Stage Monday, November 30th Words by: Lauren Rogers, pictures by: Mark Bowen/Luke Evans/2Faced Dance

Women in dance: 2Faced Dance's Tamsin Fitzgerald on fighting for gender equality

Stage Monday, November 30th

Women in dance: 2Faced Dance's Tamsin Fitzgerald on fighting for gender equality

The world of female choreography is no fairy tale. 

Too many women in the industry face a fight if they want to get noticed, and battling the boys club culture takes guts. 

Fortunately for Tamsin Fitzgerald, founder of Hereford-based 2Faced Dance Company, that’s not a problem.

 

Tamsin Fitzgerald #TheBENCH #dance #choreography #equality #women

A photo posted by @2faceddance on

“Male choreographers will say ‘I’m the best, what I do is the best’. And if you say something loud enough for long enough, people start believing you," said Tamsin.

"When a women says it she’s considered pushy. She’s ‘too male’.”

This favouring of male choreographers might be fuelled by the industry's wider culture rather than individual misogyny, but it's why Tamsin launched the BENCH, a pioneering project to raise the profile of female choreographers and unpick some of the issues surrounding gender inequality in contemporary dance.

Shout loud enough for long enough, you might smash the glass ceiling.

The five fellows taking part in the BENCH - 2Faced's 12 month-long intensive mentoring and workshop project designed to boost female choreography within the UK's contemporary dance scene. Credit: 2Faced Dance.

“If you ask someone to name world-class choreographers, they can reel off names,” said Tamsin.

"They'll be men. Ask them to name female choreographers and you’re lucky if they can name five.”

She's right - Bob Fosse, Kenneth MacMillian, and Matthew Bourne are household names. What about Cathy Marston, Charlotte Vincent, and Jasmin Vardimon?

In a 2013 Observer feature on gender inequality in dance conversant critic Luke Jennings considered the case of Vanessa Fenton, a Royal Ballet dancer and choreographer tipped for big things.

Her “wry, sophisticated work was never allowed to progress beyond studio performances” said Jennings.

Fenton left the Royal Ballet Company after 13 years. She told Jennings she knew, in hindsight, she could be difficult to work with but similarly outspoken male colleagues were never labelled that way.

"It's as if there was something abhorrent about a free-thinking woman” said Fenton. “Something slightly disgusting. How dare she?"

When Tamsin launched the BENCH in July this year, Peter Knott, area director of Arts Council England – who fund the programme, described it as “an important step forward”.

Unsurprisingly, the response has been “phenomenal": Tamsin received close to 100 applications, and dozens more from overseas.

Five choreographers – each at the mid-point of their career – were chosen from the long-list and, over the next 12 months, will take part in an intensive programme of training and mentoring. Next summer, one of them will be commissioned to create a piece for 2Faced.

“When it comes down to it women don’t get selected for as many opportunities as men, and that can knock your confidence,” said Tamsin.

“I guess I just wanted to see if I could make a dent in the industry’s culture. I think I have a responsibility to try.”

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Tamsin founded 2Faced after graduating from university in Leeds.

“I remember coming back one weekend, not really being sure what I was going to do next, and I think the Courtyard was opening or was just about to open,” she said. 

“I asked John Stone, the director at the time, if I could run some dance classes and he said I could put on a show. He gave me the theatre for free and that was the first incarnation of 2Faced. It was just me and some mates from university. 

“We didn’t have costumes so I borrowed a load of my dad’s shirts which we all wore. It was a bit ad hoc.”

From there, Tamsin began teaching break-dancing classes at local schools.

“That was when I started working with the all-male group. They took a bit of persuading, but I told them dance would improve their sport, because a lot of them played basketball. I told them professional footballers did ballet.

“It was a group of about eight and I realised they were really talented, so I set up the after the school youth group.”

2Faced has been evolving ever since and is now one of the most highly regarded contemporary dance companies in the UK, running community classes across Herefordshire while touring award-winning shows internationally and, through projects such as the BENCH and Re:Imagine India, changing the face of modern dance.

Passing up numerous opportunities to move the company to London or Birmingham, Tamsin is fiercely proud of her hometown.

“Sometimes it can be frustrating: I feel we’re always perceived better by people outside of the county but I love Herefordshire," said said.

"Why can’t Herefordshire have the best contemporary dance company in the UK?"

Re:Imagine India is a collaboration between Arts Council England and the British Council that encourages artistic exchange and collaboration between artists, arts organisations and museums in India and England. If funding is approved, the second phase could see 2Faced and female choreographers from rural India create and tour new work together. 

For all the info on 2Faced Dance classes, visit www.2faceddance.co.uk.

The company's Edinburgh Fringe Festival hit Dreaming in Code, an explosive, visceral double bill, has just finished its 2015 tour.

 

 

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