Scottish Ballet artistic director Christopher Hampson. Photo Courtesy Scottish Ballet.

This Director Is Challenging Artistic Leaders to Change Ballet’s Culture

Ever since accusations of sexual harassment and abuse against New York City Ballet's former ballet master in chief Peter Martins surfaced a few months ago, the dance world has been on edge. While NYCB's investigation into those claims could not be corroborated, the turmoil it caused and its aftermath have forced opened ballet's closet of skeletons. In a career that can be so rewarding yet so ruthless, certain aspects of dance culture are taking on a new light.

Many point to the power dynamics between dancers and artistic staff as one reason why artists are vulnerable to mistreatment. Mix job scarcity, intense competition and an extremely disciplined training regime with the fact that dancers are often just teenagers when they start their careers, and it's easy to see how things can become skewed.

During my career, the majority of artistic leaders I worked with were wonderfully supportive mentors who knew how to temper high expectations with encouragement. But I've also been harshly yelled at, ignored and subjected to mind games by others. I've seen colleagues get treated poorly. And when those lines are crossed, you feel like you don't have much leverage. Just yesterday, the Huffington Post detailed harrowing accounts from several former NYCB and Pennsylvania Ballet dancers. Each claimed extreme body shaming and verbal abuse by artistic staff, with one company going so far as to dictate the dancer's method of birth control.


Can ballet's culture change? So far, dancers and journalists have been leading the conversation. But yesterday, Scottish Ballet artistic director and CEO Christopher Hampson published an essay on the company's website calling on fellow leaders to be more reflective. He notes that he's seen talented artists "liberated" under the skilled guidance of coaches, directors and choreographers. "However," he writes, "I have also witnessed dancers humiliated, harassed and threatened, sometimes overtly, but often covertly. This conduct is despicable and belongs in the past."

Hampson notes that while he's never been intentionally abusive to his dancers, there's a larger issue at play:

When you are in a position of power and influence, it isn't simply a question of whether you did or you didn't, you do or you don't. The questions should be: how do others perceive you and how does your leadership affect them? Do you inspire working practices that bring out the best in others? Through leadership, do you demonstrate fallibility and how to learn from mistakes, accepting that success is the sum of the work of many, not just one individual? To these questions, we should strive to answer 'yes,' always.

He goes on to praise today's generation of young people, who have different expectations and will not tolerate mistreatment as other generations have. "Dancers today are not 'behaving badly', they are asking more of us as leaders," he writes. "That's a good thing and we should deliver."

You can read Hampson's complete essay here.


Latest Posts


Left to right: Dance Theatre of Harlem's Daphne Lee, Amanda Smith, Lindsey Donnell and Alexandra Hutchinson in a scene from Dancing Through Harlem. Derek Brockington, Courtesy Dance Theatre of Harlem

Dancers Share Their Key Takeaways After a Year of Dancing on Film

Creating dances specifically for film has become one of the most effective ways that ballet companies have connected with audiences and kept dancers employed during the pandemic. Around the world, dance organizations are finding opportunities through digital seasons, whether conceiving cinematic, site-specific pieces or filming works within a traditional theater. And while there is a consistent sentiment that nothing will ever substitute the thrill of a live show, dancers are embracing this new way of performing.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Alexandra McMaster

Start Your Dance Day With This Delicious Berry Breakfast Crisp Recipe

When it comes to breakfast, I want it to be easy and convenient but still taste delicious. My Berry Breakfast Crisp is just that. You can bake the crisp on the weekend as meal prep, then enjoy it throughout the week cold or warmed in the microwave. It freezes well, too!

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Liam Scarlett with Marianela Nuñez and Ryoichi Hirano during a rehearsal of his Swan Lake at The Royal Ballet. Andrej Uspenski, Courtesy ROH

Choreographer Liam Scarlett Has Died

Over the weekend, news broke that 35-year-old choreographer Liam Scarlett, a former artist in residence at The Royal Ballet, died suddenly at his home in England. "It is with great sadness that we announce the tragic, untimely death of our beloved Liam," Scarlett's family said in a brief statement. "At this difficult time for all of our family, we would ask that you respect our privacy to enable us to grieve our loss."

The cause of death was not disclosed.

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks