Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific
Issue 27, November 2011

    Men Teaching Dance

    Ralph Buck


        That was wonderful, especially because you're a man.

      1. It was a fleeting comment made recently by a female primary school teacher, following a creative dance lesson that I had taught to her students. My mind whirled. What does that mean? Is she saying male teachers are normally bad at teaching dance, but this lesson was good? Men do not normally teach dance, but you do? Men are not often teachers in a primary school? Men bring something to teaching that women do not? Children don't often see men in different vocations, especially dance and teaching? You are a good role model for the children especially the boys?
      2. The comment was perhaps typical of many experienced by men who teach dance. I have been teaching dance classes for more than twenty years, first within secondary and primary schools and subsequently within tertiary institutions, in which I have been responsible for training students to teach dance classes in schools. Within this time I have often noted that my gender has elicited comments that are perhaps not usually directed at female teachers of dance. One poignant conversation occurred when researching primary school teachers' meanings of dance in New Zealand. It took place with three boys I had taught the week before:

          Tom: You're gay, are ya?
          Me: Does it matter?
          William: You're cool.
          Mark: You're not gay are you?
          Tom: You're a good dancer.
          Me: I'm not, who cares if I am?
          Mark: You're a good dancer.
          Tom: Dance is cool.
          Me: Did you do dance today?
          Mark: Nah.
          Me: Do any yesterday?
          Mark: Yeah.
          Me: What was it like?
          Mark and Tom: Cool, good. See ya.
          Me: See ya.[1]

      3. My reading of this conversation is that while these boys enjoyed dance, they needed to check out my sexuality in respect to dominant local perceptions of masculinity, and in doing so check their own credibility as boys dancing. These boys were comfortable and happy dancing, yet their personal comfort needed to be reconciled with their reading of societal meanings of male dancers and male teachers. Obviously the scarcity of male dance teachers in their own experience played some part in raising their uncertainty, along with stereotypes that may have been imprinted on them relating to the notion of a male dance teacher. There seemed to be a peculiarity about a man using his body to communicate ideas to them and expecting them to use their bodies to expressively respond, and it required clarification.
      4. How might this sense of peculiarity be addressed? A week after the primary school teacher mentioned that she liked my dance class 'especially' because I was a man, I presented this comment to a postgraduate dance education class that I was teaching. The class was comprised of five men, each with extensive experience teaching dance, and the comment initiated a lengthy discussion. The discussion touched on issues relating to male teachers as role models for boys; male teachers, dance and sexuality; teacher/student relationships; pedagogies; issues around men and physical contact; perceptions of teaching as a career; others' perceptions; dance and boys; masculinity and femininity. The stand out issue that we repeatedly noted, however, was the homophobia that we all dealt with or worked within. In response, we felt that men teachers of dance have a role in influencing homophobic prejudice and informing social meanings of who teaches dance and how. This followed the idea that 'increasing male participation in dance and exorcising homophobia can help break the oppressive masculinity and can open avenues for new modes of global being.'[2] Whilst this classroom discussion reflected many such themes that have been theorised, I was surprised by how hearing these anecdotes of other male teachers pushed me to more deeply reflect upon my own practice as a dance teacher. This prompted me to undertake further research, investigating the stories and experiences of three male teachers of dance. The subsequent interviews were undertaken in order to bounce ideas around, clarify my thoughts and prompt deeper reflection on my own identity as a male dance teacher.

