Perpetuating the Problem

An Interview with Jessica Lang

Editor’s note: For the past few weeks, I have interviewed several female choreographers on the topic of choreographic opportunities for women in the ballet field. Choreographer and artistic director Jessica Lang of Jessica Lang Dance offers a different stance on whether or not this is an issue.


As a young dancer, what was your ultimate goal? Did it extend beyond a performing career?

As a young dancer, I enjoyed moving and dancing, and I was simply focused on that.  At the time, I was not aware of what I could become beyond being a dancer. It was not until further in my education that I became aware of other opportunities the field presented, and my interests in dance grew beyond being a dancer.

Do you believe your male peers had aspirations beyond performance, or were encouraged to?

No. I had wonderful teachers and believe we were all given the same amount of encouragement.

Do you believe the reasons why men routinely hold positions in power in the dance world are coincidental or endemic?

Men hold powerful positions in the world in every field. This not as something specifically that is “happening in the dance world.”

What might help more female dancers become interested in directing and choreographing?

Everyone needs to demonstrate perseverance and dedication toward one’s passion. The longer you focus only on the thought that women need to be encouraged, the more you just tell the men that they can do it and the women can’t. The focus should always be on finding the person who shows interest in exploring new ideas and has potential. That is where the opportunities should be given. We need good creators and directors evolving our world. Gender should never be a part of that discussion.

How is choreography approached and assessed differently through a female lens (as opposed to the centuries-old male lens) Do you have any examples from your own work?

It is our own human nature that defines what we see, not our gender. Choreography is created through our own life’s experiences. My gender never crosses my mind when I am creating a new work. I believe that focusing interviews on gender does not present a solution to any problems. Creation is not about gender; it’s about having an idea and then the opportunity and freedom to explore it. My work is not and should not be defined by my gender. Don’t judge me on a different scale then you do my male peers. My work can stand among theirs and, by defining me as a woman and separating me out because of this, you are perpetuating the problem. Stop discussing this and just let me get back to doing. It is in doing that progress is achieved.


Jessica Lang Dance in Jessica Lang and Steven Holl’s Tesseracts of Time, Dancer: J. Fiorenza.


Jessica Lang is a choreographer and the artistic director of Jessica Lang Dance. She has created more than 90 works on companies worldwide since 1999, including Birmingham Royal Ballet, the National Ballet of Japan and Joffrey Ballet, among many others. Her receipt of a Joyce Theater Artist Residency supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation helped launch her own company, Jessica Lang Dance (JLD) in 2011. JLD has been presented by major venues including The Kennedy Center, The Harris Theater, New York City Center, Northrop Auditorium, Winspear Opera House, Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival and BAM Fisher, and will tour to more than 20 cities in the upcoming 2016-17 season.