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Feminist Success Stories - Célébrons nos réussites féministes

Karen A. Blackford
Marie-Luce Garceau
Sandra Kirby

Part III: Reinventing Ourselves at Any Age — Partie III : Réinventons nos vies

Dancing the Road to Success: Metro Dance and Women

Jane Gordon

Texte intégral

1To most people, dance is a feminine art because women are the majority of performers. However, dance as a performance art has its own gender-based hierarchies. In contrast, the dance group I studied is run largely by and for women and girls, and has been successful and effective in maintaining a structure which is inclusive, non-hierarchical, and appreciative of work done by women, both paid and unpaid. It has sustained these patterns through the twenty-odd years of its existence and through its expansion from a small, informal group of dancers to a large educational and cultural body in its community. It is also a strong and positive environment for the women and girls who work and study there.

2The appeal of dance, particularly ballet, to females is evident in the number of girls who begin dance lessons. The ballerina typifies the grace, fluid movement, and elegant beauty that is, for many, the ideal image of dance. Dance training socializes girls to achieve culturally appropriate feminine traits such as grace, poise, and elegance. Ballerinas and ballet shoes are two gender-specific images commonly seen on jewellery, clothes, and other artifacts targeted at young girls. Popular art such as posters shows leaping ballerinas with commentary on overcoming obstacles and striving for perfection. From Hallowe’en costumes to birthday party paraphernalia, dance is almost always visually female and oriented toward girls.

3Dance education is also almost exclusively undertaken by girls. That is evident in the enrolment at the dance school studied, where over 98 percent of the pupils listed in the program for the 1994 annual production were girls. For parents, dance classes may allow girls the benefits of physical activity without the roughness or danger of sports. Adult women arc more likely to have had exposure to dance as children than did men. The link between youthful exposure and adult participation and interest in cultural expression is a common theme of cultural advocacy groups, whether in dance, music, or theatre. It is also used by sports organizations.

4What is the relationship between these images of dance as a feminized performing art and the reality of dance for women? The answers which are available provide a complex and mixed picture.

5Women are heavily involved in dance in two specific ways. They are the majority of dancers and the majority of the audience for dance performances (Dagg 1986; Frederico 1974; Hanna 1988; Kleeh-Tolley 1986; Ryser 1964; Sutherland 1976). Girls and women are over represented as students in dance classes, no matter what dance specialty. Women also outnumber men in most professional companies. In Canada, women have been heavily involved in the creation of dance companies and professional training schools of dance (Dagg 1986, 106). They have founded, chaired, and staffed most university dance departments. They have likely founded and run many of the small dance schools at which so much non-professional dance education takes place.

6Comparisons of men and women professional dancers show marked differences. Statistics Canada’s 1991 census reports 1555 individuals in the occupational category that combined dancers and choreographers, slightly down from 1986 figures. Of these, 285 worked full-time all year round. The mean income for dancers and choreographers with full-time work was $32,489. There were 65 fulltime males with an average income of $34,954 and 225 women with an annual income of $31,805 (Statistics Canada 1993, 14-15). In Nova Scotia, the home province of Metro Dance, the 1991 census enumerated only 10 individuals classified as professional dancers or choreographers, down from thel986 census (Statistics Canada 1993, 70).

7Women dancers do well in comparison to other performing artists, receiving half of the individual Canada Council grants: “Dance is the only discipline in the arts in which women fare financially as well as men and in which more women than men are able to find work” (Dagg 1986, 109). Women dominate ballet more than other forms of dance (Dagg 1986; Hanna 1988). However, dance has a gender-related prestige hierarchy. As Hanna says:

Like theatre and symphony, dance is to some degree occupationally differentiated and sex segregated separating the performers, choreographers/composers, and directors/managers — the nondancing positions being more powerful and male-dominant. Women have less mobility across these career segments than men (Hanna 1988, 121).

8In addition, while dance is the most feminized of the art forms, it is also the poorest paid, not unlike other female-dominated occupations. Funding of the Arts in Canada (1986) uses census data to provide a comparison of dancers with other artists in Canada.

Table 1 — Artists and Income

Average Income

% Average Income

Total labour force income





Painters, sculptors, vis.









