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Three Questions:


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1. It is my impression that more women and girls are interested in ballet than men or boys, but I realize that may be my stereotyping. Are more women and girls interested in ballet than men or boys?

2. It is my impression that there are more female ballet dancers than male ballet dancers and maybe more female dancers in general than male dancers. Is that correct?

3. It is my impression that men dominate in regard to choreographers, instructors, producers of shows in ballet as compared to women. Is that correct?

Tom,

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1. It's not a stereotype. In the United States, surveys conducted by the National Endowment for the Arts consistently show that the number of women attending ballet exceeds the number of men attending ballet (64% vs. 36%). But this is true for all performing arts forms, including jazz, which has the proportionally largest male audience (53.4% vs. 46.6%).

2. Yes, because ballets typically require a larger women's corps than a men's corps. An exception would be the Béjart Ballet Lausanne, which has more male than female dancers, currently 17 women and 22 men.

3. Yes, in the case of choreographers and artistic directors, and this is the subject of much hand-wringing. It's ironic since so many of the ballet companies established in the 20th century were founded by women, and in the early days of the companies' existence, these women often acted as chief choreographers as well as directors. It certainly isn't true among instructors at the school level, and I wouldn't expect it to be true among teachers at the company level either. The Bolshoi, for example, has an equal number of female and male teachers and repetiteurs.

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Volcanohunter, thank you very much for this information, particularly the surveys by the National Endowment for the Arts. Also, the explanations about the dancers and the ballet companies established in the 20th century.

Tom,

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Volcanohunter, you wrote that "these women often acted as chief choreographers as well as directors." Could you or anyone else give me names of such female choreographer and directors, particularly if they did much of their work with male dancers? Would Martha Graham be an example? I am interested in the idea of switched gender roles with the female choreographer and directors being in charge and the male dancers, particularly young dancers providing the visual beauty.

Tom,

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In those days male dancers would have been at a premium, so I imagine they would have done most of their choreography on women almost by default. Some of these directors, such as Sonia Gaskell at the Dutch National Ballet and Peggy van Praagh at the Australian Ballet, were primarily involved in staging classic ballets, which are decidedly female-centered. Others, such as Ninette de Valois at the Vic-Wells/Sadler's Wells/Royal Ballet and Celia Franca at the National Ballet of Canada, choreographed their own ballets in addition to staging the classics. Birgit Cullberg's company was built around her choreography, although today its focus is entirely different.

It's different at the big ballet academies, where boys' classes are taught by men, but remember that at most dance studios you're not likely to find many male teachers, so the boys who get their first exposure to dance at a local ballet school are, in a sense, used to "taking orders" from women, and it probably doesn't seem strange to them since the vast majority of teachers at elementary and middle schools are also women (about 80%). Even at the secondary-school level male teachers are a slight minority.

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Thank you volcanohunter. As I understand it the women you mentioned would have been in charge of the total ballet so would have dealt with both male and female dancers. Is that correct? Also who would you consider to have lived the most interesting life? I am sorry to bother you so much and appreciate you responses. These questions may sound strange to you, but I am trying to come up with an idea for a story, not that I would write it.

Tom,

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Yes, artistic directors are in charge of the whole shebang: repertoire, dancers, coaches, production and technical departments, sometimes the feeder school, and while they don't conduct the orchestra, they are ultimately in control of the music department as well. I couldn't venture to say whose life was most interesting, but certainly Sonia Gaskell's was very dramatic. For longevity and sheer scope of accomplishment, Ninette de Valois is hard to top. Reading about the early, shoe-string days of all these companies is fascinating, regardless of whether the founder was a woman or a man.

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Ruth Page perhaps should be added to the list of choreographer/directors. If we include non-ballet but still western theatrical dance, then Doris Humphrey serving as artistic director/choregrapher for the Jose Limon company might be worth considering as arguably the biggest talent performing would have been Jose. It may not quite fit your search as Humphrey was also a stellar dancer (though perhaps she was not dancing by then?) and Limon was a masterful choreographer.... but...

Do Tharp's works do more to showcase male talent? I am not sure I could go that far... Almost, but maybe not.

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Volcanohunter, I looked into the life of Sonia Gaskell and her live was very dramatic, being Jewish and living and working in Nazi occupied Netherlands. I also learned that Audrey Hepburn studied ballet under her. As I'm interested in the beginning of things I would like to read about the "early, shoe-strings days" of ballet companies.

