NDEO’s Guest Blog Series features posts written by our members about their experiences in the fields of dance and dance education. We continue this series with a post by Pascal Rekoert, Assistant Professor and Dance Education Program Director at Central Connecticut State University. Guest posts reflect the experiences, opinions, and viewpoints of the author and are printed here with their permission. NDEO does not endorse any business, product, or service mentioned in guest blog posts. If you are interested in learning more about the guest blogger program or submitting an article for consideration, please click here.
I have always felt one of the things dance should do - its business being so clearly physical - is challenge the culture's gender stereotypes.
- Twyla Tharp, 1992
If one thinks about teaching and learning in dance education, the realization dawns quickly that, like the art form, dance education is a gendered field. As a nation, the U.S. upholds rigorous and traditional beliefs and values towards gender norms, especially the expectations towards men. While dance has become increasingly accepted for males, especially in progressive regions, participation in dance classes by young boys is too often looked down upon. This can be traumatic for boys, especially as it occurs during childhood and adolescence when psychosocial and sexual frictions come into play. Therefore, movement educators must facilitate an environment accepting of dance regardless of student's gender.
Why is this relevant, and what has this to do with me as a teacher?
Before I advocate for male participation in dance curricula, I think it's important to highlight some of the benefits dance offers. Dance education research indicates that benefits include increased physical health (Vicario & Chambliss, 2001) and a range of psychosocial advantages like emotional maturation, social awareness, cognitive development, academic achievement (Philosophy, standards for learning and teaching dance, n.d.), and cooperation (Yoder, 1993). Experienced dance educators will also highlight higher self-motivation, discipline, focus, and creativity, but the benefits don't stop there. Dance is physical education, but dance is also an art form where the artist paints their dreams. It is a form of expression that does not rely on words, offering a raw emotional outlet that does not rely on verbal capacity. Like writer/ boxer/ ballerina Vicki Baum said, "There are shortcuts to happiness and dancing is one of them!"
I want the joy that dance brings to be a possibility for everyone, including men, but unfortunately, discrepancies in social dynamics are observable from an early age. As young as age six, boys find themselves stuck in behavioral patterns that limit socioemotional forms of expression. Which stimuli impact boys' resistance to engaging in a dance curriculum? Considering the act that dancing is a practice that puts a boy at risk of being labeled with derogatory terms, what is the impact of bullying victimization on promoting a K-12 dance curriculum, specifically for male youth?
Children are like sponges, and gender ideologies implicitly transfer to our students. Without realizing it, one might be promoting rigid or heteronormative gender ideologies. What are your thoughts on dancing boys? Are you implicitly broadcasting heteronormative or limiting values, behaviors, and norms to your male students? What is the hidden curriculum of gender in your kinesthetic classrooms?
So much is unexplored as it relates to gender dynamics in dance spaces. Teachers are often uncertain about what to do with men that don't follow hegemonic masculinity expectations and enjoy expressing themselves through dance. Should kinesthetic educators perceive dancing men as gems and give preferential treatment, or would it be better to normalize their dance participation and not acknowledge them as different? How can teachers be sensitive to boys' gender-specific needs as they manage their masculinity within an art form that is perceived feminine by society? Published studies related to gender and dance, as sparse as they may be, indicate myriad suggestions, but unvarying among them is the cruciality of support.
Western society's strong opinions towards the sexuality of dancing boys and men impact male participation in the art form. Noticeable concerns in the existing literature on the topic are the understanding, closeting, and renunciation of the sexuality of male dancers. Male participation in dance takes on diverse forms, ranging from more socially accepted forms of movement for men and boys, like social dance and Hip Hop, to aesthetically “objectionable” styles such as ballet. No matter what forms they participate in, however, males in dance find that their sexual identity is critically examined with dancing men in Western society.
To combat the shortage of men engaging in dance and the overall perception of dancing men being gay, many dance educators consciously opt to masculinize the art form to attract men and ultimately normalize the art form for males (Christofidou, 2018). Although many dance styles, like Hip Hop, adhere to heteronormative forms of masculinity, feminine-perceived dance styles, like ballet, struggle with male enrollment and frequently apply a “make-it-macho” strategy (Fisher, 2007). The emphasis within this artifice lies on comparisons with sports and athletics, and only offers males a reductive and restrictive dance experience (Clegg et al., 2019; Risner, 2009).