(Funding of the Arts in Canada 1986, 46)

Metro Dance: An Introduction

9This research was done at a community-based dance group in an urban area in eastern Canada. I have been involved with Metro Dance for over ten years, as a parent, a participant in classes, a volunteer, and a researcher. The data used in this paper comes from a survey I conducted jointly with Metro Dance, supplemented with interviews of key informants, content analysis of written material, and participant observation. Metro Dance has used the findings in public relations and corporate fundraising. Findings and analysis have been shared with members of the Metro Dance staff.

10Metro Dance was founded as a dance cooperative over 20 years ago. It has maintained a three-fold commitment to dance: recreational dance programs for children, pre-professional dance training for young people, and dance training and opportunities for adults. More recently, its activities have expanded to include sponsorship of a repertory company of advanced-level dancers.

11Metro Dance is the largest institution for dance education in its region. It makes a substantial contribution to the cultural life of the region as well as an economic contribution to its home community. Over the years, the number of students enrolled has multiplied, and the number and variety of classes of dance disciplines have increased. Programs run virtually year round and regular offerings are enriched by special summer programs with guest teachers.

Successful Feminizing

12The definition of success at feminizing institutions used in this paper is my own, developed from my work at Metro Dance, but it is applicable elsewhere. I measure success through multiple criteria which include organizational culture, organizational constituency, support for women’s culture, and work, whether paid or unpaid. These will emerge from the description of the organization and its operations. The group I studied does not define itself as a feminist group. It does, however, act in and through ways which reflect feminist-and women-centred values.

The Culture of Metro Dance

13Metro Dance began as an informal cooperative among area dancers, some affiliated with a local university. Many had studied and danced in urban centres in North America and Europe. The original objectives were to provide dancers with an opportunity to perform, expand opportunities for professional dance training, and support a professional company in the province. The development of dance education was soon added.

14The first collective activities were workshops, which provided an opportunity for networking, dance training, and professional development. This led to the formation of a dance company in the late 1970s. During its two years of existence, it developed an extensive repertoire, performed in various locales in its home province, and danced in both Toronto and Montreal. It was supported by national and provincial arts funding agencies and the private sector. The original dance company folded for other reasons, but its existence had demonstrated the viability of local and national support and audience interest.

15In turning its concentration to dance education, Metro Dance intended to create a core of professionally skilled but locally trained dancers who could sustain a regional dance company. Early experience confirmed there were area students with the ability and commitment to dance who could be taught to an appropriate level. Education was not just for potential professionals; it also consisted of recreational opportunities for interested youngsters, teens, and adults, and has created a local audience for professional performers.

16Women were the majority of the founders of Metro Dance. They did not necessarily define themselves as feminists; however, instinctively, they operated in ways identified as feminist. They were committed to collaborative work and consensus in decision-making. Membership was open and decisions were made by all members.

17A permanent organization emerged for practical reasons connected with obtaining studio space. Originally, events took place in donated space and were planned around its availability. These arrangements became increasingly difficult as the number and regularity of activities increased. The dancers wanted their own quarters. However, incorporation under provincial legislation was necessary to undertake the financial and legal responsibilities of acquiring space.

18The co-op became the formal organization known as Metro Dance; its goal was to sustain the original objectives and operating styles. A managerial board of volunteers was created for formal governance and Metro Dance became an employer. By the early 1980s, it employed two management staff, one for administration and one for artistic direction, along with a teaching staff. Their responsibilities included charting direction, developing instructional programs, financial planning, and melding an ad hoc group of individuals into a viable and stable organization.

19As Metro Dance grew, most of those involved continued to be women. Decision-making continued to involve consultation and consensus, even as the number of individuals and the extent of activities increased. One characteristic of the organization since its founding has been a strong volunteer component. From the members of the Board on down, use and appreciation of volunteers was a fundamental theme of the organizers. Metro Dance continues as a member based cooperative, run with a combination of volunteer directors and paid staff. However, the hierarchy that these terms might suggest does not exist. The organization and its members are flexible.

20The administrative responsibility for Metro Dance lies in a Board of Directors, which operates through a series of task-oriented committees and meetings of the whole. Each of the Board and its committees meet approximately once a month. An annual meeting, open to all members, elects new Board members, receives committee reports, and accepts a budget. The day-to-day business of Metro Dance is managed by an executive director, who is the chief administrator of the organization. There is frequent interaction between the executive director and the President, who is also Chair of the Board.

