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Motion and Gender in the Art of Dance

All my life, I have been in dance class after dance class led by women who have danced all their lives. The classes were filled with girls, with the occasional boy standing in the corner looking all too unhappy to be there. When another boy would even walk into the dance room, a look of amazement filled the faces of those standing closest.


When I came to Kenyon, the dance classes were still primarily women. And again, the occasional man was still present in my technique courses. Some were taking the class for arts credit, as some women were too, and some actually wanted to be there. But experiencing masterclasses for the first time at Kenyon, I was suddenly introduced to male dance instructors. I had never before experienced a male instructor in the realm of dance. The dance department welcomes in visiting instructors from all styles of dance to provide a view of the styles out there.

Imagine this: A room filled with all women, but a male instructor is at the front of the room.

Should this be normal? What changes when this is the reality? Does dance expand for the better?


The difference between the teaching styles didn’t make any difference, nor was anyone uncomfortable. In fact, the men who were in the dance classes seemed more included and more comfortable. But, they were also forced to work to a higher level of achievement.


In ballet, and in many social dances, there is movement in relation to gender norms. Having a male instructor in a room full of women made some movement more prominent. The strength in traditional African dances was emphasized. In ballet, jumps and the sustaining of leaps are key to the male dancer’s repertoire. An example is a tour en l'air, or a turn in the air. This is done by preparing with a deep bend in the knees to shoot the dancer into the air to turn and land. This move is common to the male dancer, but it is not commonly done by women. Men in dance classes taught by men are introduced and adequated to movement more common to the male dancer.

While having a male instructor can be beneficial to the male dancer, it often teaches the female dancer to think in a new form of movement and to reveal more strength in her dancing, most notably in ballet. Often in classical ballet, the woman’s role is delicate and light, while the male’s references strength. With a male instructor, the art form of dance can be expanded in a different direction.


Dance remains a female-dominated field, but having a male dancer as the instructor welcomes more men into the field and teaches both the men and women in the class a new view on the same art form. While each instructor, male or female, has a different teaching style, the gender difference focuses movement in a different direction. We need to welcome the novel and interesting into the dance world. Welcome the learning process into a place that needs to be pushed. Welcome the inclusion of gender into daily movement.   

Image Credit: Feature, 1, 2


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