Gender inequality is an important societal issue – that also needs to be rectified in the dance world. In the dance sector, women greatly outnumber men and keenly welcome them into the fold. However, women are less frequently found in positions of dance leadership than men, and when they do reach Executive / Artistic Director positions, they are paid less than their male counterparts.* In response, Sandra Parks has created the Women in Dance Leadership Conference.

* You can find specific figures about the inequality between men and women within the dance sector on the Women in Dance site.

This issue gained spotlight in 2016 when Akram Khan gave an interview, which caused outrage among the dance community. Leading up to his world premiere of Until the Lions in 2016, Khan said: “We should be aware of [the imbalance of choreographers, but we should not] have more female choreographers for the sake of having more female choreographers” (The Stage).

Luke Jennings, dance critic for The Observer, responded in an open letter Khan, that describes the extent of gender bias in dance and explains how the cycle of power (or lack of) is self-perpetuating. In short, the effect is that “dance audiences are being presented, overwhelmingly, with work created from a male perspective. This skews and narrows the range of theatrical experience, and inhibits the evolution of our artform” (The Guardian). That’s nothing to take lightly. And while this debate rose a few years ago, it is still applicable today.

“Sandra Parks has curated an effective, comprehensive and safe way to address female leadership, entrepreneurialism, and empowerment through the Women in Dance Conference. The conference’s relevance and level of informative dialogue ha and will help shape leadership, effective advocacy, and recognition for women in dance.”

– Renee Chatelain, CEO & President, the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge

The Women in Dance Leadership Conference

The 2019 Women in Dance Leadership Conference takes place in Philadelphia from October 17 – 19 with the theme is diversity and inclusion. The weekend includes speeches, panel discussions, a variety of workshops and dance concerts. The conference activities are meant to empower women, so that they may go on to present more dance work and to ascend to leadership positions in the arts.

“To investigate, explore, and reflect on women’s leadership by representing innovative and multicultural dance work to celebrate, develop, and promote women’s leadership in dance making, dance related fields, and other male dominated professions.”

– Women in Dance, Mission Statement
The 2019 Women in Dance Leadership Conference takes place in Philadelphia.

Sandra Shih Parks Interview: Director of Women in Dance

Hi Sandra, thanks for taking the time to tell us about the Women in Dance Leadership conference.

Can you tell us what inspired you to create the Women in Dance organization? 

I was inspired by many strong women in my career including faculty, mentors, and choreographers whom I have worked with. The idea of promoting more female leadership in dance has also been in my mind since entering higher education as a full-time assistant professor.

When I became the Head of Dance program at Louisiana State University, I had the honor to meet all the directors of the professional dance community in Baton Rouge, and all of them are women. Because of this, I was encouraged to establish this organization and the conference to celebrate the local community and begin the discussion with [a larger] audience.

Sandra Parks is the founder and director of Women in Dance.

Since then, you have clearly reached a larger audience – as your site states, “Women In Dance received more than 400 submissions from 21 different countries.”

Naturally, the speakers, presenters and a large majority of your selection committee members are women. Do you still encourage men to attend, as allies?

This is definitely an appropriate space for all to come together and discuss equality. We have had male participants, as well as selection committee members; and I highly encourage men to attend the conference so we can have a conversation from different perspectives. I believe we will continue the effort to invite male colleagues to the conference and the discussion on Women in Dance Leadership.

The Women in Dance Leadership Conference comes to Philadelphia this year, but the past two conferences were held in New York City and Baton Rouge.

How do you determine a host city for the Women in Dance Leadership Conference?

The first one was [held] in Baton Rouge because that was the birthplace of Women in Dance, and the local community was supportive of hosting the inaugural conference. [In New York City], the conference was honored to collaborate with New York University; and [this year] Drexel University [will support the conference in Philadelphia].

The conference is in discussion of heading to Midwest and the west coast in the near future.

Both places sound like great possible future destinations; but as a former Wisconsinite, I think it would be especially nice for the conference stop in the Midwest.

Thanks very much for telling us about Women in Dance, and we wish you a very successful 2019 conference!

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