21The staff at Metro Dance is divided into two groups by function. The administrative staff includes the Executive Director, the Registrar, the Volunteer Coordinator, the Office Manager, an Administrative Assistant, and a newly appointed Public Relations and Development Coordinator. Teachers and teaching support staff form the artistic staff, who have primary responsibility for the instructional and performance dimensions of Metro Dance. Regular teachers have on-going responsibility for some aspect of the program. The core or regular staff is augmented by others, paid on an hourly basis, who teach additional classes or fill in.

22Regular and frequent staff meetings deal with business. There are joint staff meetings for all, and separate ones for administrative and artistic staff. The organization is small, and the full complement of appropriate staff participates in relevant business. For example, hiring members of artistic staff involves all core teachers and the Executive Director. The entire administrative staff participated when a new administrative assistant was required. Board or committee members are also involved.

23Divisions are by major dance discipline (ballet, jazz, modern, and theatre) and program (pre-professional program, company of advanced students). Teachers work collaboratively on scheduling, curriculum, pedagogy, and hiring. This collaborative thrust also includes accompanists who support various dance disciplines.

24Women comprise the majority of the paid employees of Metro Dance. The regular Executive Director, a woman, is currently on leave and her position is being filled by a male term replacement. All the other members of the administrative staff are women except the office manager. At present, all teachers, except one, both core and non-core, are women; the male instructor and a woman partner teach ballroom and Latin dance. Guest teachers, often male, are brought in for summer courses to strengthen and complement areas of dance expertise at Metro Dance. Four of the six accompanists are men. Although individuals have specific jobs, boundaries are fluid and adaptability is essential.

25The current Board consists of six men and seven women. The President is male; the past-president and two vice-presidents female. Over the last decade, the gender composition of the Board has shifted from being overwhelmingly female to a more equal gender distribution. The Executive Director has commented that masculinization of the Board happened as a result of the search for individuals with influential connections to corporations and government. This was necessary as Metro Dance worked to raise money to replace declining arts grants. Men with a Metro Dance connection and political or corporate ties were invited to join the Board. It has been suggested that the increased presence of men has changed the climate of the Board and its deliberations.

26Over the years, there has also been an increase in the involvement of commercial enterprises, through the donation of either gifts or services, and these are acknowledged as “volunteer donations.” These are more visible as sponsorships of special events than in the daily routines at Metro Dance. However, the impending relocation of Metro Dance studios will require additional fundraising and may shift the balance between the grassroots orientation (much volunteer labour power, many people, modest expenditures of time and resources) of previous efforts and more professionalized fundraising. Like other arts groups, Metro Dance must move beyond government funding and small-scale fundraising into the world of corporate sponsorship. The presence of a growing number of men on the Board and corporate sponsorship have not yet had a visible effect on the social relationships within Metro Dance.

27Metro Dance is primarily about its students. Children begin in recreational programs, continue there, or move into the pre-professional program known as the ITP (intensive training program). They then may become performers and join the local company, or even become teachers. Adults join for dance or fitness classes and may participate for equally long periods.

28Students of all ages consider themselves as part of Metro Dance. This is evident in social relationships and use of space. In particular, ITP teenagers dance four or five days a week and use the studios to suit their needs. School homework is done in the hallways, the change rooms, the reception area, and, occasionally, on the stairs leading up to the school. Girls giggle, snack, study, and stretch in the regulation outfits of different dance mediums, wearing sweatshirts, tee shirts, leg-warmers, and other individual touches. They treat Metro Dance space as theirs, indicating ownership and territoriality rights.

29The relationship between dance students, particularly those in ITP, and the office staff and teachers is casual and relaxed. Everyone is on a first name basis, and the office staff know the students. Adults mentor, support, and encourage youngsters, and provide joking and practical comments on everyday ups and downs. There is a strong but intangible sense of community among Metro Dance participants, particularly ITP students. Although the atmosphere is informal, there are clear boundaries between students and teachers. Teachers are not guardians and protect their own privacy and space. The teachers’ rooms at Metro Dance are off limits to all students, and socializing is restricted to events like the parties which follow productions. Adults may establish personal relationships with teachers, but on a one-to-one basis only.

