The chasm that divides the way the (Western) male population views and forms its opinions around men in dance, when say viewed on a popular dance show on telly, as opposed to when they actually come into contact with a real live male dancer, is so vast that it defies comprehension. Especially when we take into consideration how long it’s been since we’ve had to hunt for food. They don’t know the fella on TV performing physical feats that defy the imagination, never mind gravity, and they may even remark favourably in this direction. But one of these dancing types coming into their close proximity will see them rushing for a controlled lobotomy to eradicate the usage of the word pink from their vocabulary!
I think it would be prudent at this juncture to point out that I am making these observations from a white Western male point of view and as such, they cannot be pinned wholesale to the Western male. More on these cultural disparities later...
So where does this absurd fear – which now bears the fancy name of homophobia – spring from? For sure, it didn’t start last Tuesday, but has perhaps been around since our days in caves. Back then, men set-off to go hunting, they didn’t jeté -off. And they had no business with the gathering. I know I’m being flagrantly assumptive to assume that our ancestors weren’t more tolerant of each other but I merely paint this picture to portray how deeply rooted is the problem of an erroneous definition of masculinity.
We grow up in a society where masculinity, and subsequently the definition of a real man, is based on traits such as supremacy, domination, power, assertiveness and control. Being impervious to emotions is also seen as a plus. Male dominated sports such as rugby, where aggression and strength are the order of the day, are seen by many as the pinnacle of manhood. And woe betides the young man who fails to reach or attempt to reach this mark. The maths is straightforward. Rugby hero = real man. And consequently the media holds up this banner and the sheep follow.
The penalty for not upholding this banner is tantamount to a red card in today’s modern parlance. And so we now see that masculinity – or rather how masculinity is perceived –deviates from the natural flow or rhythm of the Universe. It is now something other than that which should spring forth naturally from within. It morphs into something that needs to be studied upon. Exams written about. Forced. Failure to pass this extracurricular life-subject can have far-reaching consequences for a young man: not acting in a masculine way = a sissy = being feminine = you are attracted to men. Here endeth the lesson.
So apart from all the usual problems that a growing adolescent has to face, he now has one more. And even if he isn’t attracted to other men, there is a good chance that he could be labelled as such, simply because he failed, nay, refused to write the aforementioned exam! In a nutshell then, the fear of being seen as a girl creates the homophobia that is so widespread in these days of otherwise unprecedented advancements.
And this Triassic fear causes even more difficulties for the emerging male of the species. From a white heterosexual point of view in countries like North America, Great Britain, Australia and South Africa, it makes it virtually impossible for most of them to simply go out and have a good boogie! Because here; dancing is still considered a non-masculine thing to do. Which is really dense when one considers the perks that are available should a man choose to shed his fear and truly become a real man. What perks do I speak of I hear you ask? Well, I’ll tell you: Dancing relieves inhibitions and tensions between people. This, in turn, creates a newfound confidence in the said dancer. And you don’t have to be Fred Astaire. Women admire men who are trying and not sitting on the sidelines hurling insecure abuse. Dancing will also tell your new dancing partner that you have rhythm. This is a good thing. Trust me, I’m a dancer.
I mentioned earlier that these views cannot be pinned wholesale to the Western male because so many western male cultures don’t even question if they should dance or not. They just do. In Spain a male Spanish dancer is revered. As is a Tango dancer in Argentina or a hip-hop dancer anywhere. Why even our own Afrikaners show no shame in windsurfing around the local town hall at the drop of a wedding invite.
So it’s not all doom and gloom. Things have gotten a tad better but this absurd fear needs to be thrown wholesale out of the cave. Or perhaps the fear should be left behind in the cave so that the newly promoted O Fearless One can join the rest of us on the dance floor.
About the Writer: Bruce Spilsbury works in Sales at Turning Point, Cape Town and has recently landed a role as Kitri’s father in Cape Town City Ballets upcoming production of Don Quixote.