Dance as a gendered space and working in sessions in a non-gendered way

 

As we have discussed in previous blogs, a primary motivation for us at Attik is to create learning environments, exercises and experiences that give our participants opportunities to explore their identity.

Exploring dance with children and young people continues to throw up interesting and challenging questions that pertain to gender, to gender and the body, gender and training and ultimately gender and identity.

We would argue that dance is the most gendered of art forms. Aspects of contemporary dance performance push towards a neutral gender profile, but mostly dance is a binary of male and female, of males do this and females do that. What annoys us the most, and Rachel alluded to it in her recent blog, is how a large part of the dance community continues to support the ‘feminine’ way of dancing as one which is soft and demure, that is mostly obsequious and is ‘done to’ by the male. This is balanced by masculine moves that are physical, energetic and loud, and that makes sure everyone knows who is in charge. We also believe this imbalanced gender stereotyping ultimately leads to the situation where the vast majority of senior posts in dance companies and choreographers working in the UK are male, despite females outnumbering the guys by around 9 to 1.

This gendered compartmentalization of movement also happens within education. When I (Ben) go into schools, I get the regular comments from teachers about how dance is great for the boys so they can throw themselves around and let off their boundless energy. What I love to do is point out to the teachers in my sessions how extraordinary the girls are at throwing themselves around (doing boys move) and that it isn’t just a boy trait. It is remarkable how many teachers don’t actually see the girls doing it.

So this brings us back to our training, our exercises and our workshops. What we challenge ourselves and our participants with are creative making and improvisational ideas that are gender neutral, and with delivering responses that are purely reflections on identity for that individual or group, and that aren’t patterned in gender assumptions. Now that doesn’t mean that there are no gendered movement ideas in their work, but that whatever choices they make as young artists are just that, choices.

Because ultimately that is the most important thing. That whatever any of our participants makes, whether improvised or choreographed, every moment is a reflection of a choice they are making. They can choose to explore a stereotyped gender profile of femininity or masculinity, or they can explore their own version of whatever gender profile they wish. Or maybe they wish to neutralise themselves as much as they can so no assumptions can be made about what they are doing.

And when we start to empower our young female dancers to reject the gender identities being forced upon them, to make the choices they wish to make and to be the extraordinary artists, leaders and change makers that they can be then we will start to change the imbalance of power within our dance world.

A call to Dance.

A call to Dance.

A call to Dance.

After the violence of this week, both in Florida and with the news of the death of Jo Cox MP, I have been left shocked and saddened by the hate in the world. And with this sadness is the inevitable thought process of ‘what can we do to somehow effect change’? What can we all do that will support a wave of love that will counterbalance this hate? And this is my answer to myself. We have to dance. We have to grab our loved ones, our family, our friends, complete strangers (happy to dance strangers mind you!) and we have to dance with them.

We need to put our favourite music on in the kitchen when we cook and turn the kitchen into the coolest, groovingest dance floor that ever existed. We need to grab our children and dance with them around the garden, up the street, in our parks, wherever we possibly can. We need to tango, waltz, salsa, whatever with our loved ones, holding them close to us and moving with them and dance our hearts out. We need to randomly dance our way down the high street, through the supermarket, smiling at strangers in a conspiracy of terpsichorean splendor, and showering them with the love we feel for everyone and ourselves when we dance.

Because this is what we will be doing. For all of those reading this, we dance because we love it, because it is at our core and is fundamental to who we are. And when we dance with others, we share that love, and we show others we love them and that sharing that dance with them at that moment is the most important thing we could possibly be doing. So I urge you, dance your hearts out, with your friends, your family, your loved ones, strangers (you know the rules) and fill the world with love, with smiles and with laughter. Fill the world with that indescribable, heart bursting, hand-tingling feeling of love we have when we dance and when we are sharing that dance with others.

In the coming weeks I am going to dance with everyone. I hope you can join me.

Ben

Risky situations and Youth Dance

Risky situations and Youth Dance

Giving dancers what they don’t even know they need is a running theme for us. The young dancers that we work with are generally recommended to come along because they need a challenge.

I (Sophie) know that what we do is different but recently we have started questioning ourselves to define: what is it?

There’s a sense from the youth dancers that what we do is simple or easy. I think in a way it is, because we’re just asking them to play; which is a child-like action or quality. But actually the reality of the sessions is that they come from years of experience and understanding of the dance context. Our methodology is driven by what we are trying to achieve artistically and also what we’re trying to achieve with them technically. (more on that next time!)

There’s this fascinating thing that occurs where this certain type of young person comes along to Attik Youth Dance Company because they heard it is different from other dance classes on offer. So we get ‘The Mavericks’, those who are attracted to words like ‘different’ and where they think they might be noticed. We get the young people who dance departments recognise need something more and often are not doing so well in their other subjects because they can’t sit still. Or they are very high achievers in other subjects and they don’t choose to take dance at school but they need an outlet for their expression. 

I have done a little digging around to see if there is a type of young person that would be more attracted to our offer than others. I found that there is a neural evidence base to suggest that some adolescents are more likely to engage in risk-taking behaviours. In the brilliant article ‘The Adolescent Brain’ Casey et. al propose that their findings ‘ indicate that risk-taking behaviour is associated with different developmental trajectories of the subcortical pleasure and cortical control regions.’ (p.73, 2008) They say that this pre-disposition for risk-taking behaviours potentially puts them at risk for negative outcomes.

Now I am not saying that all risky adolescents are going to be ‘bad kids’ and we are going to solve all of their problems! But I know from my experience of working with young people for the past five years, that the majority of young people who have had a significant impact through our work have been the ones who are the thrill seekers and agitators. Check out our Includance and Fight Me projects.

Somehow what we do is seen as very risky; I’m learning more and more that what else is on offer is known and it seeks to replicate a known dance tradition of one form or another. I suppose what we’re trying to do is to question the norm, it takes a lot of effort to do that, because every single session, every single decision that I make is evaluated. It’s discussed with a colleague or by myself. This practice of thoroughly evaluating your actions and the response they elicit, and then analysing how or why this occurred, is the most incredible kind of action research project ever.

References:

Casey, et. al (2008) The Adolescent Brain Developmental Review 28 (2008) 62-77

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