        Methodology: what we do and say reveals our meanings
      5. Through this auto-ethnographic study I reflect on my own experience of teaching dance in conversation with three other men who also teach dance. It involves unpacking the stated and unstated doubt and/or over valorisation that shadow men who teach dance. As the opening statement above infers it would appear that for this teacher, it is not normal for men to teach dance. The question is, why is it not normal and what is informing others' perceptions of men who teach dance?
      6. This study is situated in Aotearoa/New Zealand and constructions of masculinities and femininities are largely informed by local social discourses. To examine the diversity of this cultural context, I actively sought the narratives of male dance teachers from distinct sub-cultures and educational forums, engaged in teaching very differing styles of dance. Through such a diversity I was hoping to recognise themes relating to 'men teaching dance' that may extend beyond the parameters of a specific dance style in a specific educational context. The study thus includes the voices of three men, who have been given pseudonyms, and myself. Charlie is 38 years old, has considerable experience working with independent professional dancers and has a particular focus on teaching contact improvisation. Wharakei is a 32-year-old Maori man and teaches Haka, hip hop and ballet, mostly in community settings. John is 39, an ex-professional ballet dancer, and has taught ballet in many dance studio contexts and now increasingly in schools and tertiary contexts. I am 50 years old, have an extensive background in teaching at all levels of formal education, have taught at tertiary level for over ten years, and am mostly interested in dance education pedagogies and community dance. For some of these men racial and cultural discourses added further complexity to their stories. As tempting as it was to account for this discussion, this paper has remained focused on pedagogy, though I see scope in the future to take on board these extra views. Marianne Schultz's 'Sons of the Empire: Dance and the New Zealand male'[3] and Ty P Kawika Tengan's 'Native me re-made: Gender and nation in Contemporary Hawai'i[4] and Margaret Jolly's 'The Contemporary Pacific: Re-membering Oceanic Masculinities'[5] provide insights into the intersections of dance, race, and culture.
      7. We teachers often account for our understandings and observations through stories or narratives told in the staffroom, with partners/wives/husbands, and over a beer or coffee. Narratives provide for a telling and re-telling of practice which in turn become opportunities to reflect on details, pragmatics, emotions, outcomes, successes and failures. Ongoing reflection and deliberation between the teacher and researcher provide the foundation for thinking of narrative as method. Underpinning the methodology within this constructivist study is the valuing of personal practice knowledge. The research methods of narrative inquiry[6] and educational connoisseurship[7] allow for the men teaching dance to reveal their personal experiences, practice and beliefs, and allow for the teachers' and my reflections on past classroom interactions. As such this research values the teachers' experience as the starting place for constructing and sharing their understanding of teaching dance.
      8. Narrative inquiry invites the telling of and listening to stories; and teachers are in the main comfortable in sharing their relatively private world of the classroom, especially with interested others who 'know' teaching. The focus in the study is each teacher's personal experience. I valued narrative inquiry as a means for examining teachers' practice, and claiming that practice rather than theory is the most useful starting point in understanding a teacher's reality.
      9. Meanings emerged as stories were told and examined. When the listener is someone with considerable expertise and experience, or 'connoisseurship'[8] then the acts of 'seeing'—perception and 'saying'—critique, allow for deep insights and interpretations. Identification of issues and meanings of teaching dance arose through our re-looking and reflection upon our practice and experience.
      10. In taking a social constructivist position this study respects the interplay between an individual's construction of reality and their social and cultural context. My constructivist orientation towards teaching dance and research places emphasis on an active construction of knowledge, meaning that the participants in the process have ideas, bias, traditions and bodies that are integral to the dialogue. Such dialogue does not occur in isolation but within social, cultural, historical contexts, where shared understandings, practices, languages and dances provide conceptual frameworks through which the world may be described and interpreted.[9] As an ethnographic study this research seeks to present emic understandings of what it is to be a male dance teacher, with the research participants' interpretations of their own cultural environment being foregrounded.[10]
      11. In attending to this pilot study of men teaching dance, the teachers' views and stories provide data collected through three one-hour semi-structured interviews. I include myself in the study, commenting on my own childhood, teaching styles, research and I note comments heard in my family and within the classroom setting. In writing and re-writing our experiences, an inductive-analysis process allowed for the emergence of the dominant themes and meanings that arose in our conversations. The small sample is a limitation of this study, and as such the study serves to raise and illustrate issues that may inform ongoing research. The value of this more intimate study is found in its inclusion of personal stories and the in-depth reflection made possible.
      12. The voices within this study come from men of diverse ages, who have taught dance in diverse contexts, such as primary and secondary schools, tertiary institutions, professional dance companies, recreational youth centres and church groups. Importantly we four men did not see feminism as oppressive and we were conscious of gender discourse that often privileged men. We did however acknowledge that the teacher's comment, 'that was wonderful, especially because you're a man' revealed issues that inhibit the valuing of dance education and inhabit our practices as men teaching dance.

