Professor Marlen Harrison
1 March 2010
The Perception of Male Dancers
When dealing with sexuality, stereotyping heterosexual males as homosexuals leads to the highest risk for suicide (Dorais). Boys as young as 5 years old are quick to make fun of male dancers (Fisher). Other cultures allow men to dance without being ridiculed, why not the United States? In Africa, men become more powerful as they stomp their feet to the beat (Harper). Americans should realize that dancing, for men, is exceptionally beneficial and is not looked down upon in every culture.
I am doing this research because dance is one of my greatest passions in life. I have danced for over twelve years and not once have I had a male in any of my dance classes. I am curious as to why men perceive dancing as such a feminine activity. Dance is a fantastic and active way to stay in shape. Famous football players are known to have taken dance lessons to help their form. Why are they not perceived as homosexuals or feminine? Does football cancel out dancing? I want to have a better understanding of why it is not typical for males to dance. I want my research to benefit these male dancers. I want America to have a more open mind and not just assume all males who dance must be queer.
As my methodology, I wish to figure out non male dancers’ thought processes and why they believe males dancing is a feminine activity. Researching men’s thoughts on males dancing will help me have a better idea as to why they think like they do. I also want to understand why they think it is okay to stereotype all men as homosexual if they dance. Maybe, they grew up with this idea. I believe that women stereotype male dancers as well. Although, I am just focusing on the men who stereotype other men who dance.
Other resources I have researched discuss a great deal about stereotypes of male dancers, males dancing in different cultures and health benefits of dancing. I am determined to combine all three of these aspects and simply ask why non-dancing men stereotype male dancers. There are a variety of stress management approaches dealing with dance that may benefit men’s health (Hanna). Most men seem to be so close minded about dance that they would never consider dancing for this reason. I plan to portray the benefits of dancing and why more men should dance.
My hypothesis with this research topic is that most people I interview will look down and ridicule male dancers. They may possibly think that all male dancers’ sexuality is homosexual. This is already proven wrong in my secondary research because one article states that only about half of male dancers are homosexual (Risner). Another hypothesis I have is that being a male dancer out of high school is easier than being one in primary and secondary education. I believe this because once a dancer reaches college, they are in a department dealing only with dancers who will be less judgmental and more accepting. My primary research, researching males who do not dance, will help me understand these questions. Using other resources as part of my research will also help me to prove these different hypotheses of mine.
During my research of the topic of male dancers, I have found a variety of helpful information that strengthens my own research. Men should be dancing because it is a healthy activity. Other cultures do not stereotype their male dancers like North America. Male dancers should be celebrated and encouraged not put down. Not all male dancers are homosexual and they should not all be stereotyped this way. That stigma could be traumatic to a heterosexual male.
Why are men not allowed to dance without being looked down upon by at least one person in the United States? Prejudice of male dancers begins with everyone’s idea of male bodies and behaviors (Ramsay). Men are viewed as strong protectors and are “not supposed to be” involved in dance. Although, men who dance have to be amazingly strong. Many male dancers need to be able to lift their female partner flawlessly. Also, men who dance even look strong from an observer. They have large muscles just from dancing. Homosexuality strongly affects adolescent boys. If a boy is viewed as a homosexual and is truly heterosexual, this could cause harmful effects for the child (Dorais). The book that Michael Dorais and Simon Louis Lajeunesse wrote has a very meaningful title. The title of their book is called, Dead Boys Can’t Dance. This title itself explains how boys are affected by stereotypes.
In different cultures, male dancers have no stigma about being feminine (Fisher, Stray). Dance is undervalued. If we understood how social identities are formed through body movement, we could move away from stereotypical North American biases (Desmond). Men dancing in other cultures can be attractive to the opposite sex. In Jamaica, there was a study done revealing symmetry in men and women dancers. It showed that more symmetrical dancing was attractive (Brown). This shows that it is normal for both male and female Jamaicans to dance. It is also considered attractive if they dance more symmetrically (Brown). Also in Africa, it is normal for both men and women to dance. Dance is a significant part of Africa’s culture. Dance in Africa is not just a form of entertainment. There is meaning behind African dance that is powerful for both men and women (Harper). Unfortunately in North America, when thinking of dance as an “art form,” mostly white women are imagined.
Men should start to dance even if it is just for their health. There are a variety of benefits of dance dealing with health issues. One benefit is that dance is an alternate way to help treat serious diseases, such as cancer, instead of using medicine. A variety of therapies, including dance, need to work together to help better the problem. Dance/Movement therapy is important because it helps with the physical, emotional, cognitive and social well being of people. Physical activity increases endorphins in the body which are used as a state of well being. Total body movement used in dance enhances many functions of the body which is why it is believed to be a good therapy (Aktas). There are also a variety of stress management approaches dealing with dance. Dance helps with emotions, stress, physical or even mental repair (Hanna).
