Tradition of Art and its Pivot to Modernity


Spotlight on Gender Issues

Artists and critics are sounding the alarm on gender issues lurking in the ballet world, shedding light on a significant gender gap in positions of power like choreographers and artistic directors, while female dancers gracefully take the stage.

According to data, among 50 ballet companies in the United States, 71% of artistic directors have been male from inception to the present. Furthermore, during the 2020-2021 season, 69% of performances were male-led programs. On a global scale, major ballet companies have only a 29% chance of having a female successor as an artistic director.

Addressing gender disparities in the dance world is the nonprofit organization “Dance Data Project,” led by Elizabeth B. Yntema. Since its establishment in 2015, the organization has compiled over 24 reports evaluating various aspects of ballet operations, ranging from the ratio of leadership positions to choreography fees and corporate expenses. The project also compiles lists of female leaders in the dance industry and resources, spearheading awareness campaigns about gender issues in the field.

Yntema, the organization’s representative, stated, “Ballet industry data had been overlooked in industry analysis. Our efforts are meaningful not only in terms of whether art plays a healthy role in the economy but also in encouraging people’s understanding from a perspective that prompts them to think.”

Dance Data Project is working on creating an index for gender participation in the industry, considering factors like the ratio of women in positions, policies against sexual harassment, economic support for women’s roles, parental leave, caregiving provisions, and breastfeeding facilities.

The spotlight now shines on the gender inequalities that have been lurking behind the scenes of the stage.

Do Men Still Rule Ballet? Let Us Count the Ways. (The New York Times)


The Dilemma of Fulfillment and Stability

The image of a ballerina dancing gracefully under the spotlight on stage is a dream for many children. However, as individuals grow into adults, they confront the harsh realities that cannot be dismissed with mere admiration. The uncertainties of post-retirement careers, the instability of salaries in a meritocratic world, and the impact of life events like childbirth all make the other side of the dream appear quite challenging.

In the effort to sustain ballet and traditional arts, one key challenge to consider is the high uncertainty of employment and career paths. Without an environment that provides security regarding these aspects, not only do active artists fail to fully unleash their creativity, but the dreams of future artists might also be jeopardized.

According to Dance Magazine, there are mainly two factors contributing to the unstable employment environment. First is what economists refer to as the “matching market.” Directors seek different qualities in dancers, and the competition doesn’t revolve around salary. Artistic compatibility takes precedence, with remuneration becoming secondary. Second, the industry lacks proper regulations in a fluid dancer market.

Contemplating the dilemma of “fulfillment and stability” that many artists face can provide insight as consumers of art, and overcoming the challenges in the system surrounding traditional arts might offer hints toward building a society where individuals can pursue their passions to the fullest.

The Ballet Job Market Needs a Market (Re)Design (Dance Magazine)

Unveiling Gender Dynamics in the Edo Period

The intricate beauty of kimonos is a hallmark of Japanese traditional culture, gaining popularity around the world. The intricate patterns, colors, and designs of fabrics, reflecting profound cultural depth, seem to be deeply etched in the hearts of Japanese people even in modern times. However, despite being used as ceremonial attire in events like coming-of-age ceremonies, graduations, and traditional weddings, traditional weaving techniques like Nishijin-ori are facing a decline due to the widespread adoption of polyester kimono fabric. Polyester kimonos are easily washable and offer much more vibrant colors compared to woven ones, making them popular among the younger generation. Moreover, due to a significant gender imbalance in wearing kimonos, traditional weaving techniques such as Nishijin-ori are on the brink of extinction.

To preserve disappearing cultures, a touch of modern appeal is necessary. Gender could be a compelling angle to explore as a spice to safeguard traditions. Gender discussions might feel commonplace today, but they had cultural relevance even in Japan’s Edo period.

Interestingly, in the Edo period, there existed what was called “wakashu,” referred to as the “third gender.” While wakashu generally referred to young men before they reached adulthood, it also had connotations of a neutral or intermediate gender. The clothing of wakashu resembled that of unmarried women, often featuring long flowing sleeves. Furthermore, women occasionally wore wakashu’s attire, revealing the fluidity of gender during that time. The elaborate attire of wakashu and its association with sexuality even found its way into ukiyo-e woodblock prints.

Although wakashu vanished with the wave of modernization, the existence of open-minded gender notions in that era is intriguing. Exploring gender in the preservation of Japanese culture, symbolized by kimonos, might offer glimpses of captivating global appeal.

The Disappearance of Japan’s “Third Gender” (JSTOR Daily)

Preserving the Circus Culture

What comes to mind when you hear the term “entertainment”? Movies, music, sports, gaming, YouTube—these are likely common associations for most people. However, these have evolved over time. If we go back to late 19th-century America, the term “circus” probably featured prominently. During that time, circus performances brought about holidays, leading to the closure of businesses and schools, creating crowds from parades to show venues.

Yet, the circus industry finds itself in a challenging position today. In 2017, the largest American circus, “Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus,” closed its doors due to declining audiences and animal welfare concerns. Various factors contribute to this decline, including the emergence of new forms of entertainment like cinema and increased mobility due to automobile popularity, as highlighted in a TIME article.

However, in recent years, circus performers have embraced TikTok to engage audiences. Jack LePiarz, for instance, gained over 1.4 million followers by posting performance videos on TikTok. Starting with viewers uploading performance videos on TikTok, he now receives messages from people curious about joining the circus, learning skills, and acquiring equipment. LePiarz responds to each message, demonstrating his commitment to rejuvenate the circus industry.

Nevertheless, a dilemma arises. Easy access to the internet and professional information might blur the line between amateurs and professionals, making circus more accessible to the public but potentially obscuring the boundary between the two. Despite this, LePiarz leaves a thoughtful comment: “Even if we can spend 60 seconds to 3 minutes together having fun, that’s not such a bad thing.” His genuine dedication as an entertainer is truly remarkable.

The American circus is in decline, but performers thrive on TikTok (INPUT)

What Defines the "Value" of Art Education?

Art education in the UK is facing a crisis.

In May of last year, the government announced a nearly 50% cut in funding (£36m to £19m) for arts-related subjects in higher education, sparking significant controversy. The focus was on prioritizing investment in “high-value subjects” like STEM and medicine.

The dwindling interest in art education is evident year by year. For instance, the number of students selecting drama and music as elective subjects for GCSE (secondary education) has decreased by one-fifth over the past decade. HESA (Higher Education Statistics Agency) research also reveals the declining popularity of humanities subjects, especially evident in the subject of “Art History.” Enrollment in related courses has decreased by 28.5% over the past decade. Conversely, subjects like “Business Studies” are gaining more popularity.

These trends prompt concerns that the government may be undervaluing the £111 billion value that the UK’s creative industries contribute to the economy and downplaying their significance.

Amidst a backdrop of pressing social and environmental issues, relying solely on economic rationality for determining “value” seems inadequate. In the current climate, an emphasis on non-economic values becomes crucial.

The government has cut arts funding just when we need it the most (GQ)