Risner (2014) reports a similar societal attitude, indicating that the overall heterocentric discourse impacts dance performance and curricula, ultimately contributing to the privileging of straight dancing men. The glorification of these men, which he calls the “Baryshnikov complex,” implicitly refutes the value and existence of gay male dancers. The pervasive utilization of this doctrine by dance teachers and the community-at-large confronts the gay dancer archetype and distinctly aims to enroll heterosexual males in dance. “It is quite another to encourage male involvement by denigrating boys who do not conform to dominant notions of masculinity and heterosexuality” (Risner, 2014). Historically, dance has been a sphere accepting of the LGBTQ community (Burt, 2007; Gard, 2001), and even with the best intentions, the promotion of a specific student sub-group, as happens with the prevalence of the “make-it-macho strategy” or the “Baryshnikov complex,” should not be at the cost of another group.
Because dance is viewed as a feminine activity and the shortage of male dance educator role models, many teaching professionals struggle with recruiting and retaining males (Clegg et al., 2019; Sanderson, 2000). To illustrate this gender asymmetry, "in a large sample of U.S. adolescents, 34.8 percent of girls reported participating in dance in the previous month compared to just 8.4 percent of boys" (O'Neill, et al., 2011, as mentioned in Clegg et al., 2019). Obviously, the scarceness of male dance educators adds to the gender inequity and feminization of the art form, solidifying gendered societal attitudes.
To fully offer a platform for transformation for individual students and America at large, educators, school leadership, and policymakers must comprehend the sociocultural reluctance towards dancing men. Once these parties have discerned internalized suspicions of men in dance, flawed ideologies can successfully be combatted and dance education will improve the lives of all students. This month, I invite (or rather challenge) you to be bold in your curriculum (ad)ventures and incorporate discussion about gender into your teaching praxis. Of course, you don't have to do this alone! The saying "No man is an island" is unequivocally also true for educators. That said, I am here for you! Need some advice or resources to get you started? Wanting ideas to open a discussion about gender and dance? Send me an email at email@example.com, and I'd be happy to assist you.
Burt, R. (2007). The Male Dancer: Bodies, Spectacle, Sexualities. London: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.
Christofidou, A. (2018). Men of dance: negotiating gender and sexuality in dance institutions, Journal of Gender Studies, 27:8, 943-956, DOI: 10.1080/09589236.2017.1371008
Clegg, H., Owton, H., & Allen-Collinson, J. (2019). Attracting and retaining boys in ballet: A qualitative study of female dance teachers. Journal of Dance Education, 19(4), 158-167. https://doi.org/10.1080/15290824.2018.1472381
Fisher, J. (2007). Make it maverick: Rethinking the “make it macho” strategy for men in ballet. Dance Chronicle, 30(1), 45-66.
Gard, M. (2008) When a boy's gotta dance: new masculinities, old pleasures, Sport, Education and Society, 13:2, 181-193, DOI: 10.1080/13573320801957087
Philosophy, standards for learning and teaching dance. (n.d.). National Dance Education Organization. https://www.ndeo.org/content.aspx?page_id=22&club_id=893257&module_id=55431
Risner, D. (2009). Dancing Boys’ Lives: A Study of Male Participation in Pre-Professional Dance Training and Education in the United States. Dance Current Selected Research, Taylor and Francis Group, p. 179-204. Print
Risner, D. (2014). Gender problems in Western theatrical dance: Little girls, big sissies & the "Baryshnikov Complex." International Journal of Education & the Arts, 15(10). Retrieved from http://www.ijea.org/v15n10/.
Sanderson, P. (2000). The development of dance attitude scales. Educational Research, 42(1), 91-99.
Vicario, T., & Chambliss, C. (2001). The Benefits Associated with Dance Education for Adolescent Girls.
Yoder, L. J. (1993). Cooperative learning and dance education. Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, 64(5), 47-56.
After a professional performance career in the Netherlands and the United States, Pascal Rekoert pivoted his focus to education. First, as a company member and Associate Artistic Director of Jennifer Muller/ The Works, he taught dance professionals and collegiate dance scholars across the globe. After, as an NYC K-12 educator, he taught students from Title 1 schools to pre-professionals at Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Performing Arts. As a Lincoln Center Scholar that finished his master’s degree in an inaugural partnership program between Lincoln Center Education and CUNY Hunter College, Rekoert helped revise the NYC DoE Blueprint for Teaching and Learning in Dance. Currently, Rekoert is pursuing a doctoral degree as part of the Ed.D. Dance Education Program at Teachers College. He is an Associate Professor and Dance Education Program Director at Central Connecticut State University, currently the only one providing state certification for K-12 dance educators in the state.
Photos of dancers by Jaqlin Medlock and Headshot by Nico Iliev. Dancers: CCSU students Tyler Barnes & Larenz Young