There are men that dance that are not considered homosexual by a wide range of people in the United States. Football players dance. They dance to help their form and also for rehabilitation after getting hurt. Doing ballet helps football players to improve flexibility and reflexes. In the 1970’s famous wide receiver, Lynn Swann, was known for taking ballet, tap and jazz to help his form. In 1985, Al Toon, Jets’ receiver said that he had also studied dance to help his skills in football. Randall Cunningham, in 1991, took ballet for rehab from his injuries. My last example is Akili Smith, the Bengals quarterback who took ballet in 1999. At first, these men were being noticed left and right by civilians who thought it was odd for men to dance, especially football players. After a while, this new hype became old and people did not seem to be as interested in football players dancing (Pollak). They knew that football players were just trying to help their form and become better players. If stereotypical manly football players are allowed to dance without the feminine stigma, why are men who do not play football stereotyped?
It is interesting that football players are not seen as feminine. They are trying to stay in shape for something they love to play. They understand that dance is a smart way to stay strong, in shape and flexible. In my research, I want to understand non dancing male views on male dancers.
As I was researching, I found a story about a sophomore boy dealing with dance. He stated that he did not want to do ballet because it is not something men do so, he took up a sport. He did end up dancing with a good girl friend for a talent show and after his friend, who is a male, told him that he looked very feminine. His good girl friend’s uncle asked him if he remained straight or not because he is such a good dancer (Stereotypes). In a different article, a male stated that male ballet dancers must want to be princess fairies (Yahoo! Answers). Where do men get the idea that males dancing must mean they are gay? I asked this question to a few men who have the idea that most male dancers are gay.
During my primary research, I mainly used hermeneutical analysis (Ratcliff). This analysis is how the researcher makes sense of the written text from the participants (Ratcliff). I researched 3 men from the Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Each of these men were 20 years old. None of these men were or are dancers. Also, none of them have male friends who are dancers. I know them and their views on male dancers. From my perspective, I saw that these men were judgmental towards other people and I knew they would have something to say about male dancers. I wanted to understand why they think the way they do. In order to understand their point of view on male dancers, I needed to interview or survey them.
I decided to use a questionnaire with my research. To begin, I showed them a random video of a male dancing. This video had no significance other than it was a male performing ballet. I then had them write a short story about this dancer. It could be anything the 3 men thought of to write down. It only had to be about a paragraph long. After, they had to answer open-ended and close-ended questions. After, they wrote their story, they had to answer the question of why they chose this type of story to write about. This story will help show their views of a male dancer. Next, they had to answer a close-ended question asking about if they thought male dancers are homosexual or not. If they answered yes, they had to explain their answer. Next, I wanted to find out if they thought it was okay for athletes to take dance on the side for training. Whether they answered yes or no, they had to explain their answer for that close ended question. Last, I asked them about why they believe men dance. I did not want to make the questionnaire too long for the participants. So, I only placed two close-ended questions and four open-ended questions on the questionnaire. The video and short essay is where I was able to find the participants main point of view.
I received a verbal response from all of my male participants saying they were going to participate in my research. I sent them a questionnaire through email to fill out. On this questionnaire, I had the website for them to watch the male dancer and respond in an essay to it. I also gave them a deadline as to when I need the questionnaire filled out and sent back to me. I decided to do it this way so; they would be comfortable in their own home. Since they had to write a short essay, this gave them a chance to think on their own without having me disturb them. Also, this gave them a chance to plan when they had time to do my questionnaire. I placed the time it should take them to complete my form so they would not feel like they had to spend a long time on it. They should only write the essay for about five minutes. After the essay, they should only spend about four to five minutes on the questionnaire. Lastly, the video is one minute and fifty-seven seconds, which means the entire process should take between ten to twelve minutes. The video I chose to show them is with Garrett Groat. He dances solo to jungle music. In this video, he moves around the entire stage and does a variety of jumps and leaps. His video can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bc1deri-tDE.
As stated at the beginning of the paper, women may also stereotype men. In my methods section, I am only focusing on the male perceptions. Through my personal experience, I believe men to be more critical of male dancers than women. I wanted to get their thoughts on paper so I could analyze them and find results about their thoughts. I wanted to find similarities and differences between the men involved in the study.
The finished results were somewhat interesting to me. The results that I got back from the three men were similar and different in a few ways. Each participant created a short paragraph that was to explain about the man in the video dancing. One participant stated that the man was very expressive in his movements and that the dance complemented the music well. Even though he complimented the man, he also stated that some of the movements were more on the feminine side. On the contrary, another participant stated that he thought the dance was boring. He stated that he was not interested because he is not into that stuff and he does not think dancing is for men. At the end of his paragraph, he stated that dance is what women do, not men. In the third participant’s paragraph, he stated that he believes the male dancer got bullied a lot throughout his life.
The next part of the questionnaire asked, do you believe all male dancers are homosexual? Two out of the three participants do not believe all male dancers are homosexual. One of the 2 that answered no stated that some dance for a love of interest. The third male that answered yes stated that men are supposed to be strong and masculine and protect the ones they love. He also stated that he believes male dancers are like girls.