30The presence of boundaries, however, does not indicate hierarchies. Teachers, students, and volunteers all work cooperatively on Metro Dance events and activities. Neither age nor status defines who can perform tasks, only skills and effort. Staff also show respect for the outside responsibilities of adult students.

31A fourth category of individuals involved with Metro Dance includes its volunteers, welcomed as part of the Metro Dance community. They are recognized and acknowledged regularly and appear both comfortable with the informal social relationships at Metro Dance and at home in its physical space. Volunteers frequently have a long, if episodic, relationship with Metro Dance, during which time they may have occupied roles at Metro Dance as volunteers, parents dance or fitness-class students, and audience members.

32The intention of Metro Dance was to create an opportunity for those committed to dance to have an opportunity to participate. In this, it has been successful. Metro Dance has continued to be run in an open, inclusive, and participatory manner while growing in size and formalizing its organizational structure. Its commitment to consensus and cooperation is evident in its internal activities and external relationships. As well, it continues to be run largely by women.

The People of Metro Dance

33Although Metro Dance was originally founded by and for adult dancers, most of those who now participate in its activities are youngsters; most of its students have not yet completed high school. There are also classes for adults. Metro Dance sees itself as a launching ground for young dancers, not as a permanent home.

34The majority of those who participate in Metro Dances dance classes and programs are women who vary from youngsters of 4 who begin in Creative Movement classes, to adults, some in their 40s and 50s who are the backbone of the fitness classes. This reflects both the overwhelming presence of women in dance and the feminized nature of dance as a performance art.

35This overwhelming female presence can be seen in Metro Dances public performances. There were 532 dancers whose gender was evident from their names in the most recent children’s showcase. Of these, 516 were female (or 97%), and 16 were male (or 3%). The percentages for the ITP were 98.2% female and 1.8% male, and, for the recreational classes, 96.1% female and 3.9% male.

36The number of boys is greatest at the lower levels, although there were no more than two boys in any one class at the last annual children’s showcase. In the teen classes, there are no males. Men participate in adult dance and fitness classes, although they are still a small minority except in the ballroom-dance class. The program for the April 1994 adult jazz presentation lists 44 women, 14 men, and 3 individuals whose names are not identifiably male or female. Of the 58 adults identifiable by gender, 76% are women and 24% men. The percentage of male adult participants is higher than that of male children, but is still considerably lower than that of adult women.

37There is a consistent effort to make the environment a positive one for the girls and women who study at Metro Dance. All staff members, especially teachers, are concerned with the whole development of students. Individuals are not held to a single standard of achievement. This is evident in the handling of three specific areas: body size and image, future dance orientation, and self-esteem.

38The popular physical image of the female dancer is of a slender, almost emaciated body. Grace and agility are most essential attributes. Gelsey Kirkland, among others, comments about her constant struggle to stay within the weight limits required for her dance career.

39Although the majority of Metro Dance teachers are slender, not all are. Students see variation in build, weight, and height among their teachers. Nor do teachers try to camouflage pregnancy. In recent years, there have been four children born to three different core staff teachers, and another is currently pregnant. Pregnancy and its physical effects have been visible to and shared with dance students.

40In addition to what they see in their teachers, Metro Dance students in the ITP also see variations in body type among their fellow pupils. Teachers monitor the health and growth of ITP youngsters over the years and discuss any concerns at teachers’ meetings and in conferences with students.

41Survey comments from the ITP parents reflect children’s positive experiences in matters related to physical appearance and/or health. Only 3 of 54 responses were concerned about matters of body type, health, or illness. Two were somewhat critical of Metro Dance. One of these perceived passivity on weight matters, saying that the association needed to be more candid and responsive to peer pressure among girls. Another was particularly disturbed about her daughters experiences with body stereotypes. A third parent praised the association for its understanding of children’s illnesses.

42Just as Metro Dance teachers do not demand conformity to one body type, they also recognize different capabilities for dance. Although the ITP is defined as a pre-professional dance program, both teachers and students know that not many students will be dancers. Teachers provide positive and realistic feedback and advice to students through term reports and a year-end conference with ITP pupils and parents. These conferences praise achievement and discuss commitment and objectives for the future. Students are encouraged to think realistically about their own abilities and interests. Students are encouraged to develop and follow interests, both inside and outside of dance. ITP pupils who leave the program for recreational courses continue to be welcomed by their peers and teachers.

