As part of our continuing commitment to provide a platform for important discussions on issues of access, equity, gender, and power in the dance field, NDEO is pleased to share this guest blog post by Doug Risner, Professor at Wayne State University and NDEO’s Online Professional Development Institute. In this piece, Risner examines issues surrounding the disrespect, gender stereotypes, homophobia, toxic masculinity, misogyny, fear of “others,” among many other dehumanizing actions and language directed toward and about boys and men in dance.
Exploding the Good Morning America Moment
By Doug Risner, Wayne State University
‘Explode the moment’
Teachers sometimes use an “Explode the Moment” strategy to teach descriptive, expressive writing that emphasizes sensory images and details, which can paint a new picture in people’s minds. The Good Morning America moment for dance education provides each of us with opportunities for confronting not only harassment and bullying of male dance students, but also the disrespect, gender stereotypes, homophobia, toxic masculinity, misogyny, fear of “others,” among many other dehumanizing actions and language directed toward and about dance. Looking on the positive side, we hold the power to explode the GMA Moment on an international media platform, re-telling dominant homophobic narratives, perceptions and attitudes about boys in dance in vivid and compelling detail for audiences around the world. In addition, we possess a vast body of knowledge and persuasive stories to re-tell.
The scope of harassment and bullying of male dance students
The prevalence of bullying and harassment in the lives of boys and young adult males who study dance, based on findings from previous research studies on male dancers (Risner 2002, 2009, 2014), was self-reported as experienced:
Teasing and name calling (93%)
Verbal or physical harassment (68%)
Verbal threats or threatening behavior (39%)
Physical harm or injury (11%)
In addition, self-identified non-heterosexual participants reported that they experienced verbal threats or threatening behavior at nearly three times the rate of self-identified heterosexual participants. The level and scope of bullying and harassment that adolescent and young adult male dancers’ confront –what researchers in the field of adolescent health and child development—if they were aware of it –would likely consider a public health crisis in the performing arts.
Long-term effects of bullying victimization
Little is known about the long-term effects of bullying and harassment experienced by male dancers. Adult male dancers tend to minimize their adolescent experiences of verbal abuse and harassment, as well as the lack of support they experienced in their teen years (Risner 2009). These post-harassment narratives often take a “rite of passage” tone, not dissimilar from other dance training discourses in which dealing with inhumane practices and behaviors is tolerated, but then valorized (Abra 1987; Smith 1998; Risner 2009). In the area of bullying research in the general population, studies have found that “Retrospective accounts are biased, although it is not known precisely how much, in what direction, and when” (Brainard and Reyna 2005). However, Berger (2007) found that “victims experience anxiety, fear, and depression, not only when they are victimized but for years afterwards” (105). Longitudinal studies on male participation in professional dance, especially concerning quality of life, are needed.
The need for research
Although we know far more about bullying, harassment, and physical harm experienced by male dancers than at any time before, there is still much we do not know. While the previous decade of dance education research could be considered an explication of male experience in dance education and the challenges of homophobia and harassment, subsequent research for understanding and confronting bullying has been limited. Most studies have replicated previous findings with little to no empirical research specifically addressing bullying from teacher, student, or studio/school perspectives. The need for additional research is dire.
A call for ‘deep listening’
Every time a courageous nine-year-old boy in one of our dance classes is teased and humiliated in front of his peers, we have failed to listen deeply to our program and school. Every time his father and brothers denigrate a 12-year-old boy who has mustered the self-confidence to study dance, we have failed to listen deeply to our program and develop our relationships with parents. Every time a devoted ninth grader in our dance company drops out because he can no longer tolerate being slammed into his locker and threatened physically, we have failed to listen deeply to him, our school, and our personal responsibility. Every time we accept that “this is just how it is,” we have failed to listen deeply to ourselves and the aims of dance education. Deep empathetic listening allows dance educators to call upon our strongest commitments to human dignity and our beliefs about dance education to take action against harassment and bullying anywhere, anytime. I invite you to explode this moment with me.
Doug Risner, PhD., MFA, is Professor of Dance, Distinguished Faculty Fellow, Director, MA in Dance Teaching Artistry at Wayne State University, where he conducts research on the sociology of dance training and education. His books include Stigma & Perseverance in the Lives of Boys Who Dance (2009); Hybrid Lives of Teaching Artists in Dance and Theatre Arts: A Critical Reader (2014); Gender, Sexuality and Identity: Critical Issues in Dance Education (2015), Dance & Gender: Empirical-Based Research (2016); Risner is Editor-in-Chief Emeritus of Journal of Dance Education and Associate Editor of Research in Dance Education. His forthcoming book, Ethical Dimensions of Dance Education: Case Studies on Humanizing Dance Pedagogy, with Professor Karen Schupp, is published by McFarland & Co.