Keith Saunders didn’t start dancing until he was in college. He was on his way to law school when he decided it would be fun to take a dance class. He discovered that he was pretty good at it and was encouraged by his teacher to continue. Five years later, he was dancing with Dance Theatre of Harlem. Now he’s the Director of Dance Theatre of Harlem Ensemble.
Robby Barnett, Lee Harris, Moses Pendleton and Jonathan Wolken first danced in a class at Dartmouth College. They then formed, with their professor, Alison Becker Chase, the company now known as Pilobolus. Pendleton and Chase also created the offshoot company Momix.
Scott Lowe, a dancer with The Aluminum Show, went to Stanford University and got his degree in Industrial Engineering before pursuing a career in dance. He then went to Ohio State for an MFA.
In our society, men don’t dance. At least, for many of them, not until it’s almost too late.
Peggy Lyman Hayes, longtime principal dancer with the Martha Graham Dance Company, noted in an interview with me that it’s easier for men to get jobs in dancing because there are so few of them. The corollary of that is, often, that those men don’t have as much training as their female counterparts.
Have you ever seen a dance school recital? In the picture above, taken in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, there are 20 girls and only one boy on the stage. That's all too common, especially at younger ages. Do boys really dislike dancing? Probably not. But we certainly don’t make it easy for guys, either.
Dancing is generally perceived in our society as something for girls and we give boys who take up less than macho endeavors a very hard time. Not until boys are much more secure about their masculinity — or they simply can’t refuse their true calling any longer — do they step into a dance studio. By then, most of them are years behind their female counterparts.
We celebrate the accomplishments of our male dancers — Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Tommy Tune, Gregory Hines, John Travolta, Patrick Swayze — but somehow don’t want our sons to grow up to be one. Yet our local theaters who need them for shows we enjoy like Hairspray or Damn Yankees are always scrounging for male dancers.
I hope you’ll go to shows featuring male dancers and bring your sons or grandsons or nephews. Maybe some of them will understand that dancing can be a masculine endeavor, can be an acceptable way for them to express themselves, and they’ll get the amount of training they need to keep up with the girls.
At least it would be a story we don’t hear too often.
Terry S. Davis