Tag Archives: work

10 fabulous ballet women for International Women’s Day 2018


Picture of a rose

One of the reasons I started blogging was because I was frustrated that journalists and historians tended to focus only on the big names: the stars, the directors, the choreographers, the “game-changers,” the critics and scholars, while leaving out the people who did so much of the heavy-lifting:  ballet mistresses, teachers, coaches, notators, assistants. Another category:  those  dancers who come over during a rehearsal and help you out when those at the front charged with doing so don’t know how to.  Insiders know that ballet is a joint enterprise,  and that on the dancing side, these are the people who make the ballet world go round, who hold it together, who support and lift everyone in it, who keep the ship afloat and motivate the crew in stormy seas badly navigated.  

I wanted to do two things: to say thank you to the people who had explained the ballet world to me when I was floundering, particularly at  the beginning of my career; but also, to disrupt the web search results, so that some of the people I admired most would come out of the footnotes to other people’s biographies. It was the early 2000s, and at the time, people  believed (perhaps they still do?)  that if you couldn’t be found on the web, you didn’t exist. 

Disappearing Acts

They weren’t all women, but the fact that men in these roles are also overlooked has, I believe, a lot to do with gender, with the tendency to dismiss supportive, other-directed, compassionate, nurturing and emotionally intelligent behaviour as unimportant “women’s work,”  compared to the more attention-grabbing projects of choreography, composition, or building new premises.   Joyce Fletcher writes about this in Disappearing Acts

[C]ertain behaviors “get disappeared”—not because they are ineffective but because they get associated with the feminine, relational, or so-called softer side of organizational practice. This implicit association with the feminine tends to code these behaviors as inappropriate to the workplace because they are out of line with some deeply held, gender-linked assumptions about good workers, exemplary behavior, and successful organizations. In other words, the findings [of Fletcher’s research among female design engineers] suggest that there is a masculine logic of effectiveness operating in organizations that is accepted as so natural and right that it may seem odd to call it masculine. This logic of effectiveness suppresses or “disappears” behavior that is inconsistent with its basic premises, even when that behavior is in line with organizational goals. The result is that organizations adopt the rhetoric of change—moving, for example, to self-managed teams—but end up disappearing the very behavior that would make the change work, such as recognizing the effort involved in helping a team work together effectively. 

As an example, she cites a discussion in a manufacturing firm where everyone agrees that “the ability to bring people together, to resolve differences, and make team members feel at ease with each other is something that is very important in getting a diverse group of people working well together,” (p.2) yet these do not get added to a list of core competences because “they are not measurable or something that could be written into one’s objectives.” If you’ve ever had to write learning objectives, or been told to make your goals S.M.A.R.T. you’ll know what it feels like to have to bring yourself kicking and screaming into line with this way of thinking.

This isn’t about giving some occasional column inches to “unsung heroes.”  The concept of lone heroes and solitary geniuses is part of the problem. As Mary Beard said recently in an interview in the LARB about women and power: 

This is about women who want to be listened to and taken seriously and to make a difference to the ordinary workplace. Power isn’t just stratospheric. It’s not just about the glass ceiling. There’s quite a lot of women who feel so far from the glass ceiling that that metaphor is a real turn off. This is about how we operate together at every level in the culture, whether that’s around a university seminar, or high school, or a retail store, or whatever. It’s about thinking about who we take seriously, how, and why.

This list is 13 years old, and I could add many, many more to it now (I won’t, because if I start, I’ll end up doing a new Advent Calendar) but it’s wonderful that I still know,  work or  catch up with most  of them today, and they are still every bit as fabulous. 

10 Fabulous Ballet Women for International Women’s Day


Fletcher, J. K. (1999). Disappearing acts: gender, power, and relational practice at work. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.

Goffman and the office


The Guardian has published two articles on contemporary office design in the last two days – the first a diatribe by Jeremy Paxman, “If I were king for a day, I would ban open-plan offices,” the second a glowing vision of the future as if Paxman had never spoken: “Death of the desk: the architects shaping offices of the future.” Paxman cites the satirical programme W1A as an extreme, hilarious-if-it-weren’t-actually-true example of office design gone mad, the second article offers the architect’s defence.  With no hint of irony, it also describes new offices that will have a running track for employees, because with longer hours, workers need somewhere to “let off steam,” as if Google and others are doing their employees a favour. So much for the future envisioned in the 1970s where we’d have so much leisure, we wouldn’t know what to do with it.

The bit that really caught my eye was this: Philip Tidd of design and architecture firm Gensler says things are changing, and that “[y]our seniority in the organisation, your status in the organisation, does not need to be reinforced by how much space you get.” If that is the case, then I can only wonder at the ways in which seniority and status are reinforced in a building where all the stage and props have been removed. In The presentation of self in everyday lifeErving Goffman brilliantly describes and analyses how people use props, costumes, “stage” and “backstage” areas in their workplaces to “perform” their role.  Once you’ve read that, it seems hard to believe that you could take away the conventional material expressions of status and not see new ones resurface somewhere else.

When I temped in offices in between music jobs, I was staggered at the way people in apparently un-theatrical professions were prone to unwitting displays of ego (a point I have to make constantly to people who think that the theatre is a place of unbridled egotism – it isn’t, you can’t get theatre made that way). You always know which are the consultants in hospitals: they’re the ones dressed like something out of Jeeves and Wooster (the circus and medicine are two of the few remaining professional arenas where loud shirts and bow ties are still acceptable costume).  The executive may not have the corner office any more, but their status is probably even more prominently displayed in the car-park, where they’ll have one of the only allocated spaces. Or they’ll have a Brompton folding bike, and bring it into the office (something which would be frowned upon lower down the food chain, I suspect). In 2012, the intern is given the problem of storing the executive’s Brompton in a building that has no useful space to store stuff away discreetly, frittering away his time, or forcing him to leave the bike somewhere awkward.

The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life amazingly timeless, such good observation and analysis that you have no sense that it was written 60 years ago. It encourages you to look out for precisely those activities and accoutrements of a perfomer (i.e. a normal person, performing their everyday life) that are either designed to be missed, or of which the performer is themselves unaware.  It’s not in Goffman’s book, but one situation that fascinates me is the so-called “open door” policy that some managers operate. Can there be anything more terrifying or status-affirming than having to judge whether it’s really OK to enter a manager or director’s office when the door is always open?

See also: great article on the pain of having to dress “appropriately” by Lauren Laverne.