ballet

Dance: The Body’s Narrative


Gentlemen, let’s talk. For an eternity I have had to hear your excuses for not joining me and my increasingly small number on the dance floor. Dudes don’t dance. Dancing’s gay. It’s not in my DNA, just take a look at that chromosome! I didn’t have a response to any of those excuses when I heard them, often drawing a blank. But I’m a man, I’m straight, I enjoy dancing, but let me tell you why.

I need you to recall the last time you were at a club, bar, lounge, or any kind of social gathering. That’s not too difficult. Now imagine you’ve met a beautiful woman. You’re chatting her up, she seems receptive, and you both seem to be attracted to each other, but let me ask you something. How can you be sure she’s genuine? Will she disappear after you buy her a drink? Is she just a nice person who doesn’t realize she’s leading you on (not likely)? The answer to those questions comes in the form of another question (I promise it’s the last one). Do you look at her body?

Because I do.

No, I’m not talking about salivating at the sight of her curvature like Pavlov’s dog. I’m talking about observing her body language. You see, before we learn how to use verbal language as our primary tool of conscious expression, we have our bodies and nothing else. Even after we have learned to use our words, we continue use our bodies as a means of expression until our last breath, even if we don’t know it. The human form is fundamental to our expression, and it will always tell a story, no matter how simple or complex, whether we want it to or not. So it is no wonder dancing predates almost every form of storytelling mankind has devised. It’s a part of who we are. It’s ingrained in our DNA, and yet so many men in the modern world deny it, brand it as feminine.

I could try to sell you on it, claiming the greatest warriors of the pre-modern world were often the best dancers, or that Football players take ballet to maintain flexibility and prevent injury. If I’m being honest though, your loss is my gain. We’re here to appreciate dance as a form of storytelling.

Let’s start with The Nutcracker. Choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov with a score by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (op. 71), this ballet classic is adapted from E.T.A. Hoffmann‘s story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. The heroine of this story is Marie Stahlbaum. Its Christmas morning, she and her family are opening their presents under the tree, and she finds a nutcracker fashioned after a soldier. Although it belongs to the family, she takes a particular liking to it and appoints herself as its primary caretaker. She and her siblings use it liberally until her brother, Fitz, inadvertently breaks it on a large nut. An upset Marie takes the toy away from him and uses her ribbon to repair its broken jaw. Later on the Nutcracker comes alive and transports Marie to a magical kingdom populated by dolls.

Nutcracker%20Ballet

This is only my opinion, but when The Nutcracker premiered in 1892 in St. Petersburg, the feminization of dance was already under way. While this was not choreographer Marius Pepita’s most successful premiere it helped continue this trend. Like the majority of Pepita’s productions it had a female heroine, an ambiguous romance, and a brightly colored set. Productions that may have appealed to the men of the era like Don Quixote, were far outnumbered by the likes of Swan Lake, The Pharaoh’s Daughter, Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderella.

Many friends of mine claim to have a difficult time interpreting these dances, but the truth is people from this era had help. Take another look at those titles I just listed. Like many movies of our time, a large chunk of the productions of Pepita’s era were adaptations of popular books. Certain movements and formations became associated with events in a novel or expressions of a character. Audiences caught on to this, and recognized it when choreographers retooled them for an original story. I often imagine contemporaries claiming “The book is better than the ballet” just to sound intelligent.

So who’s responsibility is it to fill in the gaps of modern dance, to take that extra step so that dance can be appreciated as one of the most genuine forms of storytelling? Writers will tell you it is the responsibility of the storyteller to do that. It seems most modern dance companies are inclined to agree. My favorite example for storytelling in dance is the now defunct LXD, or Legion of Extraordinary Dancers. Yes, it is a less than subtle play on the Legion of Extraordinary Gentlemen. You may recognize these guys. Those crazy dance numbers for the Microsoft Surface Ads – that was The LXD. They were even featured on TED Talks.

thelxdimg

This web series, directed by Jon Chu, is about two groups of rival dancers: The Alliance of the Dark who are the villains and The Legion of Extraordinary Dancers, the heroes, who discover they have superpowers referred to as “the Ra” through their dance abilities. The entire story takes place over hundreds of years, beginning in the 1920s up to the year 3000. It features more than twelve styles of dance, including ballet, hip hop, contemporary, break dance and tap. There are little to no special effects, the choreography and stunts are real, and everything is shot on location.

I had a hard time figuring out which episode of The LXD to leave you with, which best demonstrates the storytelling power of dance, and how Jon Chu’s series manages to close the gap. They’re all pretty good, but I think the comic book style of Episode 3: Robot Love Story, is a great place to start. Before you play this video, make sure your internet connection is good, and put on your headphones.

