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Gender Balance

A Collection of Comments made by Campers: Brasstown 1993

Disclaimer: The following is fiction based on fact and a faulty memory.  Not one of these people said exactly what is written here; they also said much else, much, much else.  I excerpted those comments I thought would shed light on the question, those comments that I thought would spark dialogue.

At Brasstown, Winter Week 1993, I moved from dining room table to dining room table and raised the Gender-Balance question.  I was at a table with Susan Kevra and mentioned to her that some women had phoned dance camp directors and these women had promised to play the man's part.  They felt that since they applied long before any man applied they should be allowed into camp.

Susan, like many others, was reluctant to opt for the exclusion of worthy women who wanted to come to dance camp.  “A great many of these women dance very well,” she said, and many at the table agreed with her.  But Susan went on to comment that there might be some women at the dance camp who would not be pleased to find that they were dancing with another woman, a woman playing the man's part.

What if you paid a substantial sum of money to come to this dance camp and suddenly found that often -- up and down the contra line -- you were dancing with women, when you had expected to be dancing with men?

Dotty Morgan said, about dances in general, “It is a real drag to go to a dance with a partner and sit out half the dances.”  Then she said about dance camps: “It is even worse to drive 400 miles and sit out half the dances.’  She felt that if she brought a man, other women should make the effort to recruit a man -- a thought voiced by many others.  Some said men should recruit other men.  As Dotty pointed out, many dance camp applications state clearly that if you bring a partner, you do not have to room with that partner.

I mentioned to the people at Susan Kevra’s table (Bill Tomczak, Claudio Buchwald) that a friend of Fred Kinneman went to a dance camp where there were approximately 80 women and twenty men.  Faced with the prospect of a constant battle for the twenty available men, a large number of the women simply went away and did other things.

Susan Kevra quipped “and the twenty available men must have been run ragged.”  We all laughed, and then I told them the other story I heard about an 80 -- 20 dance camp.  Along one end of the dance hail the women sat on a long bench, and when the dance was over, the women at the head of the bench got to dance with the twenty available men.  The men were, indeed, run ragged.

Claudia & Bill immediately launched into a routine involving taxi cab signs that signal whether they are occupied or free.  Bill saw it as perching on a male dancer’s shoulder, signaling: red for taken, green for available.

Several males at Brasstown said that, at dances where there are more women than men, they feel obligated to dance every dance, even if they don’t really want to.

One of the earliest responses I received was from Bill Anderson who said that an 80 - 20 dance camp would be okay with him: survival of the fittest.  A woman at the table “turned the table.”  Would he be willing to attend a dance camp with eighty men and twenty women?  He said: “I've been to dances where there were more men than women.”  The woman persisted: “I mean a week long dance camp where there are eighty men, twenty women.  He hesitated, which spoke volumes, and then he said that he didn’t like the idea of, often, dancing with other men.  Personally, I sometimes choose to play the ladies part.  I like being swung, twirled, by vigorous men.  But: I, would not like to, dance after dance, dance with other men.

Bob Dalsemer said I must try to see the question from a camp director’s point of view.  Of course gender balance may be desirable, but at some point one must cease waiting for the perennially late men -- the men who wait until the very last moment -- and send out acceptances in order to fill up the camp.  There are, after all, financial considerations, and considerations of kindness to those most deserving ladies who applied long ago but who were kept on a waiting list: they deserve the courtesy of a response.

Although everyone struggled to be fair about the gender-balance question, many people were quite clear about their behavior, about what they knew they would do.  A great many said they would not chose to come to a camp if they knew, in advance, there would be a marked gender imbalance.  Many said they would not return to a camp where they encountered, suddenly, and unpleasantly, seventy of one gender, thirty of another.

Perhaps, at least for the time being, the best thing to do with this thorny question is, as Bill Cox said, “discuss it and leave it alone.”