43ITP youngsters learn early that they will not all succeed as dancers. They have friends who have not been successful in entering the program. Annual auditions for The Nutcracker and the performance company result in disappointment for many. Teachers are careful not to use success in competitive auditions as the main evaluations of students. Girls are encouraged in their strengths. Creativity, originality, effort, perseverance, and leadership skills are praised. Students are encouraged to feel proud of their achievements. Teachers regularly tell about some of their own dance-related disappointments to help students understand performance work.

44The non-teaching staff share the teachers’ commitment to developing the entire student. Talents and activities of dance students are evident in the posted excuses for absences: rehearsals for school drama and music activities, sports competitions, school trips, family trips, band trips, music festivals, babysitting or other jobs, and projects or school work. ITP youngsters see themselves as having a variety of interests. Four-fifths chose “putting time and energy outside of school on dance, but with other interests” as a self-description.

45Although teachers avoid competition between pupils, it is a part of the culture. Not everyone succeeds at auditions. Grades on ballet exams are compared. Some girls drop out of the ITP program. Competition is present in other aspects of their lives for all youngsters, who handle it in their school and social lives as well as in dance. At Metro Dance, young women find individual encouragement, sensitivity, and support from their teachers. In this dimension of their lives, they experience positive messages, if not always success.

  • 1 The survey questionnaire varied somewhat from group to group and was directed to students in the I (...)

46Parents of ITP students see multiple benefits of participation in Metro Dance programs since Metro Dance is the context in which desirable adult qualities are learned. The benefits described by 54 parents (out of a possible 103) who responded to the questionnaire are described in the table below1:

Table 2 — Benefits of Dance Training



% Parents

Good healthy physical exercise



Disciplined work toward goal



Acquire grace, poise



Encourages maturity, responsibility



Productively occupied



Self-confidence, self-esteem



Good health through fitness






Performance opportunities



Pre-professional training, skills



Mastery of a body of work



Organization, time management






47Parents rank pre-professional dance training low. The survey data indicates that parents of ITP students are ambivalent about “a career” in dance for their daughters. Just over half said they would encourage a child to have a dance career if interested. Over ninety percent anticipated that their child would attend university immediately following high-school graduation. They support a child in dance training emotionally and financially as well as through their own time commitment for other benefits. Parents also report sacrificing other aspects of family life to the dance commitment of one child.

48The ITP students themselves (85 respondents out of 103) see their experiences as valuable, regardless of vocational objectives. They ranked their most important reasons for participating in the ITP as follows:

Table 3 — Most Important Reason for Dance Training



Number of Respondents

% of Respondents


Part of my life




Form of self-expression




New skills




Chance to perform




Dance career preparation




Personal growth




Like teachers




Friends in program




Dance with others







49The value of dance training extends beyond interest in being a dancer. Less than one-third of the ITP students mentioned a career in dance or choreography as an ambition. They mention careers in other performing arts; a variety of professional jobs, including architecture, the law, and psychology; and non-professional jobs.

50Both dance students and their parents believe that Metro Dance provides a positive and supportive environment. Youngsters learn discipline, self-confidence, time management, and new skills in an environment in which their role models and mentors are women. Students see teachers as models of independent, competent, career women to whom work is an important and defining part of their lives. The relationship between teachers and students allows young women to find mentors in life skills as much as in dance.

Metro Dance as a Community Resource

51Metro Dance is part of a larger dance and cultural community. These ties are important for artistic, creative, and advocacy collaboration. Professional relationships are augmented by personal ties and friendships.

52Wall space at Metro Dance is covered with announcements of upcoming performances by local artists in dance, mime, theatre, and music. The groups featured vary enormously and represent experimental and mainstream performances. Over the years, the majority of local artists whose performances are publicized at Metro Dance have been women. A large proportion of local dance audiences have some connection to Metro Dance.