See you on the dance floor.

A.T. Augustine

45 thoughts on “Dance: The Body’s Narrative

  1. Pingback: Daily Prompt: Drawing a Blank | flow of my soul

    1. ataugustine Post author

      I’m very grateful to have found that picture so easily. I googled ‘dance’ or ‘ballet’ or some other generic term and there it was a few rows down, this black and white treasure amongst the chaos of flash. Couldn’t take my eyes off of it.

      Reply
  2. ataugustine Post author

    I’m very grateful to have found that picture so easily. I googled ‘dance’ or ‘ballet’ or some other generic term and there it was a few rows down, this black and white treasure amongst the chaos of flash. Couldn’t take my eyes off of it.

    Reply
  3. runningonsober

    Many years ago, I was fortunate enough to see The Alvin Ailey Dance Company perform to the music of Otis Redding. I remember sitting mesmerized, tears streaming down my face, as the dancers played out “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long.” It was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life.

    Thank you for reminding me of that emotion. Beautifully written, ~ Christy

    Reply
    1. ataugustine Post author

      The Alvin Ailey Dance Company comes to Charlotte once every year or so and I go to see them every time. They’re always the finale to a great dance season at our Blumenthal Performing Arts Center.

      Reply
  4. mrscarmichael

    I hope your post gets loads more guys dancing. A couple of years ago my daughter had the choice of a prestigious contemporary dance school three year degree and university. She opted to study History and one (not the only) reason was the cohort intake and the social life she would have had a dance school cf the whole uni experience. Of the 40 intake in her year 9 were guys and most of them were great dancers and gay (she knew them from her previous training).

    All I’m saying is the lack of guys (in particular straight guys) did contribute to her decision.
    I wish men would wake up and see the opportunities available as you say.

    Reply
    1. ataugustine Post author

      I really think it has to do with the feminization and the elitism that sometimes surrounds dance. Guys think you either have to be gay or Michael Jackson in order to do it. I used to be a competitive Ballroom and Latin Dancer, and to keep a steady paycheck I taught lessons. Most guys that stepped into the studio did so because their significant others convinced them, but the key to his willingness was the lady and how she treated him.
      If it was payback time, he’d eventually find a way out of it. If she was overly supportive in a patronizing way, his pride was shattered. Phrases like “I’m proud of you.” and “Good job” did nothing because he didn’t believe her. If she tried to be a Teaching Assistant, she’d be stepping on MY toes and I wasn’t having that.
      But there were those rare instances when the lady allowed me to do my job and then rewarded him AFTER the lesson (if you know what I mean). Those couples always stayed.

      Reply
  5. mirrorgirl

    I have not known much about dance before, but I like the “energy” in it. Nice to read more about the background of dancing:) I love the way the nurses dance in the background :D

    Reply
    1. ataugustine Post author

      Isn’t it great? The entire series is amazing. You have to look past the campiness of the storyline, as that is a symptom of the comic book inspiration and not necessarily the dancing.

      Reply
  6. Emilie Bee

    Wonderful post! As a lifelong ballet, jazz, and ballroom dancer (and a fan of dance history in general), I find the hardest thing is to convince guys to just give dancing a chance for the very reasons you mention: they think it’s “gay” or ” too feminine.” Maybe it’s because of stereotypes like these, but one of the most attractive qualities to me is a guy that will get out on the floor and dance with me!

    Reply
    1. ataugustine Post author

      Ballroom/Latin is my forte, Bee. Once I started it my Ballet got stronger, but my Hip Hop suffered. I think it was because I had a lady in my arms almost as soon as I entered the studio. I also liked being a leader, but I quickly realized being a leader is a position of service.

      Reply
  7. Dance Pundit.

    Great post and congrats on being freshly pressed! I love seeing dance blogs (or in your case a dance post) reaching the pinnacle of wordpress fame. While I love the LXD and also have written a few posts about them, I didn’t realize that many of those dancers were in the Surface commercials. I was always curious where they managed to find those extremely talented dancers and now I know!

    Also, just as a side note, one of my favorite LXD episodes is the last one in season 1 when Christopher Scott is tapping in the abandoned warehouse.

    Reply
  8. awax1217

    I actual worked at a dancing conservatory. Harrod in Boca Raton. They worked with children prodigies in dance. There was twenty girls and a half dozen boys The boys had to be strong enough to pick up the girls who were extremely weight conscious. My granddaughter takes dance classes. A little art is important in everyone’s life. Liked your blog.