TO ALL WHO ARE QUOTED HEREIN: I do not expect a response from you, but I am sending each and every one of you this column, and I will wait approximately two weeks before I send this to CDSS.  If you want me to delete your name, or change some of what I say you said, let me know.  I will try to accommodate you.

Personally, I’ve decided CDSS will not publish this column.  I don’t think it adds anything new to the debate raging within the publication.  But I wrote it.  I thought you ought to have a chance to see it.

                                                       A Letter to Brad Foster

This was written after reading your plea for more input.  Perhaps you can include it in the ongoing dialogue.

I deeply believe in equality of opportunity, so it goes against the grain for me to advocate gender balance, and yet there is much in me that says we must do it.

Perhaps we can get at the root of the question if we get specific.  Let us say there is room for 120 people, and one hundred women apply first, are deemed more worthy, and are accepted.  Would you like to be one of the twenty men at such a camp?  Would you like to be one of the hundred women at such a camp? Perhaps we can find some middle ground.

I do believe that if more women are worthy more women should be allowed in, but there must be some sort of rough percentage: I opt for 60-40.  Part of me does not believe what I’ve just said, but I said it because some part of my rational being believes this.

I go to dance camps, in part, because there is such a wonderful balance.  I don’t have to be sorry for some twenty women who, because of their looks / age / dancing ability / character (chose one), are constantly left out of contra lines -- and I know that a woman who goes to a dance camp is not reluctant to dance with another woman, but that only diminishes my pity somewhat -- I am aware of them.

I love the balance that occurs night after night at a dance camp.  Even with the rigged gender-balance, every evening there is a slight imbalance -- people are absent.  But by and large I don’t have to run to find a partner, and women don’t have to run to find a partner.  Gender imbalance occurs more frequently in the small day-time workshops, but the imbalance is small because the over-all balance has been adhered to.

I am an old man -- fifty-five.  I do not go to dance camps for romance.  I do go to dance camps to flirt, to interact, to dance with lively women who can twirl and whirl.  Dance camps are the high points of my dance year.  They would not be, if upon arrival, there were sixty women, and I found I was one of twenty five men.

Is this unfair?  Yes.  Would we want what is totally fair?  How unfair do we want to be?  Why not be really unfair -- have strict gender balance -- and at least increase the level of pleasure for all who will be there.

And yet I feel so smug.  I am a man, a scarce commodity.  I know I can get into almost any dance camp, in some cases up until the very last day before camp.  It is unfair.

There is no easy answer to this question.  Eric Bentley, a drama critic, once said: “Melodrama presents the struggle of right and wrong; tragedy the struggle of right & right... .We all view life as melodrama, insofar as we are fools. Only to the extent that we are men can we see it as tragedy or comedy.”

It is a tragedy and a comedy, and whichever way you vote, you are right.  I vote for gender-balance.

(This was how I originally began the column, but I changed my mind, decided to omit this.)

It is unfair to begin with this story -- but perhaps it is eminently fair: it will reveal my bias.

About fifteen years ago I went to one of the very first dance camps I had ever gone to: a weekend of Folk dancing.  When I got there I discovered there were twenty two women, three men.  None of the folk dances we learned required a partner (well, maybe two or three did), and I was not bothered by the imbalance.  One of the most memorable nights of my life occurred on the second night, Saturday night.  It seems there was a tradition at this particular weekend folk-camp.  After a long day’s dancing, they sat around and told dirty jokes.  They collected such jokes all year long.

What an evening!  I was spellbound, and often doubled up in laughter.  As I recall, there were twenty of them and only one male, me.  The one other male who was there left early.  The session lasted until well after midnight, and only then did I dare to tell a joke.  I don’t know such jokes -- so it took a long time to remember one.  And when I started telling the joke I got it wrong, had to backtrack, and they were in stitches.  No wonder I was silent all night -- I couldn’t even tell a joke.  I laughed with all of them: twenty women, one man.

Copyright 2001   Henry Morgenstein

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