#silentdancer: Petition against sexual harassment

2020-01-10 | Undertecknarna padlock


”Finally, this is a petition directed at managers at dance schools, dance stages and independent dance groups. You have accepted teachers grooming students and allowed them to continue working, year after year they have had access to new victims, have continued to harass and abuse their power while at the same time this has been dismissed as a non-question. Who you hire and what you chose to do form now on is crucial. We know who you are. The movement has begun.”, more than 800 dancers write in a petition against sexual harassment in the dance industry.

Our petition is about redress. We will present some of the many cases abuse and harassment that have taken place and continue to take place in the dance community. Shortly after the actors’ petition #silenceaction was published, a secret Facebook-group was started, named #silentdancer, in order to make space for dancers’ stories. The response was massive. In three days the group had 1 200 member – women, non-binary people and transpeople of all ages, from different parts of the dance community came together to tell their stories and name their perpetrators.

When the #silentdancer-group was initiated we were contacted by different managements who asked for information about their institutions. To all of you we would like to say – you had your chance. As ’solution’ you have at the best given a perpetrator temporary leave, therapy, a chance to further education, in order to then allow them to return to the same position in your organization. Actions such as suspension has at times been taken, but the perpetrator has then been allowed continued employment in an equivalent organization. From what we have seen, however, more often than not matters are dropped and no investigation started.

We see that school managements, boards, arts councils and institutions allow space for perpetrators to continue their careers at independent companies and large dance institutions as ’choreographic geniuses’. Many dancers have spoken out as well as reported [abuse] but have been met with silence. Most of them finally give up as they no longer can trust their employers, even to the point of them giving up dancing.

”I was often hanging out with him and his dancer friends (20-25 years of age) and no one seemed to mind a 19-20-year-old having a thing with a child. Many of his friends were dance instructors, and so is he these days. The first time we had sex it happened without consent and when I screamed with pain he only said ’if you scream like that I will only come faster’. Our connection was characterized by him being very controlling, his vicious comments about my looks, and his manipulation...After a couple of months I tried to end things which resulted in him stalking me and him threatening to take his own life. I tried talking to his dancer friends but the majority of those I approached didn’t seem to care. After a while I quit dancing, though this was my passion, since I realized that the dance community is so characterized by this.”

”A lovely summer day at the end of our course at the folkhögskola [independent adult education college] I saw the guys leave by car with one of the teachers. I asked them where they were going and got the reply it was a ’secret’. When they returned I asked one of the guys about it and he said they had been barbecuing and talked. When I ask what they had talked about and why us girls had not been invited he said they had talked about who had slept with whom, among other things.”

”I was having a fling with a dancer and was going to spend the night in his place as I needed to stay overnight in the town where he lived. I was clear that I only wanted to sleep there but woke up in the morning by him beginning to have intercourse with me. There was no willingness in my body but he continued and when he was done he left me in the flat. I was in a really bad state. I was young and inexperienced an he was much older and knew lots of people in the industry and had lots of successful work experience. Years later I confronted him with having sexually abused me but he simply explained it away. Now he works for one of the big dance companies in Stockholm.”

”He pushed me up against the wall and said ’don’t be afraid, I don’t want to fuck you, just let me touch you’ and grabbed my crotch with his disgusting hand. It was over in a few seconds but felt like an eternity and I feared for my life in that moment. I remember clearly that he left me and the room I was in, sneering.”

”The problems have been well-known for a long time and become part of the culture. I tried to speak out, to tell of the times I and others have been exploited and broken down. The the men were too valuable and were protected. Some claimed I was lying. The frustration and shame grew too much and finally my love for dance died. I left it.”

”An older ’experienced’ physiotherapist who several times came too close to my crotch when I was getting treatments for injuries, and massages. Once he stepped up to massage my back from ’above’, not thinking about him pushing his knee in between my legs throughout the massage. He was sweating on top of my back. I tried to focus on the massage and that he ’wanted to help me’. While treating my groin with ultrasound the machine has at times also come a bit too close to my crotch while the doctor looking straight at the instrument. A bit hard to miss that then. Both times I felt so uncomfortable and didn’t dare to speak out. They were professionals and had a lot of work experience.”