    Reply
  9. Andron Ocean

    As a straight gent who studied ballet intensively for years in teenagehood, enjoyed every moment of it, and still dance for fun, I want to thank you for writing this! “Dance is for girls” is one of the most tragic misunderstandings of the last century. I think you’re on to something regarding how that came about. I also like your thoughts on how dance connects you better to understanding the ways people use their bodies. That’s true not only of watching others, but (in my experience with ballet) for oneself, too. I was about the clumsiest, most uncoordinated kid you could have found on the playground in elementary school, so my mother enrolled me in ballet classes so I could get an idea how to use the four limbs hanging from my torso. It worked. I honestly think ballet is the best way for anyone to gain a deep knowledge of the body’s capability for movement, almost down to the level of individual muscle fibers. And that’s in addition to the considerable joy of dancing.

    Also — I think there is cause for hope regarding men in dance. When I started ballet, there were a few boys around, but not a lot (the school was 10-to-1 girls to guys, at least). Over the dozen years since then, I’ve seen a slow but steady rise in the numbers of boys in ballet. Not long ago, the average ballet school might boast of a few guys in the entire school; now, it’s becoming unusual to have a single class in a school that doesn’t have at least one guy in it. A lot more dance schools are offering scholarships and special young men’s programs, which is probably an attraction, but the social walls are coming down as well. The stigma is starting to erode. And that is a very, very good sign!

    Reply
    1. ataugustine Post author

      You’re right, Andron. It is starting to change. I’m in conflict about it too lol. A part of me welcomes other men to the dance floor for the sake of social progress and the evolution of our gender identity. Another part of me likes being one of the only straight guys out there.

      Reply
  10. RO

    Nice entry! Men should get their *ss on the dancefloor!
    I dance but we have absolutely NO men in our class. This might have something to do with the fact that I do Classical ballet and men who hoist themselves in leotards are considered gay….
    I don’t agree at all! There is nothing more manly than a man who has the balls to wear a leotard in an all female class ;-)

    Reply
    1. ataugustine Post author

      I refuse to accept that, Karl. Anyone can learn to dance. I once taught a man in a wheelchair how to do a line dance. Everyone can learn how to dance. It’s just a matter of which form of dance is right for them.

      Reply
  11. blissluk

    Thank you for this post! Loved every single part of it!

    We share the same opinion on dancing. I believe if every man would just dance, he would feel much better in his own skin.

    People, dance! Dancing makes you more attractive to other people, dancing boosts your confidence, dancing boosts your well-being. Dancing has so many positive sides to it, you simply HAVE to do it!

    Don’t ask yourself whether you are dancing better or worse than another guy or another girl. It is your dance and it is your voice you find through every step. Be proud of it. And share it with the world.

    Dance

    Reply
  12. marlowkm

    Great post!

    I danced for 15 years and was in 9 Nutcracker performances. Every role I had to portray my body language was everything; it could easily break it or sell the story. Body language is key! & even though you don’t see many guys dancing, I believe there’s plenty of room on the dance floor for anyone!

    Reply
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  15. rmedina49

    Thank you for educating all the ‘men’ who are too ‘manly’ to dance out there!
    Great blog, man.

    “Dancers are the athletes of God”
    -Albert Einstein

    Reply
  16. The 5th Lady

    As a professional ballet dancer myself I am so happy to have stumbled across your fantastic post! Thank-you for your insight and educating everyone out there on the world of dance!

    Reply
  17. Pride

    Hello! I must admit that this is my first time in a blog, ever. I just did it to learn what a blog is all about. My friend told me over the phone how to do this entering thing and after reading a bit, I saw yours. The name attracted my attention and I wanted to know what you could write about. I thought “I might like Her opinion.” To my surprise I found out that you are a guy and that you, unlike many other males, have an interest in dance and to share it by comparing what it really is, shocked me. I adore ballet (used to dance myself) and I do understand what you mean about body language (as I teach this) and the movements expresing your every feeling, whether we like it or not.. I should say that I really like what you wrote. All of it and without exception. i am not a cyber person, and particularly do not like it as I remind everyone that knows me but.. I shall be reading yours.
    Thanks for a happy first blogging experience.

    Reply
    1. ataugustine Post author

      I’m so glad you liked it. Funny thing: I’ve been waiting since this blog’s beginning for someone to assume I’m a woman, given the name, my style of writing, and my tastes. My mission is to explore the storytelling in a variety of things, such as music, books, video games and more, and I hope you enjoy those as well.
      I’ve got a really crazy one about Professional Wrestling. Be sure to check it out.

      Reply

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