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Microaggressions, stereotypes, double-standards, discrimination, unwanted come-ons, manipulation, isolation, bad jokes, and pithy comments: ABUSES OF POWER and SEXISM in the ARTS and in DANCE come in all shapes and sizes.

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Mental breakdowns don't always mean she's "crazy"

I'm a Black male that was asked to cut his hair (I had long locks at the time) as a condition for whether I would get hired or not by a Contemporary Dance company I auditioned for in Europe. I was told by the then director that he himself did not have a problem with my hair but that it might be seen as something that would give the audience and other guest choreographers the wrong impression of who I was and what I was capable doing as a performer. He did not want me to enter the situation at a disadvantage because he thought I was talented and he wanted to work with me. So as awkward as it made him feel, he thought he should request that I cut my hair. Very fucked up indeed, but I was actually on the verge of deciding to cut my hair anyway, so I did. Once I started working for him, one of his main corrections for me the first 6 months of employment was that I was not dancing manly enough. Be more masculine. Make it look more masculine. He even suggested that I watch two of my male colleagues and try to imitate the way they were executing the choreography because that was the masculinity he was looking for. So this is just a little background info.

My story is that this director was consistently having inappropriate sexually motivated encounters with several of the women in the company. But none of the women felt comfortable talking about what had happened to them so most of them kept the stories to themselves or just amongst the girls and that was that. To add insult to injury, his wife was a dancer in the company at the time. So it was sensitive. The people that knew what was going on had no idea how much she knew or if she knew anything at all and no one I guess wanted to be the person to stir the pot. So, silence.
My third season in the company a female colleague and friend went through a very emotionally troubling time and ultimately had a nervous breakdown. She had to leave work for awhile. It wasn't really clear what had happened to her but there started to be speculation that it may have some small part to do with work. So some of the stories started to come out and were shared and it became clear there was a pattern and that many women in the company had experienced the same thing. Then another female member of the company experienced a sort of mental breakdown and she also revealed that among other things, what was troubling her was an experience she'd had with the director. She felt guilty and like somehow she had brought this on herself even though she could not quite identify what she'd done wrong. When these stories started to surface it was like a lightbulb turned on and all of his weird behaviors that we'd seen and questioned in rehearsals all started to make sense. All the random aggressive tones and snarky corrections and casting changes etc. It was the last straw and a decision was made by the company members to try and hold him accountable and ultimately to have him removed. We had a meeting with the executive director who was shocked by what we told her and by the number of occurrences. She said something certainly would be done because this was not tolerable behavior. What did happen was that he kept his job and it was decided that he would not be fired but that an associate director (female) would be hired to kinda keep an eye on the situation and be a sort of mediator between him and the company.

9 people including myself left the company that season.