By Jacquelyn Bernard
Edited by Catharine Lewis
In an art form that has been traditionally defined as feminine and only appropriate for women, male dancers are continuing to reveal their aptitude and talent in the world of classical ballet. The following post is taken from an excerpt of Jacquelyn Bernard’s research paper and elaborates upon how males are viewed in dance. Bernard, a dance major and college student in Tulsa, Oklahoma, discovered Ballet in Cleveland through social media and has since connected with Guys Dance Too.
Male dancers are strong, graceful, and beautiful to watch onstage, but the words that come to describe them are not of a masculine root. Maybe “strong” can be related to that of masculinity but the other two, “graceful” and “beautiful”, are what many people would describe as feminine. When one compares a male dancer to these descriptions, he will most likely not realize the destruction he is causing with his own words. Some may be oblivious to the confusion set by these words, but others who do realize the destruction, use them for evil. They use these words as weapons of hurt and a way of harassment. Now, harassment runs deep in the dance world, not only with the discrimination against female body types, but also with the masculinity of a male dancer.
Many think that a male, specifically in the ballet realm, is gay and therefore not “manly”. They tend to put labels on the dancers before getting to know who they are. Society has done enough with male dancers, scrutinizing them based on what they wear in the classroom or that they have to wear make-up onstage for the sake of a performance. With this in mind, society and culture are not seeing past the tights or the make-up, rather they see it as a way to scrutinize the male dancer, to belittle him. They are seeing the male dancer in a way that doesn’t make him a dancer, but makes him an object. He is seen as an object that can be destroyed, belittled, and looked down upon. A male dancer is not an object. He is not just made up of tights and muscle. He is human. He is an artist.
The dominant misconceptions regarding male dancers are ultimately pulling the industry apart and causing many men to be afraid of what dance really is.
A male dancer has a specific talent that requires more than just his physical being; it requires his emotional being, too.
Unlike many athletes who can express their feeling through various forms of physical activity, a male dancer may use his body to express his feelings onstage, making him vulnerable to the world. He shows his heart and soul in his movements, which is a beautiful and rare talent in the dance community, but it can and will be used as a target for society to come in, fire their words of hurt, and diminish the way a male can be seen in the dance community. When the male dancer shows his feelings in the form of dance, observers can take it in the direction in which it is not meant to be taken, causing much strife and war between the worlds of dancers and non- dancers.
Males and females are viewed very differently in the dance world, but in ways that bring out the good characteristics in each and every person within the dance community. A female can be viewed as an “artwork, as a moving object” and a male could be considered “not just a body, but the body of’ a subject.” Of course these descriptions can be taken as polar opposites of what they actually mean. If the male is viewed as “the body of a subject,” then the subject is what should be brought up and cleared up. The male dancer is not a subject of sex but the subject of art or as an athlete who simply is testing his capabilities through rigorous movements. The male dancer “exploits his body in order to express emotions and feelings […]; he displays his own body […]; he makes it an object to be admired for its beauty- a treatment usually reserved for the female body.”
A male’s aesthetic is critically important to his role; it could be his everything. When that image is distorted, a problem appears in the abstraction of the image. A culture and society with no knowledge of an actual art form are blind to everything seen to the trained eye of a dancer.
Society can take this out of context and cause many to stray away from something so beautiful and awe-inspiring.
The views from a society and culture resistant to male dancers are very dangerous not only to the males dancers, but to the culture itself. When degrading someone in the very nature of art, the art is being degraded. The art is being put in a position where it could be deleted from all points of life, but due to the history of dance and its evolution, that it has come so far, it has been re-thought of and re-imagined…
A male dancer is a human, but most of all he is an artistic human. He is vulnerable. He is graceful. He is strong. He is a dancer. A male dancer has freedom to break out of the bondages that society has wrapped around him. He can finally break free and dance beyond these limitations by showing that he is more than a dancer. Despite many cultural and societal differences, the male has come through and shown most that he is more than what is described of him.
Male dancers all over have broken through the barriers that have been put in their ways. They have shown that labels are not at all what they are made out to be. The male dancer has come through so much but still has a journey ahead of him to finally find equality in a world full of inequalities.
Connect with the power of what males bring to the art of dance- Guys Dance Too: The Video.