Power abuse in dance (a most complex issue)

I’m glad that Dr. Roger Hobden publicly denounced on Facebook this appalling reality of abuse of power dancers keep being a subject to. All initiatives that break the silence are steps towards changing a systemic problem.  I’ve written a thesis on the subject and in so doing I’ve come to see the problem differently and hopefully shed more light on an issue that is extremely complex. The thesis is in french and it’s called: Éros et Pouvoir : Regards Jungiens sur les situations d’abus de pouvoir entre chorégraphes et danseurs contemporains.

The “power imbalance” in the dance milieu is the problem, much more than the people in it. That is why dance all over the world is a work environment that consistently faces situations of psychological harassment*. According to Denise Salin (psychological harassement specialist), there are three factors that make a workplace vulnerable to power abuse:

  1. Any work place where the difference in power balance is too great will be a fertile environment for psychological abuse to take root (p.21). For example in dance, choreographers have huge power, dancers none.
  2.  “Low perceived cost”, which means that a person in power can see that the cost of abusing another is so low that the abuse is never or almost never reprimanded and so abusing of one’s power is in a sense, permitted. (p.22)
  3. Work places that are sources of dissatisfaction and frustration: For example where the stress level might be too high or where work conditions are not very good, like low remuneration, are factors that contribute to making a work environment frustrating and not always satisfactory. (p.24)

These three factors, Power imbalance + Low perceived cost + dissatisfaction and frustration when present in a work environment will undeniably point to a space that is prone to psychological harassement.

Corps Intérieur de David Pressault. Photo: NIcolas Ruel. Danseurs: Karina Iraola, Angie Cheng, David Flewelling, Anne Leabeau et Daniel Soulières.

Corps Intérieur de David Pressault. Photo: Nicolas Ruel. Danseurs: David Flewelling, Anne Lebeau, Karina Iraola, Daniel Soulières et Angie Cheng.

To change this, the whole dance milieu must change its unconscious ways and the present culture of dance in its education, professional structure and in the media (p.33 – 68). Catherine Viau’s blog “Le danseur ne pèse pas lourd dans la balance” is inspired by a desire to reduce the power imbalance between choreographers and dancers. Catherine and I witnessed through the reactions of the milieu how difficult and how resistant it is in changing its ways. However, three years later after the blog, we can see that dancer’s names are now most often mentioned in publicity and in the media. In a simple way this is giving dancers the respect they deserve, they are given a little bit of their power back and the low perceived cost is reduced as presenters who don’t put dancers names fear the Prix Citron they might get.

This is but one issue out of so many and more individuals have to get involved in different ways to change our perspective and culture of dance. Choreographers are in a position of authority and they have the greatest responsibility in this issue. The ways that they unconsciously use their power is of the gravest of importance. The choreographer or director that is so sure of himself of never abusing of his/her power, is the most vulnerable and probable to abuse it. When we are aware that power is an energy that is beyond our human will and that we are all vulnerable at abusing it, then we can do something about it and stop ourselves in those crucial unconscious moments. Nevertheless, unless dancers too, take a good look at themselves and become aware of how they contribute at NOT taking their own power (that would entail speaking up when there is abuse) the situation won’t change. We ALL have to change our ways and if we do, all of dance will also change, and that, more than we can imagine. When psyche changes, everything is transformed.  

*Prevalence of bullying by sector in the UK

Sector

Bullied in last 6 months (%)

Bullied in last 5 years (%)

Witnessed bullying in last 5 years (%)

Post/telecommunications

16

28

50

Prison service

16

32

64

Teaching

16

36

58

Other

14

20

40

Dance

14

30

50

Police service

12

30

46

Banking

12

25

40

Voluntary organisations

11

27

56

NHS trusts

11

25

47

Local authority

10

21

43

Civil service

10

26

47

Fire service

9

20

43

Hotel industry

7

17

46

Higher education

7

21

43

Retailing

7

18

34

Manufacturing

4

19

39

Totals

10.6

24.7

46.5

Tableau tiré de Rayner, Hoel et Cooper (2002). Workplace bullying: what we know, who is to blame, and what can we do? (p.26)
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2 réflexions sur “Power abuse in dance (a most complex issue)

  1. rosy dit :

    As a choreographer I really appreciate you sharing this. I have also expereinced bullying of one dancer on another… which I don’t find out about until the show is running or over. The bullied dancer doesn’t want to say anything to upset the process of getting the work done. Incredibly frustrating. Yes, I can not hire that person again… but also we HAVE TO MAKE SPACE in our processes for continual feedback. Its such a give and take. One really has to learn how to stay in charge and be nurturing at the same time.

  2. D’Espagne, je tiens à souligner ma jouissance qui soi un danseur et chorégraphe de danse «contemporaine» en plus de psychologue, celui qui dénonce les abus de pouvoir contre les danseurs, rappelant, en outre, les causes et les voies réalistes d’émancipation. Toutefois, il serait opportun d’augmenter le champ de vision sur d’autres aspects entourant, par exemple, la occultation systématique des danseurs dans la diffusion de la danse moderne (pas tant dans la danse classique) l’égalitarisme faux dans les entreprises où le seul protagoniste est le chorégraphe, le star system vs collectivisme anonyme, les pressions androgynes d’un certain nombre contre les danseuses et les maladies qui provoque comme l’anorexie, la boulimie, etc.
    En tout cas, je tiens à exprimer ma joie et félicitations pour votre courageuse et excellente contribution.
    Pablo

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