”Two different dance instructors. Story 1: We were at a club in Stockholm, dancing. Everyone from our dance class at the school were there since it was an after-party following a dance event, even our dance instructors were there. Him, a teacher, at one moment happy and supportive, the next intimidating and aggressive. I, on my way from the bathroom when I meet him in the small passageway leading to the big room, dance floor and bar. He pushes me violently up against the wall so I hit it and he grins: ’You’re going to come with me and suck my dick or I will punch your face in.’ He hits the wall right next to my ear with the palm of his hand. We can hear someone coming out from the bathroom. He laughs and punches me on the shoulder: ’I’m only joking, haha, did you get scared?’ He smirks and leaves. The rest of the night he is laughing and joking with everyone and pretends nothing has happened. I am afraid of him for years afterwards. Story 2: At night I am lying in my room under the cover when I hear someone open the door. He enters and comes to my bed. As I had just woken up I’m a bit shocked he’s in my room but not afraid. I know him, he’s my teacher. He must want something. He sits down at the edge of the bed and says: ’Hi. I want to lie down next to you for a bit’. I don’t know how to react but I manage to say that I want to sleep, that I’m tired. He laughs a little, takes off his shorts and t-shirt, pulls off the cover. ’Just a little bit’ he says pleasantly and lies down next to me. My head is spinning, thoughts swarming. ’I should let you be but I can’t’ he whispers and touches me on my naked body with his hand. I feel sick, trembling, I say: ’No, wait’ and try to push myself against the wall, my eyes tearing. It feels unreal. He pulls me next to him. ’No wait I don’t want to’ I squeak in a mixture of panic and anguish. But lies down with all his weight on top of me and forces my legs apart. ’Just a bit’, he says and penetrates me while I again beg him to wait. I disappear into a different world. I don’t say anything more. Pray to God it will end: I will do anything if you make it stop. I didn’t tell anyone about it for years. Start hating myself.”

To be a dancer and a cultural worker is often associated with insecure working conditions and few work opportunities. In dance your body is the most important tool. At the same time we know that within dance as well as other forms of expressive culture, as well as in society at large, reflected clearly by #metoo, there are problems with sexual harassment and sexualized violence from people in positions of power. To have your bodily integrity abused as a dancer is a twofold injury since your mode of expression and your artistic work tool is damaged. This is a taboo subject and is often considered a nonissue or as something that only affect a few individuals.

Vague concepts such as ’artistic freedom’ is used to justify abuse and a bad program leadership at different companies where the dancers are burdened with having responsibility for whom they work with, the blame and shame is attributed to the wrong person. Personal integrity has to be respected during training, during work and during treatment, especially within dance where dancers undergo practice with one’s own and others’ bodies as artistic tools.

”The choreographer wanted you to tell him about your sex life. If you didn’t share he thought you were boring, and not taking your responsibility through contributing some naughty stories, since it would make it much more delicious.”

”Once during the tour I had to share accomodation with the much older and married choreographer. At night he crept into my bed and started touching me. I was afraid, shocked and unsure and stiff as a board, I couldn’t even manage to tell him to leave. When I didn’t respond to his caresses he returned to his bed, thankfully. I was a new graduate and this was my first real contract. Afterwards I felt shame and had to downplay it before him and myself. I really wanted to have work again.”