        Finding voices of men who teach dance
      13. Existing understandings that surround the issue of men teaching dance may be found in literature on men and dance, teaching dance, teaching dance to boys, and men teaching. These provide significant theoretical insights that build towards a clearer understanding of the circumstances surrounding men teaching dance.
      14. The gendered communities or cultures of males and females are real and are under constant negotiation within and across each gender community.[11] Males and females seek membership into their gendered communities by imitating and learning how to be 'properly male' and 'properly female' from their immediate peers, influential others such as parents, family members, work colleagues, teachers and the wider community.[12]
      15. Being 'properly male and properly female' is a contentious statement. What is it, to be a 'proper male and female'? C. Skelton's[13] research into teaching boys in the UK identifies that boys and girls are very conscious of the range (and lack thereof) of masculine and feminine identities in the community. They know who has power and status, they know what will earn them respect and inclusion.[14] Pierre Bourdieu[15] discusses gender identities in relation to access to social power and this power is gained by those with cultural capital. Boys' and girls' social power in teaching and learning contexts is mostly seen in respect to the cultural capital of academic achievement, or if this is not attainable then they seek alternate means for gaining social power through sport, beauty, deviancy, sexual activity and health issues. As said, the multiplicity of identities are being constantly negotiated within dominant social values and expectations of what is 'proper' or the norm.
      16. Both male and female teachers have roles to play in teaching boys and girls, as men and women relate to boys and girls differently, value different qualities, teach differently, and see and respond to teaching and learning differently. While a critical pedagogical perspective encourages teachers to value and discern the various perspectives and approaches, there is nonetheless an inherently gendered starting position for both the learner and the teacher. It could be argued that 'gender is a primary and insurmountable existential division which must inevitably define cultural experience and the perception of cultural reality.'[16] Within education systems in New Zealand, this sense of difference is captured by Warwick Roger, a New Zealand primary school teacher who suggests that, 'men are different. Our approach to life is different. I haven't had the opportunity to see many men teachers in full flight but from what I have observed I'd say that they have a different approach to teaching.[17]
      17. Whether male and female teachers seek it or not, we are ourselves negotiating 'proper' gendered identities and roles, and are also teaching the students in, about and through the range (or lack of) gender identities. How teachers present themselves matters. It has been contended that what male teachers do, or their action, matters most to boys,[18] while how male teachers dress, behave and socially deport themselves matters to girls.[19] This follows the theory that male teachers connect with boys and construct notions of masculinity through sport, humour and reference to heterosexualised expectations, yet also influence girls' notions of feminine behaviour through their constructions of gendered otherness.[20] Male teachers often seek a 'fraternal' relationship with the boys and hence seek ways to 'bond' with boys, by for instance being a 'lad' on the football field.[21] One suggested reason for this is the male teacher's need to be seen as a 'proper male' in the boys' eyes, the wider community's eyes and especially other men's eyes. Loneliness was another issue Roger raised when interviewing a New Zealand male primary school teacher.[22] Men are the minority in primary schools in NZ.[23] One explanation offered is that male teachers may see a need to distance themselves from the 'teaching institution' which is predominantly seen as a domain of the feminine.[24] At the same time men are often in leadership positions in education and authority patterns in schools are predominantly masculine. Such authority patterns are notable in the organisation and ranking of curriculum and knowledge; surveillance of students' academic achievement or other forms of competitive success that can be ranked; and control of students via discipline, use of resources and pedagogy.[25]
      18. The key point here is that women and men utilise, value and reject ways of being from the opposite gender. Features or characteristics aligned with masculinity such as authoritarianism, athleticism, strength, can be assumed by women, and vice versa men can adopt strategies and characteristics attributed to the feminine such as empathy, selflessness and nurturance. Characteristics of masculinity and femininity are constructed, though each has evolved over time differently in different cultures and each is valued and complexly used by the other gender. The evidence suggests, however, that masculinity is associated with power and legitimacy in our wider society[26] and even in the largely feminine domain of a primary school, masculine discourse often prevails.[27]
      19. Given the place of masculinity in New Zealand society, and arguably most western societies, the ironic twists of power begin to unravel when we consider the real lives of men. Very real tensions appear between the personal experience of being a man and the dominant constructions of masculinities (as blokish, heroes, winners), as there is an 'uneasy fit between mythic literary representations of masculinity and men's lived experience.'[28] This unease is often evidenced as deviancy, higher suicide rates for men, the evolution of men's groups and violence, which all may be seen as means for men attempting to regain some cultural capital or societal power as outlined earlier.
      20. These issues have led to advocacy for the position that boys need input from diverse adults especially from different men.[29] Extending this notion it could be argued that both boys and girls benefit from input from different women and men, with emphasis on difference. It is a gendered world, but it is a relational construction between people, and people and the environment that provide the foundational context. Likewise within education, the relationships between teachers and learners construct the dialogic context in which pedagogic moments happen.[30] It is how men and women relate to other men and women and their dialogue that provides the keys for children to learn how to be comfortable in themselves and with others. Men and women have much to learn from each other not necessarily to become like each other, but to appreciate otherness and to understand and see the complex and diverse constructions of self that may be available and realised.
      21. Research in the field of boys' participation in dance, sexuality and dance education reveals that, 'Gender and its social construction play an important role in students' participation in and attitudes towards dance study.'[31] The issues of gender in relation to dance and specifically dance education are commented on in respect to the predominant female involvement in western theatre dance;[32] the sexuality of males who participate in dance[33] and pedagogies for maximising boys' and girls' participation that is inclusive of diverse sexualities and gender.[34]
      22. The power of the masculine gaze can determine who the male dancer is, as 'dominant male interests are protected through reinforcing the idea of an ideologically constructed monolithic masculinity.'[35] It has been argued that dance educators in the US often minimise gay male presence in order to 'legitimate male participation and to gain wider social acceptance of dance.'[36] This can present particular challenges to the diversely-gendered identities of men teaching dance, and subsequently influence their whole approach to pedagogy and teacher-learner relationships.

        Findings: four men teaching dance
      23. In examining the comment 'That was a wonderful [dance lesson]: especially because you are a man' within informal interview discussions with Wharakei, Charlie and John, three main issues emerged. A process of inductive analysis identified that we all a) negotiated and/or established our sexuality within teaching and learning contexts, b) noted a particular pedagogical relationship to boys and girls in our class and c) referred to our personal experience in dance as boys and learners. Whilst many more issues revealed themselves, the predominance and particularity of these issues makes them worthy of attention.

