Saturday, November 27, 2010

Masculinity (and Race) in Dance

Picture a dancer. Most people will imagine a number of stereotypical things: a ballerina in a tutu pirouetting on point shoes, a hip hop dancer grinding on a dance floor, or maybe a ballroom dancer in a pretty dress and high heel shoes. Dancing is a feminine activity; traits used to describe dance (i.e. delicate, graceful, fluid, and soft) are pretty much always feminine. What happens when a male attempts to take on the feminine art of dance? He’s labeled a fag unless he is lucky enough to be an exception to the rule.


CAN MALE DANCERS BE MASCULINE?








Picture a dancer. Most people will imagine a number of stereotypical things: a ballerina in a tutu pirouetting on point shoes, a hip hop dancer grinding on a dance floor, or maybe a ballroom dancer in a pretty dress and high heel shoes. Dancing is a feminine activity; traits used to describe dance (i.e. delicate, graceful, fluid, and soft) are pretty much always feminine. What happens when a male attempts to take on the feminine art of dance? He’s labeled a fag unless he is lucky enough to be an exception to the rule.

CAN MALE DANCERS BE MASCULINE?




CJ Pascoe’s book “Dude, You’re a Fag” is based on the interviews she had with students at River High in California, a school that could be labeled a stereotypical high school. River has its jocks, cheerleaders, badasses, nerds, and rejects; each group handles the subject of masculinity differently. One of Pascoe’s students was Ricky, an openly gay white boy. Ricky is known around school for many things: his unconventional clothing, the fact that he occasionally wears mascara and hair extensions, membership in the Gay Straight Alliance and his talent for dancing. In the school dance shows, he was often the star and danced the lead in many numbers. Instead of being appreciated and admired for his skills, most of his classmates reacted Ricky’s dancing with homophobia. For example, one of the audience members compared Ricky to a car wreck because “you just can’t look away”. Pascoe states that Ricky “embodied the fag because of his homosexuality and his less normative gender identification and self-presentation.” (p. 65); Ricky was called a fag in high school because he acted like one.
Like almost anything else today, masculinity can be racialized. Ricky was a white boy doing feminine things. K.J., a mixed race student, was also a talented dancer. K.J. participated in what Richard Majors calls “cool pose” or what is today known as “hip hop culture”. The African American boys of River High were a part of “cool pose” because they cared about their clothes, the shine of their shoes, and style but in a way that would show off and emphasize their masculinity. When Ricky danced the lead in a number, he performed “all the sexually suggestive hip swivels, leg lifts, arm flares, and spins that the girls did” (69), unlike K.J. who would do more physical and masculine moves like flips and lifts. The crowd would celebrate K.J.’s dancing; Pascoe described the auditorium as “reverberated with the screamed chants of ‘Go K.J.! Go K.J.! Go K.J. Go K.J.!” (74) whenever he went on stage; no one ever called K.J. a fag for being a dancer.

THE SOCIALLY ACCEPTABLE MALE DANCER: “‘physical moves’ such as flips, holding up the girls, and spinning them around” (Pascoe, pg. 69)


Ricky and K.J. were very similar; whether it was through their long hair, concern for fashion, their bodies, or talent for dance, Ricky and K.J. seemed to “mirror one another”. But the social implications that went hand and hand with their race and sexual orientations caused the two characters to be, in K.J.’s case, extremely popular and respected or, in Ricky’s, teased and tormented until he dropped out and left River. Pascoe credits Ricky’s treatment to culture and society and how it “views race and sexuality”. In today’s culture, it is not okay for a white gay boy to dance but it is okay for an African American to dance, as long as he does it in a masculine way.

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