”There is this male choreographer that everyone adores. A big name, picking fights with institutions, provoking, harassing and being totally erratic. It does not matter what he does, he is still allowed to do as he pleases. The dance world loves him and accepts him with open arms. He was head of the department at the school I went to. And he really gambled with his position of power. Even today it took me a long time to realize what was wrong because inside I was thinking ’it’s not so bad’. But it was really fucked up. I have never told anyone about his texts to me, how sexy he thought I was. How he played with my insecurity about the dance-life. I was a 22 year old student who simply wanted to be something and thought it was great that he wanted to teach me and take me under his wing. He gave me dance assignments that I performed. He told me how great he thought I was. Then came a kiss and more comments that he wanted to wrap me around his finger with. I told him off and from then on he ignored me. People like him are dangerous. Those who always get away with things, who get grant after grant, who dancers are queuing to work with since he’s such a fucking...genius. He can do whatever the fuck he wants, but is still celebrated. My story is not by far the worst but it’s bad enough.”

”When it was my turn he’d always comment upon my looks, my sexy outfit, calling me Brigitte Bardot instead of my name, it was obvious he didn’t take me seriously as an artist.”

”I was in the audience witnessing how the choreographer abused his position of power. He was obviously inebriated and re-directed the dancers openly, cut them off and took away their responsibility and agency in the piece. He rushed on stage several times to change the composition of the props on stage, pointing out dancers were in the wrong place and had to move. The dancers had to do all they could in order to maintain the situation as he crossed the line repeatedly. At times he chose to participate. One of those times was an acrobatic sequence when the dancers were lifting each other over and under each other, at that point he chooses to participate. The intoxicated choreographer falls on top of the others hoping they will catch him. I remember how I and others next to me gasp as we see how high the risk of injury is. After the applause he hugs one of the dancers so hard and violently that she has to break free from his hold. I was waiting and hoping for the artistic director, who was also in the audience, would stop the show. Nothing happened. Here were we, the audience, witnessing a man with influence and status being abusive and violent. Nothing happened. Abuse of power and reckless behaviour – no consequences. He shows the piece again the following night.”

”I was working in a dance company at a high school. The 50 year old male dance instructor was uncontrollable towards everyone – teacher colleagues, management, pupils. Changed clothes in the shared office, it was not a rare occasion for him to comment and sexualize students’ bodies. Us other instructors had to constantly counsel students about things he had said or done. When we raised the alarm to the management – repeatedly – nothing happened. Students were suffering. Colleagues were suffering. I suffered from burnout.”

”A male colleague of mine once told me a about a ballet instructor he’d had during secondary school, who also taught a group of girls at high school. Once the teacher had been talking in a frank manner about how good-looking the girls were. He mentioned them by name and spoke especially about one girl. The same teacher had also encouraged the same group of guys to think of sex during a photo shoot and he’d even congratulated my colleague for being such a womanizer who had ’knowing smiles’ as he called them, simply because my colleague were good friends with some of his female fellow students. They were between 13-15 years old and didn’t dare to speak out against their teacher.”

We want to eliminate the normalized culture of silence and create new inclusive and intersectional norms. We demand that boards at institutions and schools take their responsibility together with employees in positions of power. We don’t want to our schools and dance companies to be represented by these perpetrators in the future. For that reason we now demand change through responsible and antiracist proposals from politicians. We want our employers, the vice presidents of dance companies and those professions where dancers are in dependent situations, to take their responsibility immediately. We, along with other professions have taken the responsibility of breaking the silence where sexist and racist violence against the bodies of women, nonbinary people, and transpeople, exist, now it’s your turn.

This is a petition for you male dancers and choreographers to also end the silence in order to be part of social change and to use your voices, to speak out when you see your fellow class mates, students and colleagues being harmed. In order to break the silence a mutual responsibility and ongoing conversation is needed where hopefully we will be able to come together with our male colleagues for an equal and more equitable world. This is a working opportunity for organizations that work with equal opportunities, plans for equal opportunities and policies for action dealing with sexual harassment – you have a lot to do in the dance world, let this be another part of your work.

Finally this is a petition to managers at dance schools, dance companies and independent dance groups. You have accepted teachers grooming students and allowed them to go on working, year after year they have had access to new victims, have continued to harass and abused their power while at the same time it has been dismissed as a non-question. Who you hire and what you choose to do from now on is crucial.

We know who you are. The movement has begun.


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