In the West, 2 dominant discourses surround dance and masculinity: first, dance is situated as primarily a ‘female’ art form (Risner, 2009) and second, boys who dance are often labelled as transgressive and face a homosexual presumption (Berger, 2003; Gard, 2008). Based on the presenter’s doctoral study, the seminar will provide insights into the experiences of 26 male dancers aged 8-18 from north west England, who outside of mainstream education opt to study a range of dance genres (Ballet, Ballroom, Contemporary, Jazz, Tap, Urban) in private-sector dance schools. In particular, it will highlight some of the ways in which they conform to, negotiate with and contest the aforementioned discourses. A particular focus will be on boys’ efforts to ‘recuperate’ their heterosexuality and /or masculinity and this will be considered in parallel with a critique of ‘Project B’, a recent initiative to widen boys’ participation in dance.
The research draws upon Inclusive Masculinity Theory (IMT), (Anderson, 2009) which posits the erosion of homohysteria (the fear of being thought gay), among young men. According to IMT, young men are now able to express themselves through a diverse spectrum of behaviours and emotions that were formerly socially coded as traditionally feminine and feminizing. It is claimed this process has been aided by an erosion of homophobia, which now has a “declining significance” to young males (McCormack,2012).
To what extent then, are male dancers beneficiaries of such proposed inclusivity? Findings suggest that context is highly significant in considering the utility of IMT. Dance schools, for example, were found to be inclusive, safe spaces for young male dancers, whereas most mainstream schools were found to be prime sites of gender regulation and oppression. In the latter, “inappropriate” performances of male identity, such as identifying as a Ballet or Latin-American dancer, (genres culturally coded as “feminine”), could breach “the limits of masculinity” (Cann, 2014) and incur undesirable consequences for young males, including varying degrees of bullying, marginalisation and stigmatisation.
Such findings paint a problematic portrait of contemporary “inclusive” masculinities and suggest the need for a more nuanced intersectional analysis than IMT presently offers - one contingent on local specificities, including social and cultural contexts, better able to reflect the heterogeneity of young peoples’ gendered lives.
Chris is an ESRC-funded PhD student in the Department of Educational Research at Lancaster University. Prior to training as a secondary school teacher, Chris was a professional dancer, adjudicator and director of quality assurance at a leading dance awarding organisation.
All are welcome to attend. Please contact Dee Daglishfor further information.
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