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Report shows gender inequality in Australia’s major dance companies

Report shows gender inequality in Australia’s major dance companies
June 8, 2018

A newly released report on the gender make-up of Australia’s dance sector has revealed a significant gender gap in programming and leadership at the major dance companies.

The report, Turning Pointe: Gender Equality in Australian Dance, by La Trobe University Researcher Andrew Westle, shows that while nearly 70% of people working in the sector identify as female, all the artistic directors at Australia’s five big dance companies that receive the bulk of public funding - the Australian Ballet, Queensland Ballet, West Australian Ballet, Bangarra Dance Theatre and Sydney Dance Company - are men.

The report also showed that between 2011 and 2017, women choreographed only 13% of full-length works and 24% of shorter works. Only 26% of Australian premieres were from women.

However, the report advised that in the small-to-medium sector, which is significantly underfunded and under-resourced compared to the bigger companies, women are faring far better. Overall, in this part of the sector, women choreographed 59% of works.

Introducing the report, its Execuitve Summary states “gender equality in creative leadership has recently and importantly been placed on the agenda in film, music, dance, theatre and visual arts. “Both locally and internationally, gender imbalances have been a source of concern. In dance these conversations have been had both in Australia and internationally, with a particular gender imbalance observed on our main stages.”

The project was instigated after conversations with a number of choreographers while making Westle’s Delving into Dance podcast, with the choreographers were concerned at what they were observing in Australia, and by the little action on equality.

The report makes the following recommendations:

• Bringing in quotas as a funding requirement
• Increasing support for child care
• Increasing mentoring, particularly around the skills required to be an artistic director getting audiences to become advocates for equality.

The quota idea is based on the model introduced by Screen NSW in response to a 2015 report on gender balance in the film industry. Within a year of Screen NSW introducing these measures, significantly more grant applications had women as key creatives.

Westle conducted interviews with 23 men and women working in the sector, as a result of which he advised “some of the issues people talked about were more unique to dance, such as men being given increased support and attention to improve lower participation numbers.

“Others reflected iniquities in wider society, such as the challenges of balancing childcare responsibility alongside a career - particularly a career that involves travel, evening performances and odd hours.

“In the small-to-medium and independent dance sectors, these barriers to participation are linked directly to income. Women reported that they are spending their whole contract fee on child care. Here, the major companies are ahead of the curve, with some offering well resourced and supported maternity leave structures.

“Nevertheless, the disparity in support across the whole of the sector is concerning. Interviewees offered examples where companies blatantly contravened Australian legislation. Yet women felt powerless to act, as they feared they would not get a second opportunity to choreograph, direct, or perform.”

Previously, statistical data about gender equality in Australian dance has not been collated across the sector. This report uses data sourced primarily from Major Performing Arts (MPA) dance companies and multi-year Australia Council-funded companies, as well as information from interviews with 23 individuals. This data presented will be significant for future benchmarking.

Click here to view the Turning Pointe report.

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