        Negotiating our sexualities
      24. I asked Charlie when he taught or spoke in public about dance did he consciously or unconsciously establish his sexuality with the class. 'Oh yes', he immediately replied, 'within the first five minutes of teaching a new group, or making a presentation to teachers, I will make some comment like, 'the reason I got into professional dancing as a teenager was to be with girls.' Charlie knew that the general public made assumptions about him and his career, and that by declaring his heterosexuality, albeit with a degree of tongue in cheek, he conformed to their idea of being 'properly male'.
      25. I asked myself a similar question, and realised that it was usual for me to speak of my children and my wife when I begin teaching a new group of children or adults; very clearly outlining my heterosexuality. On reflection, I do not like the fact that I feel that I need to do this. In discussing and modelling teaching I usually 'perform' diverse constructions of masculinity and address issues surrounding the sexuality of the teacher and the learner. These discussions reveal common assumptions about men in dance and how we as future teachers address these issues. I am however, more than fully aware that given the above rhetoric I still insert myself into the discussion as a heterosexual male.
      26. John revealed that there are two dominant tensions that men teachers deal with, suggesting that 'sexuality is an issue with a room full of girls'. He clarified this point in respect to parents being concerned with daughters' safety. In other classes, John explained that he also feels he has to very clearly state 'In black and white terms, I'm not gay.' John felt that he was perceived as either too heterosexual or not heterosexual enough, but that presenting a heterosexual identity was more acceptable than leaving the issue of his sexual preferences ambiguous.
      27. Wharakei admitted that up to last year he had denied his homosexuality because 'it's easier to teach when the students don't think you're gay.' In reinforcing a heterosexual façade he self-regulated his participation in and teaching of specific dance styles. He sometimes drew upon his Maori dance traditions and taught the Haka to reiterate his masculinity (and sexuality) by teaching dance characterised by aggression and strength.
      28. It was apparent that we were conscious of how the learners (children and adults) in our classes perceived our sexuality. On reflection it seems that we did this because we needed to establish ourselves as credible or 'properly male' in respect to dominant constructions of masculinity in New Zealand. We all felt that learners needed us to be 'normal' so as they could participate. Learners were very aware of the societal meanings of dance and they especially needed to clarify common sexual assumptions about us as male dance teachers. The learners, we felt, needed us to be heterosexual so as to enable their credible and comfortable participation. My earlier conversation with the three boys illustrates this need.
      29. Another complication is how parents, teacher peers, principals and employers perceived us. Similarly these people mostly assume male teachers of dance as being effeminate and mostly gay. Their perceptions reflect research that indicates 'gay and bisexual men comprise half the male population in dance in the US.'[37] Whilst there is no such research in New Zealand, popular associations between dance and homosexuality appear to be strong. Wharakei explained his own late arrival into dance as a career: 'I didn't dance for a long time because I didn't want to be gay.' Through this statement Wharekai recognised his own fear of dance as being an activity capable of releasing latent homosexual behaviour.
      30. Perhaps the teacher who said 'Especially because you're a man' was meaning that I, as an identifiably heterosexual male, gave 'permission' for the children (especially the boys) to participate in and enjoy dance without the usual implications of 'dance is for girls' or that 'if you dance you are gay'. This perception of heterosexuality within my teaching identity thus presents particular opportunities and restrictions. It can make dance appear a more inclusive activity, by challenging stereotypes of men and dance. At the same time it might lead to greater social marginalisation of those who do not project a heterosexual identity. Is there an implicit presumption that my heterosexual dance teaching is more 'wonderful' than that presented by somebody without a heterosexual identity?

