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Ballet Talk for Dancers

The Role of Companies in Preventing Harassment/Assault


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I hadn't yet commented on the NYCB scandal on this message board or in other online ballet venues I frequent.  But, despite staying quiet thus far, I've had a lot of thoughts swirling around my head, mostly concerning my own son.

My 19 year old son is a really good guy.  I can't imagine in a hundred years that he would do the sorts of things that I am reading about in regards to Chase Finlay and other NYCB dancers.  But here's the thing-- I'm sure Chase's mom *also* thought he was a really good guy. Truthfully, how does a parent know this sort of thing about their child?

My son left home in his mid teens to train full-time in ballet.  He did spend a year in a formal ballet boarding school, but for other years he was mostly unsupervised . His mentors and teachers were the older male dancers (second company, apprentice, corps) plus his male instructors (who themselves were products of the same residential ballet training).   I'm not sure my son has ever had had a serious educational discussion about consent and related issues.  This is in great contrast to my youngest son who is now a freshman in college.  In high school, my youngest son received education about these topics both formally (health class, school assembly, etc) and informally (guided class discussions with a social studies or English teacher when the topic was in the news).  Now in college, my youngest son is taking a 12 hour harassment & assault prevention course that is required for all freshmen and new transfer students.  

So, I know my youngest son is receiving education in these topics, but what about my 19 year old dancer son? If anything, he needs it more because of the culture he was raised in.  First, all his life he has been fawned over in the ballet world, hearing how special he is because he's male and how much the female dancers need him (I hated this aspect of raising a boy dancers, but it was difficult to combat).  Second, in an environment where about half the males are gay and half are straight, many straight dancers tend towards hyper-masculinity to demonstrate their heterosexuality.   

What can be done to prevent our ballet boys from becoming perpetrators of sexual harassment and assault? Obviously, I've spoken to my dancer son on several occasions about these topics, but my influence as a mom is light at best.  Since my son was 15, I've only seen him for a couple of weeks at the beginning of summer, end of summer, and winter holidays.  I try to squeeze in those conversations when I can, but it's difficult when time is limited and so much must be done in a short amount of time that I have with him. Plus, being a typical teenage boy, he doesn't exactly enjoy discussing these topics with his mom.  At any rate, I really don't think my sporadic conversations are adequate, so I've been wondering how my ballet dancing son is to receive training in sexual harassment/assault awareness and prevention besides occasional lectures from mom. 

Do companies have a role in educating their dancers on this important subject?  Is it just a good idea for them to do so, if only to prevent bad-press scandals from occurring at their organization?  Do companies have an ethical and moral responsibility to provide this sort of training since they are the primary source of education for older teen/young adult dancers who are not in school otherwise?   

To be honest, I have thought about contacting the AD of my son's company to ask if he would please institute some sort of training that my son can participate in.  But, my son is a grown man and would be very upset if his mom contacted his employer (the AD probably wouldn't appreciate it either!). 

I feel that an industry leader needs to take the lead on this and set an example for the other companies.  Some ideas I had:  AGMA could require annual mandatory training for all its members (and this would eventually trickle down to non-AGMA companies).  Or, ABT (wanting to differentiate itself from NYCB and having already published its own dance training syllabus) could create and publish an educational syllabus for training dancers on this topic. 

Anyway, I wanted to create this topic to discuss 3 questions:

1. What advice do you have for mothers of teen/young adult male dancers when we have very limited interactions with our sons?
2. What role do companies have in educating dancers about sexual harassment and assault?
3. How would a company go about conducting effective training? 

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Thank you for starting this thread, its really important. As the mother of a younger teen male dancer (who still lives at home) I hear you loud and clear and have very similar concerns. 

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1 hour ago, slhogan said:

Second, in an environment where about half the males are gay and half are straight, many straight dancers tend towards hyper-masculinity to demonstrate their heterosexuality.   

This is quite the statement slhogan. Is this based on something substantive? I too share many of these concerns but this idea seems inflammatory. 

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I think one of the best ways to protect and educate our sons is to keep them home and not hope that the ballet world will raise them. Before I get told that not everyone has a good studio nearby, I know that. 

