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Let's talk about representation in dance

Equality, diversity and inclusion have come to the forefront of discussions in the dance industry in recent years. Positively, the latest equality and diversity report from the Arts Council (2020) indicates that dance has the highest representation of global majority (Black, Asian and Ethnically Diverse) people across the workforce at 19%, which compares favourably with statistics for the working-age population (16%). However, across National Portfolio Organisations in the arts, the percentage of global majority Artistic Directors and Chairs is 11%, and Chief Executives is slightly lower at 10%. The best represented roles are artists, while leadership roles tend to be under-represented.

Teaching is a significant leadership role, but statistics on representation in education are similarly disappointing. Research from mainstream education indicates that 46% of all schools in England have no global majority teachers. That means that almost half of all English schools have a solely white teaching team. Even in ethnically diverse schools, global majority teachers are underrepresented in senior leadership teams (Tereshchenko et al., 2020).

Representation in education is critical: diverse teaching teams and role models help to build motivation, confidence and aspirations among students (Morgenroth, Ryan & Peters, 2015). Worryingly, research from mainstream education indicates that teachers have different expectations for their students’ achievement and behaviour based on ethnicity and culture, and treat them differently according to these expectations, which are often rooted in stereotypes and biases (Hynds et al., 2016; Turner, Rubie-Davies, & Webber, 2015; Tenenbaum & Ruck, 2007). For example, there is evidence that Black students are systematically marked down on assessments by their own white teachers, but receive higher marks when assessed anonymously by external examiners (Burgess & Greaves, 2013). Such expectations and behaviours from white teachers can result in academic and vocational underachievement among global majority students, whose own self-perceptions can be damaged by experiences of discrimination and prejudice from significant adults (Hynds et al., 2016).

There have been many conversations within the dance industry about representation and racial equity in education and training over the last 2 years, but the pace of change has been slow. This is exacerbated by a lack of dance-specific empirical evidence. First-person accounts indicate that there are unique challenges and barriers related to dance, including attitudes around aesthetics (e.g. body shape, hair texture), the availability of appropriate flesh-coloured attire (e.g. tights and shoes), and stereotyping of global majority dancers who may be given roles performances as the “exotic” dancer rather than the “princess” (Johnson, 2017). These attitudes and stereotypes are informed by the dominance of ballet as the “high art” of dance and its connotations of whiteness being the standard (Evans, 2022), and are reinforced by the omission or minimisation of the contributions of global majority dancers in the development of different dance genres (e.g. the development of jazz from Black social dance; Oliver, 2020). Wilson (2022) suggests that the context of Western dance training is likely to have negative effects on the self-perceptions, agency, motivation and ambitions of global majority students, but to date no research has been conducted to examine these potential outcomes.

So, that's where the RED (Representation and Equity in Dance) project comes in! I'm so excited to be working with the incredible Tired Movement, because I'm passionate about research that makes a difference. In the first phase of the project, we'll investigate the impact of lack of representation and racial equity in dance education by exploring student dancers’ self-perceptions, wellbeing, ambitions and aspirations in relation to their ethnicity and experiences of discrimination. In the second phase of the project, the findings will be used to create a framework for enhancing representation in dance training. The framework will be piloted by vocational dance colleges in the UK who have partnered with the Tired Movement and are committed to creating last change in the dance industry.

It's only just the start - stay posted for more as the project develops! If you'd like to know more or would like to be part of the project, just get in touch. And if you want to know more about the Tired Movement's co-founder, Stacey Green, read my interview with her here!


Arts Council England (2020). Equality, Diversity and the Creative Case: A Data Report, 2019-2020. Manchester: Arts Council.

Burgess, S., & Greaves, E. (2013). Test scores, subjective assessment, and stereotyping of ethnic minorities. Journal of Labor Economics, 31(3), 535-576.

Evans, L. (2022). 21st Century ballet, 20th Century racism. Dance Major Journal, 10(1), 2-3.

Hynds, A., Averill, R., Hindle, R., & Meyer, L. (2017). School expectations and student aspirations: The influence of schools and teachers on Indigenous secondary students. Ethnicities, 17(4), 546-573.

Johnson, O. (2022). The black sheep is the black dancer. Dance Major Journal, 5(1), 2-4.

Morgenroth, T., Ryan, M. K., & Peters, K. (2015). The motivational theory of role modeling: How role models influence role aspirants’ goals. Review of General Psychology, 19(4), 465-483.

Oliver, W. (2020). Race and racism: A call to action. Journal of Dance Education, 20(3), 109-111.

Salter, P. S., Adams, G., & Perez, M. J. (2018). Racism in the structure of everyday worlds: A cultural-psychological perspective. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 27(3), 150-155.

Tenenbaum, H. R., & Ruck, M. D. (2007). Are teachers' expectations different for racial minority than for European American students? A meta-analysis. Journal of Educational Psychology, 99(2), 253.

Tereshchenko, A., Mills, M., & Bradbury, A. (2020). Making progress? Employment and retention of BAME teachers in England. UCL Institute of Education: London, UK.

Trent, M., Dooley, D. G., Dougé, J., Cavanaugh, R. M., Lacroix, A. E., Fanburg, J., & Wallace, S. B. (2019). The impact of racism on child and adolescent health. Pediatrics, 144(2), 1-14.

Turner, H., Rubie-Davies, C. M., & Webber, M. (2015). Teacher expectations, ethnicity and the achievement gap. New Zealand Journal of Educational Studies, 50, 55-69.

Wilson, L. (2022). Dancing under the weight of racism. International Journal of Education & the Arts, 22(SI 1.4). Retrieved from

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