Ask Rhee Gold | Changing with the times

Advice for Dance Teachers

Q: Hello Rhee,

I remember that you spoke years ago at Project Motivate about how teachers can assure that their male students look masculine by having them do the same arm positions as the girls, but with fists instead of feminine hands and such. When I judge, I often comment on this, but I realize some students might be transgender or gender nonconforming, and I don’t want to offend them by suggesting different arms. Do you still feel boys should look more masculine onstage? While teaching a musical theater intensive at the DanceLife Retreat Center, Scott Fowler said that he likes male students to look like boys onstage. But should we change with the times? When I judge, should I not say anything? I really don’t know the answer. —Jessica

A: Dear Jessica,

Good question! Recently I attended a run-through of competition pieces at a studio that has many talented, strong, male dancers. I loved the work, but during a large group piece to “Hot, Hot, Hot,” I found myself feeling uncomfortable because one of the boys was performing the choreography with what I perceived as a feminine approach. During my days in the studio, my teachers would shout to me, “Dance like a man” or “Butch it up.” It was an attitude that had settled in my mind as the right one.

After the performance, I said to the teacher, “That boy seems to be channeling his feminine side. Why don’t you tell him to be a little more macho?” She quickly responded that I was “old-school” and that she hadn’t said anything like that to her male students for many years. She wants her students to feel comfortable being who they are and to dance without gender judgments. She put me in my place, but she also opened my eyes.

The “guys have to dance like a guy” message that we learned from our well-intentioned teachers isn’t applicable today. As you said, in today’s diverse community of dancers and students, some of whom identify as LGBT, we need to let everyone be who they are.

With that said, I would have no problem creating choreography for male dancers that’s different from the female choreography, with athletic movement, lifts, and jumps. I might have females lifting the males as well. It all depends on what the choreographer seeks to express with the piece. What’s most important is acceptance, especially within our dance community. —Rhee