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Really great questions and concerns, SLHogan!

I agree that the sex education and health classes in many high schools (those that deal frankly with dating complexities and consent and media responsibility) are valuable.  I do wish these were available at high-school level pre-professional programs.

My place of work (a university still reeling after a major child abuse scandal), has mandatory training for all employees now, and I have some thoughts on what works and what doesn't.  I realize that child abuse is not exactly the same as sexual abuse, but I think these observations are still relevant.   I take 3 online courses per year on recognizing, preventing, and reporting child abuse.  I complain about this burden, but, I do think the  online courses have made me much more aware!  Some employees really get defensive when they have to attend face-to-face group training.  I know they shouldn't get defensive and we shouldn't worry about their defensiveness, but if online courses allow employees to think about issues and absorb advice without feeling defensive, why not use this method? 

Finally, my place of employment also has an interesting policy on dating between adults at different levels in the organization (faculty/grad student, for instance).  It has received criticism for being too lax and criticism for being too stringent.  I'll just sum it up for discussion.  Couples are supposed to let a superior know about the relationship, and the superior is supposed to shift supervisory responsibilities around so that the senior member of the couple has no supervisory role over the junior member.  The superior can also shift responsibilities to avoid secondary conflicts, such as when the senior member of the couple has a say in the tenure case of a faculty member, who, in turn, has a supervisory role over the junior member in the relationship.  In the latter case, the senior member of the couple would not get to vote on the tenure case.

Just some food for thought and possibly not that helpful, but take what you can from my experiences.

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Thyme, maybe we can discuss more broadly the defenses that some boys throw up in the face of all sorts of prejudices.  I kind of brought this up on the Parents of Boys thread (and maybe it is best discussed there),  but I didn't want it to get misinterpreted as an excuse.  I think we should keep this discussion focused on what ballet schools and companies might do better and how parents can be effective at guiding their dancers who are away from home.




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30 minutes ago, Thyme said:

This is quite the statement slhogan. Is this based on something substantive? I too share many of these concerns but this idea seems inflammatory. 

Curious as to what about slhogan's statement is inflammatory.



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Moderator hat on:  Let's just move on and discuss the real issue at hand.  slhogan made one statement in a very long and eloquent post that may be considered a generalization of some straight males in ballet.  Given the NYCB news and inferences, I don't see it as inflammatory but just likely a generalization we don't want to delve into.  And, frankly, in some ways this is an issue in ballet.  So let's simply look at the bigger issue and the bigger issues raised so we don't go off track. 

Responses to the moderation through pm only! 

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  • Administrators

Moderator hat on -

It's important here that we not go too far down the path of speculations - let's move on to discuss what the thread was created for.  This thread was created to discuss what a company's role could be in preventing and addressing harassment issues. (momof3 and I posting at the same time).

For me, I think all company members need to be considered (all genders, and all staff - not just dancers and management).  One conversation could be about the use of personal visual images - although I appreciate in the complaint Ms. Waterbury is alleging she wasn't aware certain images were being recorded.  I think we are now in an era where young people are very comfortable recording and sharing personal visual images with friends, assuming said images won't end up in the public domain.  So first of all you need to be cautious about who you share your images with, and how you share them.  Secondly, don't share images of someone else without their express consent (although this seems to me to be common sense, but I guess I'm too old fashioned).  Finally, the workplace could expressly prohibit recording of others without express consent to do so.

In addition, the workplace should consider how to support staff who may have had their own personal trauma in the past, and are now re-tramatized by events surrounding others.

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I will say with this issue we are focusing on the company and males, but in reality, this may be something a company needs to handle from alot of sides.  Meaning, for all dancers to understand as a group, but also for males to understand separately and females to understand separately.  And by that, I am NOT meaning only discussing male behavior against females but also female behavior towards males, etc.    Given the number of females in other professions who have recently been accused of abuses of power, this is a very multifaceted problem with many, many opportunities for abuses that need to be addressed.    The issue is power over another and while in this case it is masculine in nature that is not all there is to discuss.  

