as well as surveys. In June 2020, DDP’s Director of Research contacted each ballet company to verify the numbers.

The DDP’s most recent report and its database of over 2,300 records of choreographic works, enables companies—as well as their sponsors, employees, audience members and anyone interested in ballet and gender equity—to move past anecdotes and impressions and obtain a detailed understanding of the gender composition of leadership in the ballet world.

Choreographer Claudia Schreier in rehearsal with dancers of Joffrey Ballet. Courtesy of Joffrey Ballet. (Photo by Todd Rosenberg)

Related: Helping Women Dancers Take the Lead in Choreography

Related: Own Your Power: Elizabeth Yntema on Gender Equality in Dance

DDP’s Expanding Advocacy for Ballet Equity

The DDP’s analysis and advocacy goes beyond looking at the ratio of female to male choreographers; it is currently expanding its database to include “records of ballet festival repertoires and leadership, choreographic fellowships, ballet competitions, summer intensives, musical compositions that accompany dance works, production staff, boards of directors, and initiatives by companies to promote an equitable environment.” Ultimately, the data is supposed to drive change, and coupled with DDP’s “Listening Tour,” will enable the organization to “highlight companies and initiatives that are making concrete gains in promoting female choreographers and women in leadership positions,” and “design programming specifically tailored to the needs of up-and-coming female talent in ballet.”

The DDP’s aim as an organization includes promoting women-led companies, festivals, competitions, venues, special programs and initiatives. In addition to choreographers, the DDP highlights photographers, lighting, costume, set designers, and commissioned composers. As part of its programming, the DDP produces the interview series “Global Conversations – Navigating Challenging Times,” which is available on Instagram TV, YouTube, and DDP’s website and features ballet’s top professionals on leading in times of crisis.

DDP was established in 2015 by Elizabeth Yntema as a database; it is now a 501(c)(3) nonprofit whose goal is to raise awareness around gender equality in ballet, particularly in leadership and choreographic opportunities. DDP produces reports and engages in advocacy and programming.

Liza Yntema’s Feminist Giving Featured in Sheridan Road

The DDP accepts donations from individuals, partnerships, foundations, government agencies and other entities in furtherance of its mission. The DDP is also seeking research help and guest blog writers, and is also asking individuals and organizations in the ballet world to submit information about how their companies, initiatives, and programs promote female leadership in classical dance.

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Author: Tim Lehnert

Tim Lehnert is a writer and editor who lives in Cranston, Rhode Island. His articles and essays have appeared in the Boston Globe, the Providence Journal, Rhode Island Monthly, the Boston Herald, the Christian Science Monitor, and elsewhere. He is the author of the book Rhode Island 101, and has published short fiction for kids and adults in a number of literary journals and magazines. He received an M.A. in Political Science from McGill University, and an M.A. in English from California State University, Northridge.

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