Challenging stereotypes in dance.
Whether male or female there will always be a great pressure to live up to standards. This is not so common in secondary schools, it is mostly in advanced training. In this article I will explore the positive and negative expectations and stigmas placed upon dancers. These often have drastic effects on a dancer's progression and confidence. There are certain boundaries a dancer needs to break through to rise above these stigmas and the bullying, this makes them stronger than the people that call them names.
One of the many stereotypes of a dancer is that they are weak, they are wimps and "drama queens" and over exaggerate everything. In male dancers this can cause the very common assumption that all male dancers are "gay" this of course is not true. In a 2003 sociological study, male dancers reported several stereotypes they had been confronted with including "feminine, homosexual/gay, spoiled, dainty, fragile, and weak". Alternatively there are "positive" stereotypes of the male dancer, these are that he is flexible, strong, thin, creative, and athletic. Although these appear to be positive they can still be damaging. They cause dancers to believe that if they do not live up to these expectations they are not good enough, they do offer something for the dancer to strive towards however every dancer is different. No style is the same, each and every dancer has their own unique way of dancing even if it is only a small difference from the next, but dancers cannot be all of these which has a negative effect on their self-esteem, positive stereotypes are better than the negative but all stereotypes have negative effects.
The male gender has many associations and stereotypes. Males are expected to fulfil the masculine qualities such as "dominance, authority, strength, and a lack of emotions." Although in modern society there does not appear to be a gender imbalance these stereotypes have not changed. As a male, this is how we are expected to be. Of course there are males that fit into these ideologies, however just because they don't doesn't make them any less of a man. We are seeing these stereotypes being filtered out but they are still the patriarchal ideals that we as men are expected to conform to.
Gender is a social construct, meaning: from an early age are cultivated to believe that males and females are masculine and feminine. Of course sex is a physical thing, it is biological and the way you are born, but gender is different, it is constructed and measured on the level of people's masculinity and femininity. The expectations of a dancer are seen as more feminine traits this causes people to assume all dancers are feminine. This is certainly not the case, a lot of dancers, (male and female) have one in particular very masculine expectation, and this is strength. All dancers require a certain amount of strength to execute what we do, but still, female dancers are not recognised for their strength. Another common stereotype; particularly of women, is that dancers are thin/skinny. In actual fact dancers are all shapes and sizes, however when in an audition, you will be scrutinized on your size, it is not personal just maybe you are not what that company is looking for.
From my personal experience and countless shows I have seen I have discovered there is in fact diversity in the dance world, there is just a disbelief that those of a certain size or that don't fit into these stereotypes will not succeed. I have witnessed dancers of all sizes and dancers whose strengths are in a completely different place to the next. The real problem isn't the corporations or the organisations but the public's view on what a dancer is and what a dancer should be, the majority of the public are not dance educated, so it does appear that the people that subject us to the hateful ideologies and stereotypes in fact, haven't a clue what they are talking about. I believe no matter what your strengths, no matter what your size, no matter what your sexuality, if you love what you do, and what you do is dance, then you will be a successful dancer, not just in your own eyes, but you will find yourself striving further if you enjoy what you are doing and don't let the views of others intervene with how you are living with your life.
From my survey I conducted I have found that 4 out of 5 male dancers have experienced negative discrimination against them for being dancers. Allot of this "Bullying" takes place in a lower school environment. One of the main slurs is "gay", the "Bullies" connect dancing with being feminine, and being feminine with being homosexual. They feel stronger by intimidating others and making the male dancers feel vulnerable. Similarly female dancers also experience bullying but it is usually from other dancers and concerning their size and ability. In all of this, dancers will always be the stronger person, because they have to learn to rise above the hateful things people say, so they are not only physically strong, but mentally as well.
Additionally I found 3 in 5 non-dancers have been influenced by the archetypal views, and some believe these stereotypes to be true, the public have been cultivated to believe that these stereotypes and stigmas are the true way of life, being "gay" is just an expectation of dancers caused by media cultivation, leading people to accept these stereotypes as reality.
How can we stop this and make everyone more accepting? Multiple professionals have attempted to do this already. Choreographers have worked with particularly masculine stereotypes for example builders, rugby players, and football players. They have done this in attempt to demonstrate that dancing does not make you "feminine" however sometimes it does not have this effect and people view it satirically. An example of the opposite effect it the money supermarket adverts, yes they are a nations favourite and are comical to watch, however they display dance as feminine. The adverts depict men in heals "strutting their stuff" which is amusing to watch but it follows the stereotype that dancers are "camp" and "gay". Another one of their adverts depicts a builder, which is usually considered a very masculine role, this is a deconstruction of the gender roles as it shows a very masculine character displaying the attributes of femininity, the only bad thing is that they display his femininity through dance, using dance as a feminine factor.
In conclusion, the solution to people naivety is purely education, when someone believes in a stereotype there is little that can be done, but if we raise the new generation to believe otherwise, it will stop the name calling, and the bullying. If dance is made compulsory in schools then there would be no use of people calling dancers "gay", because everyone would dance. Of course dance it not something everybody enjoys. Raising children not to pick on each other would be ideal but I doubt it possible, but if dance is made accessible to more children then we might discover more people love to dance than we thought.
Dance not only teaches you how to use your body's full potential but it teaches more essential life skills, for example teamwork, caring for each other, and most of all, trust. Not only trust in one another but trust in ourselves. And you would think we would be able to trust our peers not to call us dancers "gay".