We've been talking about gender inequalities in dance for a long time now. Most of the conversations we've had and the articles which have been written have focussed on the plight of female choreographers, leading to initiatives such as the Female Choreographers' Collective, founded by Jane Coulston and Holly Noble, Kaleidoscopic Arts, founded by Lucia Schweigert and Konstantina Skalionta, Tamsin Fitzgerald's The Bench and Charlotte Vincent's The Table.
But after all these years of panel debates, panel discussions, conferences, articles and conversations, how have things changed across the independent dance sector for the people working in it? While debates etc are great at stimulating post-debate conversations, in time, the conversations fade away and little changes, however people's frustration at the ongoing situation and at not being heard remains.
So, let's hold an open space event for the independent dance sector to tackle these problems of gender and equality, and put our minds together to come up with solutions and outcomes and actions, and work together to find the changes that we want. Open space is an excellent platform for enabling the participants to propose the topics which they want to discuss, with anyone who shares an interest in that subject, and for focussing our minds on thinking strategically. And because the independent dance sector can't work in isolation, we want people from the other institutions, companies, schools, venues, newspapers, magazines and so forth to be part of this conversation as well.
As the issues of gender and equality affect all of us, I've sought to form partnerships with various artist-led initiatives which work with and support independent artists, so this event is organised in partnership with the Female Choreographers' Collective, Kaleidoscopic Arts, Technique Exchange and Donald Hutera, who has been very vocal about supporting female choreographers and the need for more men ("fembros") to join in the gender debate discussions.
But this isn't just about female choreographers. It's about all of the gender issues and equality and inequality issues which affect us, and the event is for anyone who wants to raise these issues, to talk about them and to do something about them. Here are a few comments by myself and the other event partners on this topic:
Cloud Dance Festival Director, Chantal Guevara, said "'I've deliberately chosen to widen the topic of this event to gender and equality; for so many years, we have focussed almost exclusively on female choreographers in contemporary dance, in ballet and across the board, and by maintaining such a narrow focus, we are at risk of losing sight of any other gender-related issues as well as other matters of equality and inequality. Also, by broadening the topic, we have a greater chance of encouraging more people to attend who have other issues they want to raise and discuss as opposed to specifically focussing on how we can best support female choreographers."
Donald Hutera, dance critic, curator of GOlive and Chelsea Arts Collective and dramaturg, said "There's currently an imbalance in the dance industry regarding opportunities. Bigger slices of the pie are going to fewer people, and the majority of these people are men. It's not right and it's certainly not fair. As an arts writer (for The Times, etc), curator/presenter/dramaturg (of GOlive) and a newly-named 'fembro' (feminist brother - ta, Charlotte Vincent!), I intend to continue to be an active part of a necessary change."
Lucia Schweigert and Konstantina Skalionta of Kaleidoscopic Arts, an artist-led initiative to provide a platform and network for female choreographers, said "The female voice is missing throughout society, media and culture. It's not an isolated phenomenon limited to contemporary dance. We're interested in discussing with colleagues how we can place the issues of contemporary dance within the wider world. We want to create an action plan about programming. Therefore we want to connect with those responsible for programming at dance venues. Why are they not programming women? What's in their way? What prevents them from programming more women? We want to understand that and then we want to create a solution plan."
Kimberley Harvey, artistic director of integrated dance company Subtle Kraft Co, has contributed with "Equality and inclusive shouldn't just be about obligation and 'ticking boxes'. The dance sector needs to fully acknowledge the potential of diversity. Diversity isn't something to fear, it's something to be excited by. There is still so much more space within the dance sector (professional and non-professional) for perceptions to be widened. That does not mean that history or tradition should be discounted, in fact they become MORE important in a way in order for us to know where it all came from originally."
Kitty Fedorec, organiser of Technique Exchange, a London-based artist-led programme to mutually support independent artists' professional development, asked: "'Where are all the female choreographers?' But a more relevant question would be, why do we undervalue all the other ways it is possible to work in and with dance? Practitioners are no longer devided into the binary of dancer/choreographer. How can we work to support the dance artist, the community practitioner, the collaborator, and the multiple other hats we might wear?"
So please come and join us. The event will be held on Sunday 10 January at Clean Break Theatre Company - a theatre company in Kentish Town, London, which works with and supports with women at risk - in Kentish Town, London, from 11am to 5pm. You don't need to stay for the whole day if you don't have the time, and if we can't livestream each of the sessions, we'll be filming each session and posting them online, so that those who cannot attend can still be a part of this event.
And I know that many people are unfamiliar with the concept of open space events, so I've interviewed several open space experts to put together a short promo video for you to watch to hear what open space is, how it works, and why it's so very effective with topics like this; this is the video at the top of this page.
And, whether or not you can attend, in order to get everyone thinking about the topics which matter to them most about gender and inequalities in dance, and the areas where they want or need to see improvement and change, I've set up a survey (yet another survey, sorry) for you to brainstorm away and see which topics other people feel strongly about too. We can't guarantee these topics will be covered if you can't attend, but it will get each of us thinking and growling and that's a very important start! The survey is here: www.cloud-dance-festival.org.uk/response_form/8-gender-debate-event
I hope this has persuaded you to attend, whether in body or spirit: the more voices we have for this event, the more we can achieve as a sector, and so we can offer a better future for everyone working in our industry and joining it.
And if you can't join us on 10 January, we'll share the footage and reports online, and we'll hold a larger event in a few months' time which we hope you can attend instead. Or as well.
Tickets are available from www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/open-space-event-on-gender-inequality-for-the-indepedent-dance-sector-tickets-19569340424, and I hope to see you there. If you can buy a ticket in advance, please do, so that we have an idea of numbers - and also because we need to know how many people to buy snacks and drinks for on the day!
Director, Cloud Dance Festival