The next question asked the volunteers, why do you believe men dance? One man stated exactly that he believes they dance to express themselves through an artistic art form. Another participant stated he believes there are three main reasons why men dance. Two of the reasons he believes men dance are because they do it because of a passion or to express themselves. Also, another reason that he believes they do it is to be the center of attention. The third man’s perspective believed that men dance because they were brought up with all sisters or with someone in their family who danced. He also stated that the men who dance may not have had a strong male figure in their life to show them what being a man is in life.
The last question they had to answer was about whether they believe it is okay or not okay for male athletes to dance. Two out of the three participants answered yes. The one who answered no but, he did explain that there are some instances that dance does enhance their sport but mainly they should not be dancing. He mainly believes that the men should concentrate on their sport solely. The one male perspective was that if a male athlete chooses to partake in dancing then he should be able to do so. He also states that he believes that dancing may improve their performance on the field. The last male explained that he believes it is okay for men to dance because that is not their profession. He believes that it is okay because like a lot of football players, such as Lynn Swann, they are dancing to become more flexible, get a higher leap on the ball and will be less at risk to be injured. He also states that it is acceptable for them to dance because they are not dancing to perform; they are only dancing to become better athletes. Although this paper states a large amount of the data collected, the questions and answers from the three men are placed in the appendix at the end of this research paper.
The results answer my main research questions and for the most part backs up my hypotheses. An important question of mine was why men stereotype male dancers. From what I know of these participants and from one answer to my question in particular, I believe men a lot of the times stereotype male dancers because that is the way they were brought up. Most likely, if they have a son later on in life, they will bring them up the same way. I also believe that each generation is more accepting of male dancers due to what I know of these participants but, that is an entire different issue to research. Dancing is viewed as feminine from non-dancing males because they are used to women dancing and they are not able themselves to do the things dancers do. Each written paragraph from the participants had something dealing with femininity about the male dancer in the video. One stated that he thinks male dancers are a little too flexible and that the whole split thing is wrong. The participant himself cannot do these things and neither can most of his friends so, he believes no male should be able to. Although the results answered my main questions, they do not exactly line up with my hypothesis as strongly as I thought they would.
My first hypothesis was that non-dancing men look down and ridicule male dancers. To my surprise, one participant did not ridicule male dancers at all. The only thing that was somewhat stereotypical was that some of the male dancer’s movements in the video were slightly feminine. Although, he may have stated this about one male dancer but, he did not categorize all male dancers as looking feminine. The other two participants found it easier to look down upon and stereotype male dancers. Between the two other participants, they believed that the male dancer in the video enjoyed wearing his sister’s tights, got bullied a lot and never had a girlfriend. They were fast to make judgments on a male dancer they knew nothing about besides that he performed one dance. Although my hypothesis was not as strongly supported as I thought it would be, the results still showed instances of male dancers being ridiculed and looked down upon.
My second hypothesis was that non-dancing males believed that all male dancers’ sexuality was looked at as homosexual. In the case of my results, it showed that only one out of the three participants believed that all male dancers were homosexual. The consensus of the two men who believed that not all male dancers are homosexual believed that some men just have a huge interest in dance and are not homosexual. So, in my study the main idea is that even though some men may seem more feminine, they are not all homosexual.
Even though I was the one that created the questionnaires to help answer my research question, there are still going to be limitations. For instance, if there was more time for research to be done, I would have had a larger amount of non-dancing males answer my questionnaire. Even though, I received results that all somewhat related with each other, it would be good to have a few more participants to ensure these results. Also, a flaw may also be that I know each of my participants. I could have sent it out to random non-dancing males to see what their reactions to my questions were too. Although, since I knew my participants, they were more comfortable sharing their ideas and answering the questionnaire. So, their answers were extremely valid. Lastly, a limitation I had was finding out if dancing in college is easier than dancing during primary or secondary education. I believed this to be true because in college, dancers are more likely to stick with their group and do not associate as much with people who do not accept them. To figure this out, someone would have to research several male dancers to see the experiences they had both in college and in elementary through high school.
There is a large amount of future research that can be conducted for this topic. First, male dancers should be researched for their experiences through the years. The researcher should ask the male dancers to explain in detail about experiences they have had with bullying or stereotyping. It would be good to see the male dancer’s perspective on non-dancing males’ perspectives. Also, as stated above, another research idea could be seeing if the views of male dancers have changed from generation to generation. Lastly, the researcher could interview female dancers and non-dancers to understand their perspective on male dancers. With this topic, there are a variety of places a researcher could go.
Male dancers are ridiculed in the United States mainly because non-male dancers are brought up to believe that dancing is feminine. This belief should not be true because it is good for males to dance for their health and may just be a passion of theirs. It is also not known to be feminine in every culture. There are probably men who want to dance but are too afraid to dance because of the stereotype they would fall under. “Some men have thousands of reasons why
they cannot do what they want to, when all they need is one reason why they can (Graham).”
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