        Particular pedagogies
      31. Our discussions quickly revealed that we created teacher-learner relationships that were based on our understandings of masculinities and upon how we actually engaged with the learners. We commented on how we initiated dialogue, how we did not take authoritarian positions and how our positions influenced what we actually taught.
      32. Charlie suggested that dance provides 'personal unification…mind, emotion and body, for himself' and then noted that from that personal unity he connects with others and his dance community. Charlie was interested in the holistic and liberating feel and power of dance and that dance actually provided 'enlightenment…and took him beyond the everyday.' When teaching contemporary and improvisation-based dance he describes his teaching strategies as mostly 'demonstration and then layering language, very accurate language, on top of the movement.' When I asked Charlie if being a man informed what and how he taught he quickly replied, 'Yes, for right and wrong reasons.' He commented that as a man he was conscious of legal/social propriety issues around touching learners, especially when the touching is with the whole body, 'It creates nervousness, I'm very aware of the sexual readings…the physiology…I need to just keep going.' On the other hand as a man he liked teaching men, 'something about the male body—just seeing what it can do, its strength, its access to power, directness and simplicity…it offers movement that appeals to me.' Charlie's teaching begins with action. He is aware of his gender and at heart prefers to teach males. He described his teaching as focusing upon doing 'by prioritising the act of dancing.'
      33. Similarly, John emphasised 'technique and mechanics…bodily capability…refining physical ability' when teaching ballet. He commented that boys and girls approach dance differently and he subsequently teaches them differently. 'Girls have a different starting point: seem to know more and be ready…boys, are late starters, but just want to make it happen, now.' As a man teaching dance he said he relates to the boys and the boys relate to him, he said, 'a male teacher can elevate male students…and make male students feel comfortable, they aren't the odd ones out.' As a ballet teacher he saw 'that the need for male companionship in the class is strong irrespective of the homophobic readings and fear of bullying. A male teacher provides safety zones for boys' participation, and this seems to circumvent boy-boy sexual associations.' Again negotiation of sexuality is present and informs teaching. John went on to comment that girls and boys relate to him differently, 'girls don't take the lesson as seriously, they flirt, they laugh…boys are more serious with male teachers, show more respect to a male teacher of dance.' He also noted however, that he feels his impact as a teacher is 'fully overpowered by peers when they become adolescents.' That is, his teacher/role-model status is lessened as peer influence increases.
      34. John was conscious that his heterosexuality, 'blokiness' and 'normal' looks and behaviour informed beginning points in his teaching. Being 'normal' or 'properly male' supported his focus on students, boys and girls, 'properly' learning dance. The relationships created were important, but they were definitely gendered and reflected masculinity discourses in respect to sexuality, authoritarian power and development of skill.
      35. Wharakei began by recounting a recent discussion he had with a youth centre manager looking to employ a dance teacher for 3-8 year olds. He explained that when he turned up for the interview, the female manager said 'Oh, I didn't know you were a male, are you OK with that?' Wharakei was not offered the job immediately, but later got the job when it was turned down by a woman. Wharakei firmly stated that he feels the gender of the teacher matters a lot. He said, 'people have clear ideas about who is a dance teacher…they are slim, white, women.' He went on, 'as a big, black, sportsman…you can see why I've developed a sense of humour about this.' He noted that humour presented an essential tool for a male dance teacher, particularly when negotiating the entry point to teacher-learner relationships. When Wharakei teaches traditional Maori dance, ballet and hip hop, he feels he changes his teaching style according to the type of dance and age of learners. He has remained extremely conscious of society's view of masculinity, however, and suggests that he tended to teach masculine (strong, aggressive, dynamic) moves and stayed clear of feminine moves. This was based on a sense that there is a movement hierarchy, in which male moves are more broadly accepted than female moves. Since 'coming out' as a gay man, he suggests that he has sought to challenge this notion of a gendered movement hierarchy, as he has become less concerned with what mainstream society thinks of him and more concerned with what the learners want and need in the dance class.
      36. He and John both suggested that boys want male role models, but very importantly added that they recognised that girls and boys initially relate to the teacher because of the way they teach not because of the gender of the teacher. I noticed that none of the three men spoke of the need or desire to be authoritarian in their teaching. They felt that students sometimes put them in that role, but the men did not exercise this approach. It seems that we all avoided the teaching approach where the teacher holds knowledge to be dispensed, and moreover also avoided the role of being a disciplinarian.
      37. On reflecting on my own teaching, I am aware that I use humour, that I am action oriented and that I use my voice and body in a performative manner. I perform various masculinities and in doing so build diverse relationships across the whole classroom. My sense of performance is revealed as I go in and out of diverse roles: loud and physical; quietly competitive; nurturing and close; removed and disinterested; and, excited and childlike rolling on the floor with the students, all the time using my voice to create different personas.
      38. I am conscious that I negotiate group and individual relationships that are relatively private and also boldly public. I strongly rely on dialogue, and that this is not necessarily verbal. I can remember one micro-moment in a mixed-gendered tertiary dance education class which serves to illustrate many of the points above. During a creative movement class, the second in a series of ten, I was talking, dancing and roaming the room as the students were creating their work, when I gently kicked the only boy in the class. I did not pause, look at the boy or seek his attention. The next day I asked the students to reflect on this lesson and what stood out. The boy remembered that I had kicked him and said that it was the most important part of the lesson. He commented that he felt connected, that I saw him, and he felt respect. Indeed I wanted him to know that I 'saw' him, yet the kick was not premeditated, it just happened in response to how I saw him in the lesson. On reflection I believe that I was encouraging him, like patting him on the back, and simply making some sort of connection. My pedagogical sense initiated this micro physical dialogue and it helped him relate to me and the lesson. As a male dance teacher I feel that I build such dialogues in different ways in response to learners' actions and behaviours, and also in response to the associated others such as parents, peers, employers and other teachers.