Amy, thank you for your suggestions also. I have become more and more interested in the lives of women. Your suggests are all women who I have not heard of before so that will be interesting.

Tom,

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Just want to add two names to the list: Agnes de Mille, mid-20th-century ballet (and Broadway) choreographer and Lucia Chase, an early director of American Ballet Theatre (not quite the founder because their history is complicated but certainly the person who made it into a big company and kept it afloat for the first decades of its existence).

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A bit of history -- before World War II (as best as I can find) more men were interested in the ballet. Anecdote: my aunt, born in 1902 who did not like ballet, saw lots of Ballets Russes performances, because, as she put it, "That was the only way I could get a date." I've read articles that make the supposition that men were attracted to ballet back then because the female dancers wore much scantier clothing than the women they knew, and there was also, in some companies, an active backstage life (i.e., theaters were a great place to find the date).

Of course, then as now, there are men who genuinely love ballet for much more noble reasons!

Also, from the beginnings of ballet until the early 19th century, the male dancer was more important -- The Star, the director, the choreographer -- than women. The Romantic Era changed that. In the 18th century, there were men in the corps de ballet (and choreography for male corps) as well as for women, usually for battle scenes.

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Here is the name of another female founder of a national ballet company, Marie Rambert, who established her own company which is still going strong. She was a Polish woman who started out as a follower of Isadora Duncan and ended up running a classical ballet company, She left Poland to study medicine in Paris where she gave Duncan inspired dance recitals. She then went to study eurythmics with Dalcroze which led Diaghilev to hire her to assist Nijinsky in staging the Rite of Spring by analysing the score and providing the dancers with counts. A woman of wide culture who spoke five or sx languages, her time with the Diaghilev company fired her interest in classical ballet. In England she was actively involved in the development of ballet in the post Diaghilev era. Her main claim to fame, apart from founding a company, was as the discoverer and nurturer of choreographic talent. She discovered Frederick Ashton, Antony Tudor, Frank Staff, Walter Gore, and others. Antony Tudor made many of his greatest works for her company. If you are interested in finding out more about her there is a biography "Quick Silver".

Then there is Mona Ingoldsby who founded a short lived ballet company and worked with Nicholai Sergeyev in mounting the classics and a choreographer called Andree Howard. Howard made a lot of ballets but I believe that many of them were lost at an early stage because they were made for short lived ballet companies. The only one of her ballets that has a toehold in the repertory is La Fete Etrange (1940) which is based on an episode from the novel The Grande Meaulnes. An effective atmospheric ballet which I first saw danced successfully by Sadler's Wells Royal Ballet it was revived at Covent Garden during Mason's directorship where a combination of damage to the back cloth which was remedied murkily lit stage and some very odd casting decisions did nothing to enhance the reputation of Howard or her work. Another of her works Lady into Fox was reworked/ "reimagined" by the Rambert company a few years ago which did nothing for its creator's reputation as there was no attempt to recover and reconstruct the original.

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Alexandra and Ashton Fan, first I apologize for not replying to your kind comments earlier.

Your "bit of history" is interesting Alexandra. As to your point about "scantier clothing" I wrote in the topic "Thoughts regarding dancewear" (Aesthetic Issues board) that the word "tutu" came from the French juvenile term "cucu" which refers to a person's bottom. This seems to support your point.

There are many reasons way I enjoy ballet - the music, the costumes, the colors, the intense and athletic dancing, the emotions expressed by the dancer's face and body among others. But, I also enjoy looking at the human form, both fully dressed and less dressed and also naked. So, "much scantier clothing" is an attraction to me. I've read that the change during the Romantic Era from the emphasis on male dancers to female dancers had something to do with the overthrow of the nobility during the French Revolution. I also see a drastic change in clothing styles, particularly that of men, during the late 18th and early 19th century which may also be due to that revolution. Men's clothing became boring especially after the 1820s.

Ashton Fan, thank you for your information on Marie Rambert and Mona Ingoldsby. I am interested in cases where men are presented as visually attractive (beautiful) or the visual center of attention, which I see being the case many times in ballet, but also where women's lives are presented as being important and making a difference in ways other than being visually attractive i.e. using their brains. A scenario where a women or women, possibly older women, are the owners and choreographers of a ballet company and who work with visually attractive younger male dancers would fit that situation, so I asked this question to see if there were any real life cases of that and I am happy to have received a lot of examples. For the same reason I am also interested in women artists who have depicted the male nude in their work. I have found quite a number of examples of this.

Tom,

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