• Emma Acton

Why Is It That Dancers Are Still So Disrespected In 2019?

With same-sex marriage finally being legalised in Australia and acceptance as a whole becoming much more normalised, I find myself wondering why such things as gender stereotypes and bullying remain so prominent for dancers. In 2019, can we not begin to realise that dancers are in fact extremely strong, fit and athletic, as well as being graceful and expressive? And what’s the problem with being graceful and expressive anyway, regardless of whether you are male or female? Such attitudes show so much disrespect to dancers and aid in the bullying of young dancers everywhere. I feel a responsibility to help teach the next generation that dancers should be shown equal respect as other sportsmen and that children should be encouraged to pursue any hobby that interests them, regardless of gender.


In school, I felt I was always picked last in sport because the other kids knew I was a ballet dancer - presumably they thought this meant I was fragile or weak, which is bizarre to me because as a ballet dancer, I was in fact probably the most coordinated and agile student in most of my classes! Throughout high school, I was picked on for being ‘too skinny’ or for not being as ‘developed’ as some of the other girls my age. However, the truth was that I was healthy and very physically active because I danced several nights a week. Bullies like to pick out what’s different and make you feel ashamed of it. The fact that this continues well into adulthood for dancers - particularly male dancers - is a testament to what the world views as important. While dancers may not be saving someone’s life as directly as a surgeon, without art forms like dance, music and entertainment, the world would greatly suffer.

Toxic masculinity and misogynistic opinions stem from adults. Children learn these views from what they see and hear at home, on television and from those closest to them. If a young boy decides he wants to dress up in a tutu or begin taking ballet lessons, the way his parents react creates a pathway for this young man’s future views. Classical ballet depends on male and female dancers equally. We need young boys to continue ballet lessons in order for this art form to continue. The view that men dancing ballet is not ‘masculine’ is something that male dancers have been fighting against since forever! Somehow, because the art of ballet prioritises making the steps look graceful and ‘easy’, it is lost on many that the strength and athleticism to perform this art is equal to, if not greater, than any professional sport.

Photo by Cass Cheeseman for ©InfintyHeatPacks

Female dancers also face discrimination due to the misogynistic view of classical ballet and male dancers. Because male dancers, particularly at a professional level, are much harder to come by than female dancers, who are a ‘dime a dozen’ in comparison, the ‘supply and demand’ epidemic appears to have led to yet another case of gender pay gap. A dancer’s income is so low already, due mainly to lack of government funding towards the arts, that when a female dancer’s wage is two thirds of her male counterpart’s wage, the total income is extremely hard to live off. Considering that female dancers put their bodies through just as much, if not more work than male dancers (while they do not lift, the stress of pointe work to the feet and lower legs is astronomical), the gender pay gap is extremely illogical - as in all other professions!

I, along with every other performing artist, wish the arts were more respected as a whole. The benefits of art and dance specifically, both for mental health and physical health, are so great that I believe every person should learn to dance. The acceptance of ballet as a career, while slowly improving, is not where it should be today. Gender stereotypes need to become a thing of the past and bullying of people following their own path needs to stop. Let’s allow each person to live their journey and work to create a more equal world.

Emma Cheeseman

12th September, 2019