A Role for Data in Ballet

Data on dance and specifically ballet is largely private, kept for internal review within arts organizations. So when I began this project, the role of data collection in ballet was unclear. The task seemed intractable. Limited information, spread out between many, many company websites. What insight could be gained? Would there be anything meaningful at the end of all that effort? Now that I’m well into this project, a couple thoughts.

The tracking of outcome data is useful for advocacy and informed decision-making. The various stakeholders in American ballet (dancers, teachers, organization leadership, journalists) stand to benefit from aggregated data. Excellent examples of how data can make an impact are Dance Data Project® (https://www.dancedataproject.com/), Memoirs of Blacks in Ballet (https://mobballet.org/), and the 10,000 PhDs Project (https://www.sgs.utoronto.ca/about/10000-phds-project-overview/).

The first two are ballet related organizations with clear missions related to equity – Dance Data Project® focusing on gender disparities in ballet leadership and Memoirs of Blacks in Ballet documenting narratives of black dancers. Notably, they use their resources in a similar fashion. Data acts as a starting point for engagement with stakeholders. And a big emphasis on engagement. The data, while concentrating some level of expertise within their respective organizations, only gains teeth when disseminated to invested parties.

The third is related to academia and is relevant due to the nature of data gathered. The 10,000 PhDs Project was one of the first large-scale attempts to track the professional outcomes of a university’s graduates. A PhD is a significant investment in all aspects – time, finances, and effort. However, the pipeline to academic jobs is notoriously leaky with substantial triage of PhD-holding hopefuls. Why invest four to six years if you can’t land your dream job? Providing transparency is a step towards reform, allowing realistic appraisal by applicants and adaptation to evolving incentives by leadership. I view the data gathered for this project as being analogous – a useful chronicle on the state of the American ballet industry, from school to retirement.

So, my view of this project has shifted with time. I/We want to address the “hard” targets and initiate important conversations about the state of ballet. But Data Pointes currently lacks the type of engagement that bridges data to true advocacy and it’s frankly a task I am limited on. Building partnerships is the next logical step forward. Big announcements and new research coming soon! – J

UPDATE: I can now announce that I am part of Dance Data Project®’s Research Advisory Board! Very excited to continue working with this well-run organization focused on gender equity in the dance world.

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