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Traditionally within reputable (and I believe those which are federally regulated) companies, there is a policy regarding (and often training on) sexual harassment and appropriate expectations. This standard is managed by an HR team, and usually there are appropriate steps for reporting any behavior which doesn't comply with the guidelines clearly laid out by the company, and clearly communicated to the employee. 

So, that being said, I think there are several potential within the ballet community as it relates to employees and companies (these are all generalities, of course there are exceptions).

  1. To my knowledge, most ballet companies offer little to no standard or training on sexual harassment
  2. There could be unbalanced and often inappropriate allowances in the workplace (sexual joking and innuendos seem to be commonplace, often encouraging a sexually charged atmosphere)
  3. There may either be no HR team or they may be an HR team that doesn't prioritize this issue, so very little time or funding is being allocated to make the work environment safe for everyone - even those who don't want to participate in the harassment or be involved in the sexually charged workplace.
  4. It could be the case that guidelines are not clearly laid out by company, and are not clearly communicated to the employee/s.

I, for one, am very glad to see this issue brought to the surface and am thankful that these conversations are taking place. I do want to point out, however, that sexual harassment can occur in a way that "harasses" both men and women, straight or gay.  I have personally been privy to a few inappropriate female conversations and gay sex related conversations and  other similar harassment issues. This issue is not just a "straight male" issue. It crosses gender and sexual orientation boundary lines. 

edited to add: I wonder if because most of these companies are non-profit, they don't have to comply with federal law in this area? https://employment.findlaw.com/employment-discrimination/sexual-harassment-at-work.html - I don't know enough about this to comment. 

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4 hours ago, slhogan said:

2. What role do companies have in educating dancers about sexual harassment and assault?
3. How would a company go about conducting effective training? 

I mentioned this on the NYCB thread, but it is more pertinent here.

In response to the two questions posed above, at least one company has take definitive steps to address these issues. The company where DD is in the second company has instituted mandatory training sessions for all dancers. The first of these sessions was held two weeks ago, and though DD said it wasn't presented in the most interesting fashion, it addressed the issues head on as they apply in a company setting. She feels that the company, even before this, created an environment where this type of behavior is not tolerated. She mentioned an incident last spring where even the perception (it turned out to be misinterpreted after an investigation) of inappropriate behavior was dealt with swiftly and professionally.

Instituting these trainings is a step in the right direction, and hopefully more companies will do this (if they aren't already). DD's company is a mid-range, non-AGMA company, and she is pleased that it seems to be ahead of the curve on this issue. With the visibility of the issue, it seems that similar programs could easily be in place. I have to participate in training every year for my job, and the programs for Sexual Harassment and Violence training have greatly improved. I think these, along with a climate of intolerance (including steps for dealing with it) and follow up will go a long way.

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A big challenge for ballet companies is how to deal with issues that happen *outside* of the work environment.  There can be codes of conduct (and training), but if the dancers are acting inappropriately from their own homes, can the company step in?  Where is the line in the sand? If it isn't brought to attention of the company, is the company still at fault if it involves the dancers? 

I train my young dancers to behave a certain way in the studio.... that also means when I see them in the hallways, I make sure they maintain that type of behavior.  But I am not their parent; I only see them in the ballet studio (not at home).  So some of this stuff does fall into the lap of the parents - even if your child lives far away.

The issue is certainly complex.  We will all have to work together to make progress happen.

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When dealing with children/students perhaps parents need to speak to the problem and be involved in the discipline, if any.

When dealing with adult employees of a company, (in particular a ballet company, which I can speak to) an employer really can't dictate/chastise/be liable for behavior outside the workplace, true. That is, unless the off duty conduct:

1) affects the ability of the employee or his peers to do their job

2) puts the business/company in an unfavorable light with the public

3) has potential to harm the business/company

4) is illegal

If the conduct refers to an employee's personal life or lifestyle choices, a company (and any company, not just a ballet company) rightly has no business poking their nose in.

I think some lines are pretty clear. 

Other lines may not be as clear. If an employee names your company as harboring a culture that allows for the behavior above to happen, you are already involved inasmuch as you have to be prepared to answer or defend against the allegation, true in your opinion, or not.


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