Celebrating Women And Girls In Dance

by Marketing Intern Rachael Appold


In honor of International Day of the Girl earlier this week, JOMDC wanted to delve into the history of women and girls in dance. The first International Day of the Girl was on October 11, 2012, and was established by Because I Am a Girl, a campaign by Plan International (source: General Assembly, 2011). The holiday was created to raise awareness for issues of gender equality, including forced child marriage and the right to an education (source: Plan International, 2016).

Egyptian women dancers (source: Ancient Egypt Online)

Prior to the popularization of formal court dances in the 15th century, women were prevalent in many different forms of dance. For example, professional dancing in Ancient Egypt involved “kheners” (think: a dance company) consisting only of and lead only by women (source: Spencer, 2005). When ballet emerged in the 15th century, men seemed to take over the dance performance world. Female roles in ballet were given to younger men in dresses instead. It wasn’t until 1681, when Mademoiselle de Lafontaine (the first professional female ballet dancer) performed in the ballet Le Triomphe de l’amour, that women were allowed to enter the ballet performance world (source: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2016).

The resilience of women and girls throughout the history of dance is certainly displayed by their re-emergence into professional dance after the 15th century. Our contributions to dance can also be seen across many other genres. Modern dance was lead by many female pioneers such as Katherine Dunham and Isadora Duncan (source: The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 2012). Flamenco dance is known for its female greats, like  Angelita Vargas and Juana la Macarrona (source: Leblon, 1994). When Belly Dancing made its way to the film industry, many Egyptian actresses such as Samia Gamal and Tahia Carioca performed the dance form in movies (source: Aleenah, 2016).

Women and girls have made a huge number of strides in the world of dance, as well as everywhere else. But we still have further to go. Even today, the majority of dance companies are directed by men. When applying for grants, a dance company is more likely to receive funding if they are directed by a man (source: Van Dyke, 1996). So what can you do to help? Raise awareness. Talk to your friends, family, local dance company directors, yoga teacher, grocery store cashiers about the importance of having women and girls in positions of leadership. You can also join in on the conversation on social media using the hashtag #InternationalDayoftheGirl.
Which female dance greats do you admire? Let us know in the comments section!