The past few years have brought about tremendous change for the world of dance. I’d like to think it’s due in part to the ferocity and impatience of our generation, (fine, the “millennials”) who will no longer settle for dance being a silent art. We will not accept the normalization of an environment that enables submissiveness, or the fear created by feeling expendable. I’m grateful to witness and participate in a cultural movement that has been a long (long) time coming.
Of course, not all change has been self-motivated. A shift in the previous generation of dance legends has left our generation with gigantic shoes to fill. January brought about the “retirement” of Peter Martins, leaving an interim team of four young former and current dancers in his place. The death of Arthur Mitchell rocked the dance world, the void of his absence only comparable in size to the legacy he left behind. Donald McKayle, another icon to shatter the racial barriers of American dance, passed in April. Paul Taylor’s death marked the end of an era for the pioneers of modern dance. Peter Frame, beloved artist, teacher and mentor, left the stage and studios of Lincoln Center more kind and compassionate than he found them. All men and, excluding Mr. Martins, all were figures who were unsatisfied with the dance world as they found it and worked tirelessly to change it. Now it’s on us to continue where they left off, moving forward in the spirit of equality and rebellion.
Several dance companies underwent their AGMA union negotiations this year, and upon being asked to make many concessions, reacted with proactivity and strength. Boston Ballet, Alvin Ailey and American Ballet Theatre all made headlines for their refusal to accept subpar benefits. They found their voices through unity, and exposed the conditions and economics of company life that the public eye is rarely privy to. With the support of the union and their colleagues, they were able to negotiate terms commensurate with their hard work and dedication. Although I’m biased, dancers are some of the most diligent, self-sacrificing, under-paid people I’ve ever met. They often compromise on compensation for the sake of their art, and to see major companies demand better conditions is incredibly inspiring.
As the #metoo movement continues to penetrate Hollywood and politics, it seems only fitting to point(e) at other institutions that foster harassment and sexism in the workplace. Ballet, I’m looking at you and your long history of misogyny. The lawsuits circulating around New York City Ballet hopefully send the #metoo movement in ballet into full swing. While I disappointedly can’t say I was surprised to read about such demeaning activities happening within a ballet company, I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of attention and quick action that occurred in response. Whatever the result of the allegations, may Ms. Waterbury’s bravery, as well as the other former/current dancers of the school and company, be an inspiration to those who have been victims of harassment and abuse. It’s not easy to speak out against co-workers, superiors or employers, especially when losing your job, tarnishing your reputation and not being taken seriously, are far too typical consequences of doing so. I would like to think that ballet companies can become a place where women don’t feel objectified or men don’t feel the need to degrade them in order to prove their masculinity.
In the spirit of rebellion, let us continue to force the dance world to adapt to modern times with equity, equality, diversity, comparable benefits, respect and morality….my pointe exactly.