The Gendered Dance Identityimages3.jpg

Identity is the way in which we represent ourselves to those around us and to ourselves. Without an identity in which to call our own, we would not know how to act on a daily basis. Athletes often relate to their specific sport/activity whether they do it on a team, competition based, or just for pleasure. Within these identities are subsections based on gender. Females and males share some of the same sports such as: soccer, lacrosse, basketball, and gymnastics. However, there are plenty of sports/athletic activities that are dominated by one gender. Although both genders participate in the activity, the dominated gender characteristics, roles and stereotypes have a propensity to be given to the other gender. Other aspects of sports that have in inclination to affect someone's athletic identity are things as simple as attire, how they train, and even their nutritional choices.

Scott Jurek is an ultra-marathon champion who has made a name for himself in the marathon world, and along with his awards and titles comes his decision to be vegan. Scott Jurek (2008) feels his choice to be vegan emasculates him in the eyes of others. Some fellow marathoners, coaches, and even interviewers question his preference to cut meat and other animal sources from his diet.

In our American culture, meat is a big thing—maybe soon to be of the past? Most of our meals are focused on beef, chicken, pork, eggs, etc, and veggies, grains, legumes, and fruit are simply a side dish. It is a common belief for men who want to get “big” need to eat significant amounts of protein. This is also true for athletes. In America we have been socialized to think of hamburgers and chicken wings as a way to gain this protein count. However, there are plenty of other ways to get protein that are vegan options.

When it comes to gender, it is no doubt that typically women are more conscious of their weight—resulting in them eating salad-like meals rather than greasy hamburgers. So, Jurek's decision to be vegan has taken a toll on his masculinity in the athletic world. Scott has been forced to prove to others that his diet should have nothing to do with his masculinity because it is all about “getting enough calories” (NY Times 2010). According to Jurek (2010), protein coming from animals is not what determines a man's big and sculpted body, it is simply how many calories are being taken in to keep up with such a demanding sport.

Even though Jurek gets stereotyped as being feminine for being vegan, he gains back his masculinity through his actions. He has completed many ultra-marathons with his tall and stud-like frame. He cancels out his "girly" diet by being an extreme athlete. This is similar to what male dancers have to go through on a daily basis to protect their masculinity.

Dance has been dominated by females for as long at it has been around. However, since the emerging of styles such as: b-boying, rocking, popping, locking, and house, males have come around and brought a more athletic frame to what male dancers are seen as. Before these styles of hip hop emerged, men were often stereotyped as being homosexual if they participated in ballet, modern, or ballroom. Some males disagree with this idea. Zach Hench (20/20 2007) claims that "(p)eople assume that if you're a male ballet dancer you're gay.images.jpeg And I think it's quite silly because let's think about it. You are working around beautiful women all day that are half naked. It's a great job for straight guys."

Even though male dancers are scrutinized for their feminine athletic choices, they appear to be fulfilling the typical male role stereotypes of our society. There are many masculine characteristics male dancers are forced to embrace via ballet and other styles of dance. For example, they are expected to be there to support the female. In Ballet shows, the male characters are usually "strong" princes that protect the women. Why is it that just because they are in tights that this is not perceived masculine? Within their on stage characters, they are required to undergo tremendous athletic feats. They have to soar through the air and complete countless turns, lifting women above their heads while doing all of this.

George Balanchine had a tremendous influence on ballet in the United States. He became the pioneer of neoclassical ballet. Within this era of Ballet, he took away the scripts and focused purely on the dance. This is argued to be more athletic. Many men took lead roles during this time. Some examples of neoclassical work are: Apollo, Cinderella, Romeo and Juliet. "In the later parts of the 20th century, it was found that well-known male athletes were known for taking ballet in an attempt to increase cross-training. Ballet is often used for balance, agility, and strength training. Gridiron legends Lynn Swann, Herschel Walker, Barry Sanders and Willie Gault were known for their training. The NBA's Chicago Bulls trained with the Joffrey Ballet during the 1990s” (wikipedia) So how is it that a type of athletic training that is even used for professional football and basketball players is seen as too feminine?

Most male dancers argue that what they do everyday for dance is comparable to any other sport. Like Jurek, dancers must continue to stand up for their masculinity every day. They are forced to add back in the masculinity that is taken away by their tights by accepting the stereotypical prince characters that are written into most classical ballets.

images.jpg"The most irritating aspect of the male-dancer stereotype is the underlying insinuation that we in some way lack strength of character or a courageous spirit. Male and female, all dancers undergo strenuous training from a very young age, and constantly wrestle with injuries and fatigue. But male dancers must possess a special type of will and fortitude if they are to become professionals, for, like fish swimming upstream, we have to fight through the current of thinly veiled contempt that much of society harbors for our chosen path." (Newsweek 2008)

Males on a daily basis have to defend their dance identity to others, especially those outside of the dance world. For example, a male dancer states the following: "Yes, I'm proud of my profession . Yet I find myself slightly guarded when I tell people what I do. Like some sort of incurable blight, the male-dancer stereotype has taken root and metastasized in our cultural consciousness. Pioneers like Baryshnikov or Nureyev might have opened some minds, but their days have long passed, and despite the noble efforts of a handful of current ballet leaders to expose fresh audiences to our art form, a whole new generation looks at male dancing with skewed vision. Some of my peers are foreigners; in many other countries male dancers are held in higher esteem. I studied in Russia for a year and always marveled at the way Russians celebrated their artists, whether their medium was dance, music or the written word. But I'm American, and I want to live in my own country, as a dancer, with some respect" (Newsweek 2008).

Even though dance is an occupation or recreation comfortable for female to engage in more so than males, there are still some double standards. Within the hip hop world there are many styles: b-girling/boying, rocking, krumping, locking, popping, and house. These styles, with the exception of house, are very masculine. Characteristics of hip hop are slouched over postures, aggressive movements, sharp accents, challenging acrobatics/tumbling, upside down tricks, etc. This is why men feel that hip hop is more suitable for men than ballet.

Even though women are ever so present in the hip hop culture, there are still some female stereotypes they are expected to fulfill. It is somewhat freeing for women to be able to move their hips and chests around, however, this can turn into hypocrisy. Although House, which is a style that is more sensual, is feminine enough for females to do, it in a way is a double standard. It is technically "hip hop" but the fact that since it focuses on hips and sexual movements, it only enforces the gender standards within dance.

To sum up, even when men participate in ballet and females in hip hop, each gender is still assumed to satisfy their gender norms that society hold for them. Females are to be in need of males support, sensual, and delicate. Males are appointed to be a females frame/support, show athleticism during dance, be tough, take on a protector role, et cetera.


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