Neal, a guest instructor at the Miami City Ballet School, admits it’s a lot harder for a girl of equal ability to get money for her dance training.
Darleen Callaghan, director of the ballet school, says offering free classes to males is as much to lure parents as it is for their sons.
“You have to open the door for them so they take the chance,” Callaghan says. “If you offer a scholarship, families are more willing to let them try it.”
The school’s recruitment efforts seem to be working: Miami City Ballet School enrolled more boys at the beginning of this season than ever before.
Even though the ballet field is flush with women, it’s generally men who become choreographers and artistic directors.
This phenomenon, where men quickly rise to the top of female-dominated professions, is called the glass escalator. University of Texas at Austin Sociology Chair Christine Williams, who coined the term, says it’s the opposite of the glass ceiling effect.
“So, instead of suffering from a wage gap they often receive a wage premium for men even though they’re working in jobs that are predominately female,” said Williams, who has been studying gender inequality in the workplace for decades.
She says for women in ballet to make it into a top company, they may have to be the best dancer out of hundreds of others.
“And is that also the case for men? Probably not. I think that for a lot of men there are certainly examples of outstanding talent, but it’s almost like there’s affirmative action in place for men in these positions.”
However, as cushy as ballet might sound right now if you’re a guy, Neal says devoting your life to the art form is a double-edged sword. Growing up in a private, all-boys school in Virginia, Neal had to deal with a lot of teasing.
“On one hand you have a great opportunity by being the boy and having less competition than the girls do,” said Neal. “But what you have to go through in your real life is not easy.”
But many people in the field say the young men emerge with a sense of empowerment that their female counterparts don’t get.
To wit: Miami City Ballet principal dancer Jennifer Kronenberg just released an advice book for young dancers. Natalia Garcia, 11, went to a recent book signing, and when she was asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, Garcia quickly replied, “a professional ballet dancer.” When she was asked about being the boss of a company one day, Garcia answered with a little chuckle and a prolonged “Nooo.”
UT-Austin’s Williams says the way girls and young women answer those kinds of questions tell us a lot. “Women might start off saying, ‘No, I’m not interested in leadership,’ and people go, oh, OK. She’s not interested.”
Lopez says she doesn’t consider herself particularly special. She credits her parents, Cuban exiles who taught her to take advantage of any opportunity that came her way.
She says she’s not sure if her new post is a sign that the culture is changing — women ran major companies before. The most important thing for her is to take Miami City Ballet to the next level.
And she’s glad she jumped at the chance to lead the troupe.
“I feel fulfilled in the same way as when I was dancing — just a real sense there’s a purpose again.”