Although times are changing and attitudes are changing with it, there are still old fashioned ideas out there that dancing is primarily for women. As a kid I remember thinking of the few males in my classes as mythical unicorns of sorts that were almost like figments of my imagination simply because I rarely if ever saw them. And those who did attend would often times be ridiculed, called names and sometimes outright bullied not only by peers but sometimes by their own fathers or other men of influence. I knew a boy who had to keep his dancing a secret from his disapproving dad for fear of severe punishment for dancing.
In a society that traditionally has identified strongly with gender roles and as such assigns tough, dangerous activities like playing football, hockey, riding bulls and other activities associated with cowboys as macho and manly; activities like dance which is associated with grace, elegance and beauty tend to be labelled as feminine and therefore something that strong manly men aren’t encouraged to do. Although the stigma towards male dancers isn’t as strong today as in years past, you can still see in many classes even nowadays that women participants generally out number men.
The irony is that in other parts of the world this is far from the case. In most countries dance is a form of story telling and a way to preserve history and tradition that brings communities together. Many Native American tribes danced to symbolize rights of passage and other significant stages in life; Throughout the Philippines a number of different courtship or wedding dances are performed, such as the Pinanyo-an dance of the Bontocs that features the male dancer chasing the woman with the movements of a rooster courting a hen; In New Zealand the Māori people have done a dance for generations called the haka an ancient war dance or chant traditionally used on the battlefield in which just the men violently stomp their feet, protrude their tongues, slap their bodies and make ‘scary’ faces as a fierce display of a tribe’s unity and pride. The words of a haka often poetically describe ancestors and events in a tribe’s history. Nowadays this aggressive ‘manly’ dance is performed by representatives of New Zealand, in particular by the Nation’s rugby teams prior to games. These are just a few examples of cultures in which dance is not only seen as a macho display, but also as an essential custom and way of life.
Similarly the animal kingdom is filled with examples of war dances, mating dances and other displays where usually the male advertises his genetic superiority as a mate with his dancing abilities. Birds like boobies and birds of paradise use movement as courtship rituals to show they have superior genetics. The better their moves the greater options they have to mate and pass on their genes. How different might things be if that were the case in our society? Hard to imagine? Well look no further, as there are examples in mainstream American culture where the guy with the moves gets the girl. One thing that men who don’t dance seem to be unaware of is that male dancers are surrounded by women and in some cases work so intimately with them in a way that can sometimes give them an upper hand when it comes to communication and personal relationships. So it is no wonder why sought after sirens like Jennifer Lopez, Britney Spears, Madonna and Christina Aguilera have dated or even married male dancers.
Although there were a number of films during Hollywood’s Golden Era that showed leading men like Fred Astaire, Gene Kelley, Donald O’Connor, James Cagney and others prancing about the stage as commanding leading men, it wasn’t too long after that the ideal of a strong leading man shifted back to Cowboys and James Bond type action heroes. Despite strong pop culture figures like Elvis Presley, John Travolta who were known for their gyrating hips on stage and film, to Gregory Hines, Alfonso Ribeiro and Patrick Swayze who got their start as dancers, there still seemed to be a lack of visible male dancers in mainstream pop culture.
Some don’t realize that dancing (particularly ballet), requires tremendous strength, skill and endurance, with dancers having to lift their counterparts repeatedly over their heads while performing complex patterns and routines. This isn’t even an easy feat for many muscular gym rats.
I can’t leave out the fact that dance also holds incredible health benefits such as improved condition of your heart and lungs, increased muscular strength, endurance and motor fitness, weight management, stronger bones and reduced risk of osteoporosis, better coordination, agility and flexibility, improved mental functioning, better social skills and so much more. With all of these benefits everyone should be racing to sign up at their local dance studio!
America has seen a surge in popularity over the past decade or two with an increasing number of films showing hunky actors as leading men on the dance floor, such as Antonio Banderas in Take the Lead, Channing Tatum (who was a dancer before becoming an actor), and here in America it has gained a tremendous amount of visibility and mainstream appeal with popular TV shows like Dancing With the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance. With more visible role models for young men to look up to and more avenues to showcase talent, the future of dance looks much brighter for future generations of men and for all. This Father’s Day is the perfect time to invite your father, brother, husband, co-worker or other man in your life to experience this wonderful world of dance!