Gender Equity… Dance vs. STEM

22 Jan

In my spare time, okay, not that I have spare time, but in the couple of hours a week that I carve out for being responsible for my own health, I take clogging lessons.  I got interested in it while helping my daughters practice, and when their studio offered an adult class, I jumped on it and haven’t looked back.  I like making exercise and rhythm part of my life.  I’m well aware of how beneficial the arts are to a well-rounded education, and I feel it’s made me a more creative, thoughtful, energetic, and resourceful person.

The gender gap in dance is one that is obvious, and glaring, and hasn’t budged for decades.  My adult dance class is one of the few with a male dancer in it.  Most classes have no boys at all.  The hip-hop dance classes are the least unbalanced, but that means there will be two or three boys in the class with seven or so girls.

For me, it leaves a question in the air.  Why don’t we care?

The gender gap in STEM education and tech jobs spurs a call to action.  We create girls’ computer camps.  We create science field trips just for girls.  We analyze our data and fret over the unfulfilled potential of our girls.  Why is there no similar call to action to get more boys involved in dance?

I did just a tiny bit of research today online to find out about the gender gap in dance.  The few tidbits I found out are that the gender gap in dance is wide and hasn’t budged in decades, and that interestingly, and these pieces of info were fascinating, the wage gap in the performing arts favors men, and boys tend to get more attention and are called on more often in dance class.

This contrasts to the STEM gender gap, in which the boys outnumber the girls, especially in computer science and physics, but are still paid more and get more attention and are called on more often.  Or at least, that’s the way it used to be.  Is it still true?

We don’t apply the same level of urgency to getting boys into the arts as we do to getting girls into STEM.  Presumably, it’s because the job market in the arts isn’t perceived as growing as quickly or having as much earning potential.  Does that mean we’re right to apply no energy into getting boys to enjoy dance?

As a point of reflection, I’ve done a project a couple of times when I felt my classes (and I) were in need of a movement break.  Instead of doing math warmups, we planned a flash mob.  We’d find a funny dance on youtube and practice it for ten minutes a day, and then plan a secret day and time to play the music and have the math classes coalesce and just start dancing.  The students LOVED it – boys and girls alike.  It helped create community, a sense of purpose, got us some much-needed physical activity, and made us laugh.  I have no data to inform whether this is a good educational practice or not – so is it?  How important is a dance break for a student’s educational well-being?

I welcome your thoughts!


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