Female choreographing on male dancers

Dance (and the arts) are one of the few professions left that are allowed to advertise for ‘male’ or ‘female’ dancers. Yes, this is very sexist, and no other profession would ever be allowed to advertise for say a ‘female receptionist’ however arguably if you need a man for a certain piece that is maybe (arguably) what you need.

I am working for an Inclusive company, Epic Arts, looking at people’s ability not disability. I have been thinking over the last week about Inclusive dance in the UK; dance that concentrates on being inclusive, open to disabled and non-disabled people, however none (I don’t think) would actively advertise for a ‘disabled dancer’, so why, if we are so inclusive, can we still advertise for ‘male dancer’? And how come we are still having dance classes for boys?

Currently in the UK, there a significant number of male choreographers hitting the big time (Matthew Bourne, Akram Khan, Wayne McGregor, Liam Scarlett, Christopher Wheeldon to name but a few). I mean dance has such influential female choreographers, take Martha Graham or Pina Bausch for example, however at the moment, it really could be argued that the UK choreography scene is male dominated.
I found this article pretty useful in this discussion. http://www.theguardian.com/stage/2013/apr/28/women-choreographers-glass-ceiling

As dancers, we would also argue that there are far more female dancers than male dancers, especially in contemporary or ballet. And whenever I have worked before, this has been extremely apparent. The last piece I choreographed was on 4 women (not specifically because of their sex; had the men I wanted to work with been available this would not have been case – I did know of more female dancers to ask availability of), and the last school I was teaching in in Scotland there were 32 girls and 2 boys between the two dance classes. However starting to choreograph at my new job at Epic Arts, here I am, with 7 glorious male dancers in front of me.

There is one girl in the dance company, Epic Encounters, however she was off last week. Which left me, a female choreographer, choreographing on 7 men. They ranged from (roughly) 22-31 years old.

I have attended plenty workshops before discussing dance for boys (and you can almost see why when looking at how few boys were attending the last dance classes I was teaching). These looked at how do we approach these classes, keep them/get them engaged and what do they like? Sure, a 7 year old boy may possibly take a lot to stay engaged in a dance class, however so could a 7 year girl.

encounters epic

When beginning to choreograph last week my experience of these training days (whether through lectures at uni or professional development) started creeping into my head. And then I decided to throw what I learnt from these away. How would I teach a dance class to a professional company, and how would I choreograph with them? This was the question, and whatever sex was attending, the answer would always be specific to the participants based on their dance needs and on nothing else.

Yeah I had to think about what do 7 men look like on stage together and what does this say to the audience? But it wasn’t what to 7 men look like to an audience, it was how do these 7 individuals look to an audience. With their smooth, explosive movements and hints of delicate ones, you cannot help but be absorbed by this group, and this was not because of their sex, or because of any disabilities (oh yeah did I mention most of them are deaf?), but because of this dance quality that they posses.

I wanted them to feel proud of themselves and also of Cambodia, as I for one, have fallen in love with this country. I started to research Cambodian music; certainly a task in itself and after 7 hours trawling through youtube I found this beauty.

Reading the comments beneath it I could see that this was a song sung by mothers to their children; it was a song for the female, and not for the male. But it was beautiful, and I could see the groups movements working to it so well. So I gave it a try and it worked.

So yeah, maybe it is a contemporary statement, men dancing to a female song and possibly especially in such a place where tradition is so highly valued, or maybe it is just what suits the piece, the company and myself, sexism completely thrown out the window; I will let the audience decide.

I had a really wonderful week working with Epic Encounters and am so, so incredibly excited to be mentoring/choreographing on them all year. They have some pretty exciting adventures coming up and I just cannot believe that my job is to be part of it!

encounters splat - uk tour


Obviously, this could be quite a touchy subject so please feel free to let me know any corrections you feel may be necessary! I did think to write that I am not specialist in sexism, or battle of the sexes, however this is not that, but merely just a bit of reflection on my choreography.

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