53Metro Dance often co-sponsors visits by touring groups including prestigious national companies in varied dance mediums. Metro Dance is a focal point for dissemination of information about dance performances as over one hundred interested individuals visit its studios daily. The presence of Metro Dance provides evidence to touring companies of the local interest in dance. Metro Dance also uses visiting companies and tours to augment its program. Studio and rehearsal space is available to visiting dancers, and members of these companies offer workshops and master classes for students and teachers. Lacking the richness of cultural resources in major urban areas, smaller centres particularly value these visitors.

54Metro Dance sustains the local dance community through employment of dancers as teachers, an important resource for many and an asset in terms of exposure. Metro Dance teachers also perform locally and enrich the regional cultural scene, as well as contribute professional skills and expertise to other amateur and professional cultural activities. Metro Dance teachers work with local high-schools in annual productions, including musicals with extensive dance components. They also participate as directors, choreographers, and/or performers in university and professional productions.

55Teachers are active in the provincial dance association where they have taken significant responsibilities to sustain dance, including sharing resources and opportunities for dance education and professional development opportunities for teachers.

56Finally, Metro Dance and other cultural groups work collaboratively on local and national policy issues and funding for the performing arts. Province wide organizations meet regularly for strategy sessions. Metro Dance is actively involved in an advocacy organization for the arts in public discussion as well as lobbying funding bodies and government. Arts coalitions have also sponsored joint fundraising events.

The Volunteer: Organization Resource and Treasure

57One of the distinctive characteristics of Metro Dance is its use of volunteers. This developed for financial reasons and the episodic need for extraordinary amounts of labour power. However, the use of volunteers creates community in a variety of ways.

58Metro Dance has been able to minimize the number of permanent administrative positions required through its use of volunteer labour. Funds are budgeted for a volunteer coordinator who carries responsibility for the recruitment, organization, and acknowledgement of the significant numbers of well-intentioned helpers. The strong volunteer dimension also provides an opportunity for parental involvement. This has increased parents’ knowledge and contact with Metro Dance, allowed parents to support youngsters’ activities, and sustained the commitment of the individual families to dance lessons and Metro Dance. Finally, this involvement of volunteers has brought Metro Dance a continuous stream of energetic, creative, and committed people who have contributed to its positive and broadly based profile.

59Parents of both recreational and ITP students were surveyed about volunteer involvement. Data is skewed toward ITP parents because they have a long-term involvement with Metro Dance. Parent volunteers understand the value of the work they do for Metro Dance, and the mutuality of appreciation of volunteer work sustains participation. Parents of the ITP students repeat themes in describing the reasons they volunteer. These include an understanding of the importance of volunteers to arts and cultural organizations, particularly for fundraising; showing support for their child; enjoyment of the activity; and setting examples of civic or social responsibility.

60Metro Dance is meticulous about its acknowledgement of volunteer labour. Individuals are mentioned by name in the associations newsletters and special events programs on a regular basis. Cards of appreciation are sent out at Christmas. Metro Dance finds innovative ways to recognize volunteer work. For example, volunteers received an invitation to the opening of a new studio, commemorative fridge magnets to celebrate the organizations 20th anniversary, and acknowledgement on a massive “thank you” poster covering a significant portion of the entry staircase.

61Metro Dance regularly makes the work of its volunteers visible. This situation is unlike organizations who acknowledge volunteer contributions only occasionally, anonymously, or by use of exemplars. Metro Dance acknowledges each and every volunteer, from the volunteer Association president to the person involved in a telephone tree. Metro Dance does not differentiate between the amount of time volunteers commit or the skill level or expertise they share. It accepts each and every volunteer as having made a contribution to its activities. It treats individual volunteers in ways that are congruent with the salue of their work for the organization.

62Volunteer commitment is sustained through communication with Metro Dance. Complete information, often written, is available about each task. If individuals volunteer for event weeks or more beforehand, Metro Dance uses another volunteer to remind them as the time approaches. Volunteers thus feel informed about the responsibility they have undertaken.

63Metro Dance also incorporates its volunteer workers as part of the ‘community’ at Metro Dance. Volunteers work regularly with teachers and staff on an equal basis, and there is an extensive range of tasks available for diverse interests, abilities, and skills. Volunteers are needed at different times of the day, the week, or the year, or volunteers can be given tasks which can be done according to their own schedules. Most of the volunteers at Metro Dance are women. Written records from 1990 to the present, including newsletters and annual show programs, verify this. The gender breakdown of volunteers is described below.