        Our boyhood experiences in dance
      39. We all recognised that our dance experiences as boys informed our teaching as men. Wharakei reflected on his private love of dance, but fear of being seen as gay, reflecting 'I wish I did dance when I was young.' He referred to the key moments in his family when he could dance, especially learning traditional Maori Kapa Haka and in mock 'dance battles' with his brother. He competed in aerobics competitions as his main outlet for his passion for physical expression.
      40. John struggled at school, found dance and then was bullied by his peers. By chance he met a leading male professional dancer/teacher who took him under his wing and nurtured John's desire and ability to dance. He left school before completing any formal certification and basically ran away not to the circus but the ballet. He identified the importance of male role models, and said 'boys are always looking for male guides.' His mentor allowed him to dance when society did not, and 'he kept me on track' (socially, physically, vocationally).
      41. Charlie also had male role models and these helped him explain to his mother that dance was an OK career option and that he did not want to be an engineer like his father. He reflected upon the career and earning expectations that were ever present at home, and that this caused a degree of unspoken tension with his parents. As a young teenager he was aware of the 'boy/girl thing', aware of the undertones of sex and actually revelled in it. He liked all of his male teachers and said, 'as a boy there was something more natural about learning from a man…some kind of 'hangingoutness' that was apparent in a lesson taught by men.' He remembers, and now as a teacher values little 'unspokens, like a nod or smile' that men and boys do, and you 'just get them'.
      42. I too relate to these subtle 'unspokens', these micro dialogues that create safe and inviting learning environments. As a boy, the only dance I experienced was at school socials (dances) in small Australian towns. I remember dancing mainly because I did not want to 'hang out' with the other boys outside. As a small boy the best option was to be inside and safe. I never spoke about dance and it was not till I was 26 years old that I did a formal dance class. Sport was my life, physicality was what I liked. As a teacher now I aim to respect diversity and provide a 'safe place' to be physical and to create movement that reveals imaginings. This is what I was wanting from basketball, hockey, rugby league and water polo. My role models were mostly PE teachers and they helped me to 'move'.

      43. Experience shapes our engagement with the world and different experiences offer different ways of knowing.[38] When applied to education, this can mean that 'teachers' beliefs are derived directly from personal experiences in a subject'[39] and these beliefs can very much inform teacher-learner relationships. As the relationships between learners and teachers provide the crucial axis around which education spins, understanding how teachers (as perhaps the chief initiators of teacher/learner relationships) identify themselves within such relationships can be integral to understanding the success of a teacher. As my dialogues with male dance teachers have suggested, building teacher/learner relationships can occur in the micro moments and dialogues of any lesson, and are by no means predetermined. They do appear, however, to inexorably draw upon complex blends of masculine and feminine discourses.[40]
      44. The four teachers spoke of their negotiation of relationships with learners that involved the declaration or suppression of their sexuality. It affirmed my sense that as a male dance teacher there is a presumption that learners want to know about our sexuality. Should this prompt us to invite discussion around sexuality or challenge meanings of being 'properly male'? Directly addressing issues of sexuality and notions of gender-appropriate movement for boys and girls might better focus an educator's provision of inclusive and meaningful dance classes for all.[41] It is apparent that men teaching dance have a role here, not only in regard to inclusive dance education but possibly in regard to wider sexuality education.[42] Whilst this pilot study made me reflect that on a daily basis I negotiate perceptions of sexuality and being 'properly male' as a male dance teacher, I have gained a sense that this is such a prevalent issue that that there is a need for me as a male teaching dance to facilitate critical dialogue and question what it means to be 'properly male' and 'properly female'. I can play a role in providing mature advice and insights that guide and support boys and girls in questioning dominant constructions and behaviours. Most importantly, however, I can provide support so that all learners have the chance to succeed and learn in a safe environment. This might further require, however, the provision of a curriculum that is inclusive and accepting of diversity.
      45. I was particularly inspired by how other male dance teachers created dialogue with their students that was reflexive and included both purposeful and unconscious interaction. The interaction included a smile, a kick, nod or word and was mostly directed towards building teacher/learner connections that actively engaged learners in meaningful dialogues. These men mentioned humour, hangingoutness, physicality and gesture as being integral to their dialogues with learners. Themes such as 'play, friendship, sensing, time, silence, imagination'[43] emerged in this process, helping their dialogues foster 'pedagogical moments'.[44] Through play the men taught via doing, and employed humour. They had fun and found short cuts to give and get a message through jokes and gestures, allowing them to deconstruct the traditional pedagogic identity of the authoritarian instructor.[45] When I reflect back to the lesson that prompted the teacher's comment and this article, I used many play-like games and 'silly' voices as the means for introducing the dance concepts in an enlivened manner. Hearing other male dance teachers use such play has affirmed this sense of performative teaching. Such playful performance allowed me to share my identity with students through stories of my personal experiences. Building relatively new relationships with learners in that moment in that lesson relied on play: I laughed with students, I swore, I kicked, I yelled and whispered all in the name of establishing learning relationships that are safe, known and exciting. Without a doubt there is an element of performance or going beyond the every day, and yet within this playfulness is a very sincere sharing of dance knowledge and of who I really am.
      46. Within my discussions with male dance teachers we also spoke of the unspoken, often silent bonding between boys, and between boys and male teachers that Charlie described in terms of 'hangingoutness'. Support and trust were vital qualities that shaped our boyhood experiences of dance and that in turn inform our teaching of dance today. Perhaps because of my own relatively late entry into dance and dance teaching, I found it affirming to hear that even if we did not all start dance training at the same age, a desire for physicality was present in all of our boyhoods and had in some ways shaped our later interest in dance teaching as a career choice. We loved moving as boys and we now teach with an emphasis on doing dancing. We want children to sense the body in movement and in contact with other bodies, and to value touch as a means of relating to others.[46] As John and Charlie noted however, touch and bodily contact do raise issues that can be keenly felt by men teaching dance. Society's wariness of men touching each other or male and female students in educational contexts remains problematic for creating dialogue.[47] This has made me ponder on how I try to negotiate touch within my own dance practice. A kick was read by a boy as a good thing, a connection, possibly in the same way that a girl would respond to a stroke or pat on the shoulder. Should I stroke or touch a boy however, with the intent of offering praise or giving recognition I am courting multiple mis-readings of my actions. The wider implications may be seen in a degree of maintenance of the stereotypes that males can not engage in sensitive and responsive touching and contact, and hence I overly return to normative touching and moving which has associations with competitive, athletic, rough play, preferably motivated by the chase of a ball. In doing so, I return to favouring certain types of actions and certain types of being for children, especially boys in this context.[48] In this regard am I reinforcing dominant movement cultures, which position children 'as certain types of movers, for example skilled/unskilled, timid/aggressive, masculine/feminine, gay/straight.'[49] Should I be using dance to critique, challenge and resist hegemonic masculinities[50]or does this risk alienating boys further from dance and make it seem a less inclusive activity? As the men reveal in this study, the answer to such concerns are not easy or straight forward.