Table 4 — Volunteer Contributions by Gender

Table 4 — Volunteer Contributions by Gender

64That women do the largest part of the volunteer work at Metro Dance is evident from these figures. However, it is also important to note that men do a significant portion of the volunteer work as well, although the amount varies from activity to activity. Since women’s volunteer work has not generally been acknowledged, it is all the more significant that it is recognized in a setting run by women. It is clear that the environment is one where women feel comfortable. The repetition of names from year to year is something one notices in looking at the acknowledgements.

Gender and Dance: Some Reconsiderations

65Dancers and dance students all face enormous pressures about their appearance, particularly in regard to weight. In this regard, male and female dancers are alike. The demands of dance as a profession are not healthful for either sex. The demands of company directors, choreographers, partners, and audiences can also contribute to unhealthful and dangerous practices in weight control. While there is public appreciation of the aesthetics of dance, audiences are ignorant of the cost involved to individual dancers. The harm is not restricted to one gender; instead, it negatively affects both women and men. This is part of the larger context for which Metro Dance trains students.

Conclusion: Success

66I have described a number of dimensions of the functioning of Metro Dance to demonstrate why I think it has been effective at maintaining the values and principles of its founding mothers. These illustrate why I think Metro Dance is an example of successful feminizing. Let me summarize these using four specific themes: organizational culture, organizational constituency, fostering women’s culture, and valuing women’s work.

67Metro Dance has been a viable organization for over twenty years, during which time it has grown enormously. At the same time, the organizational culture of Metro Dance reflects its original core values of cooperation, governance by consensus, and respect for the individual. It has been successful in institutionalizing and maintaining these core feminist values and operational styles even as it has grown in size.

68Metro Dance creates a sense of community rather than hierarchy among people with different roles in the organization. It welcomes participation by people who care about its purposes, and involves them in its work.

69The people who study at Metro Dance are largely women and girls, although it is not closed to men, Metro Dance is effective at providing a caring and supportive environment for its students. Although dance is competitive, even at this level, Metro Dance values all of its community. It encourages all students to appreciate or value their own abilities and uniqueness.

70Although women are well represented in dance, this occurs more often as performer than in the other dimensions of hierarchy described by Hanna. Still, Metro Dance celebrates and supports women’s multidimensional involvement in dance. It trains, teaches, and encourages women students in all of the dance disciplines. It supports and encourages women as performers in all of these disciplines. It offers teaching as a regular source of employment and income in juxtaposition with the uncertainties of a performing career outside the mainstream of professional dance. Finally, it sustains and furthers women in administrative roles in dance organizations, as choreographers, as directors, and as managers in other aspects of dance production.

71Metro Dance supports women in their traditional roles and facilitates their involvement in other dimensions of dance. It is the non-performance aspects of dance that allow individuals to follow careers paths within dance. Careers in dance which are broader than just performance allow more flexibility and longevity. For women, in particular, diversity of career opportunities allows for reproductive choices which are more problematic for performers.

72Metro Dance also reaches out and works cooperatively with others on issues of common concern to cultural organizations and performers.

73Finally, Metro Dance makes visible both the work volunteers do and the importance of this work to its activities. Appreciation for each and every one of its volunteers is significant especially when most of its volunteers are women. It is also one dimension of my description of Metro Dance as a success story in feminization.

74Metro Dance is effective and successful precisely because it has brought core values of cooperation, respect, and appreciation to bear on its activities. Although the description of itself as ‘feminist’ might not fit with all members’ classification of their own or the organization’s style, it is only the name that might make them feel uncomfortable. Only Metro Dance’s principles are feminist — not its self-description or identification.



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1 The survey questionnaire varied somewhat from group to group and was directed to students in the Intensive Training Program (ITP) at Metro Dance, to their parents, to former students in the ITP or its predecessor, to parents of recreational dance students, and to adults in dance and fitness programs. The number of adults in recreational programs and the number of youngsters vary from term to term, unlike the ITP numbers. There is also overlap between categories. I, for example, am the parent of an ITP student and a participant in the adult recreation program. The numbers are presented in the table below:


Associate Professor of Sociology and Anthropology, Mount Saint Vincent University

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