      47. So what did the teacher mean when she said 'That was wonderful, especially because you're a man'? I still don't know for sure. When I asked Wharakei, Charlie, John, they all commented that she was recognising that I'm a man with expertise in a career that is not common, and for those students I represent a different type of man and as such a different role model. I felt that in negotiating my sexuality and more importantly my personality throughout the lesson I opened up spaces for all the boys and all the girls to participate in the dance lesson happily. I believe the teacher was very surprised by my candid and openly personal teaching style, and it was this she had not seen in a male teacher, irrespective of the dance focus. How we read this teacher's statement will be open for ongoing debate, and it has prompted me to continue collecting and analysing more stories of men teaching dance.


        [1] Ralph Buck, 'Teachers and dance in the classroom,' PhD dissertation, University of Otago, 2003, pp. 282–83.

        [2] Doug Risner, 'When boys dance: cultural resistance and male privilege in dance education,' in Dance in a World of Change: Reflections on Globalisation and Cultural Difference, ed. Sherry Shapiro, Champaign: Human Kinetics, 2008, pp. 93–115, p. 114.

        [3] Marianne Schultz, 'Sons of the empire: Dance and the New Zealand Male,' in Dance Research, vol. 29, no. 1 (2011):19–42.

        [4] Ty P. Ka(macron)wika Tengan, Native Men Remade: Gender and Nation in Contemporary Hawai'i, London: Duke University Press, 2008.

        [5] Margaret Jolly, 'Moving masculinities: memories and bodies across Oceania,' in The Contemporary Pacific, vol. 20, no. 1 (2008):1–24.

        [6] F. Michael Connelly, and D. Jean Clandinin, 'Personal practical knowledge and the modes of knowing: relevance for teaching and learning,' in Learning and Teaching the Ways of Knowing (84th Year Book of the National Society for the Study of Education), ed. Elliot Eisner, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985, pp. 174–98.

        [7] Elliot Eisner, The Enlightened Eye: Qualitative Inquiry and the Enhancement of Educational Practice, New York: Macmillan, 1998.

        [8] Eisner, The Enlightened Eye, p. 63.

        [9] Eisner, The Enlightened Eye; Thomas A. Schwandt, 'Three epistemological stances for qualitative inquiry,' in Handbook of Qualitative Research, ed. Norman K. Denzin and Yvonna S. Lincoln, Thousand Oaks: Sage, 2000, pp. 189–214.

        [10] Kenneth L. Pike, Language in Relation to a Unified Theory of the Structures of Human Behaviour, Glendale, California: Summer Institute of Linguistics, 1954.

        [11] Christine Skelton, Schooling the Boys: Masculinities and Primary Education, Buckingham: Open University Press, 2001; Ted Polhemus, 'Dance, gender and culture, in The Routledge Dance Studies Reader, ed. Alexandra Carter, London: Routledge, 1998, pp. 171–79; Adrienne Alton-Lee, Adrienne and Angelique Praat, 'Explaining and addressing gender differences in the New Zealand compulsory school sector: a literature review,' Wellington: Ministry of Education, 2000.

        [12] Skelton, Schooling the Boys; Bronwyn Davies, Frogs and Snails and Feminist Tales: Preschool Children and Gender, Sydney: Allen and Unwin, 1989.

        [13] Skelton, Schooling the Boys.

        [14] Mac an Ghaill, The Making of Men: Masculinities, Sexualities and Schooling, Buckingham: Open University Press, 1994.

        [15] Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, London: Routledge, 1986.

        [16] Polhemus, Dance, Gender and Culture, p. 176.

        [17] W. Roger, 'Man alone: the disappearing male teacher,' in North and South Magazine, (June, 2000):32–40, p. 35.

        [18] Steve Biddulph, Raising Boys, Sydney: Finch, 1997.

        [19] Skelton, Schooling the Boys.

        [20] Skelton, Schooling the Boys.

        [21] Skelton, Schooling the Boys, p. 130.

        [22] Roger, 'Man alone.'

        [23] Roger, 'Man alone'; Alton-Lee, Explaining and Addressing.

        [24] Paul Sargent, Real Men or Real Teachers?: Contradictions in the Lives of Men Elementary

        School Teachers
        , Tennessee: Men's Studies Press, 2001; Skelton, Schooling the Boys.

        [25] Skelton, Schooling the Boys.

        [26] R. Law, H. Campbell and R. Schick, Masculinities in Aotearoa/New Zealand, Palmerston North: The Dunmore Press, 1999.

        [27] Skelton, Schooling the Boys; Sargent, Real Men.

        [28] Law, Campbell and Schick, Masculinities in Aotearoa, p. 23.

        [29] Biddulph, Raising Boys.

        [30] Buck, 'Teachers and dance'; Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, trans, M.B. Ramos, Harmondsworth: Penguin Education, 1972; E. Antilla, 'Searching for dialogue in dance education: a teacher's story,' in Dance Research Journal, vol. 39, no. 2 (2007):43–57.

        [31] Doug Risner, 'When boys dance: cultural resistance and male privilege in dance education,' in Dance in a World of Change: Reflections on Globalization and Cultural Difference, ed. S. Shapiro, Human Kinetics, Champaign, 2008, pp. 93–115, p. 94.

        [32] Helen Thomas, 'Dancing the difference,' in Women's Studies International Forum, vol. 19, no. 5 (1996):505–11; Susan W. Stinson, 'The hidden curriculum of gender in dance education,' in Journal of Dance Education, vol. 5, no. 2 (2005):51–57.

        [33] M. Gard, 'Dancing around the 'problem' of boys and dance,' in Discourse: Studies in Cultural Politics of Education, vol. 22 (2001):213–25; S. Keyworth, 'Critical autobiography: straightening out dance education,' in Research in Dance Education, vol. 2, no. 2(2001):117–37; Doug Risner, 'Rehearsing masculinity: challenging the 'boy code' in dance education,' in Research in Dance Education, vol. 8, no. 2 (2007):139–53.

        [34] Doug Risner, 'The politics of personal pedagogy: examining teacher identities,' in Journal of Dance Education, vol. 8, no. 3 (2008):94–97; Doug Risner, Stigma and Perseverance in the Lives of Boys who Dance, Lewiston: Mellen Press, 2009; K. Bond, 'How 'wild things' tamed gender distinctions,' in Journal of Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, vol. 65, no. 2 (1994):28–33; Scott D. Harrison, 'Engaging boys in the arts,' in Australian Association of Research in Education Conference, 2002, online:, accessed 19 May 2008.

        [35] Ramsay Burt, The Male Dancer: Bodies, Spectacle and Sexualities, London: Routledge, 1995, p. 50.

        [36] Doug Risner, 'Re-educating dance education to its homosexuality: an invitation for critical analysis and professional unification,' in Research in Dance Education, vol. 3, no. 2 (2002):181–87, p. 181.

        [37] Risner, 'Re-educating dance,' p. 181.

        [38] Eisner, The Enlightened Eye.

        [39] Edward C. Warburton, 'Beyond steps: the need for pedagogical knowledge in dance,' in Journal of Dance Education, vol. 8, no. 1 (2008):7–12, p. 10.

        [40] Polhemus, Dance, Gender and Culture; Edward C. Warburton, 'Clarifying gender in the learning environment,' in Journal of Dance Education, vol. 4, no. 1 (2004):33–35.

        [41] Gard, 'Dancing around.'

        [42] Doug Risner, 'Dance sexuality, and education today,' in Journal of Dance Education, vol. 4, no. 1 (2004.):5–9; A. Dils, 'Sexuality and sexual identity: critical possibilities for teaching dance appreciation and dance history,' in Journal of Dance Education, vol. 4, no. 1 (2004):10–16; D. Clark, 'Considering the issue of sexploitation of young women in dance,' in Journal of Dance Education, vol. 4, no. 1 (2004):17–22.

        [43] Antilla, 'Searching for dialogue, p. 47.

        [44] Antilla, 'Searching for dialogue,' p. 47.

        [45] Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

        [46] Antilla, 'Searching for Dialogue,' p. 47.

        [47] Roger, 'Man alone.'

        [48] Risner, 'Dance sexuality.'

        [49] Gard, 'Dancing around,' p. 223.

        [50] As argued for by Risner in 'When boys dance.'


Published with the support of Gender and Cultural Studies, School of Culture, History and Language, College of Asia and the Pacific, The Australian National University.
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