Pole pas de deux

Pole pas de deux

Friday, December 30, 2011

My Favorite Dance Performances of 2011

In no particular order here are some performances that moved me and inspired me as a dancer this past year: Dancers with passion. 
  • Amber Richard Girl Next Door Showcase, Los Angeles, CA
  • Brandon Freeman - A Detective in Ballet Nouveau Colorado's production of Intersection by Garrett Ammon and Michael J. Henry
  • Marian Faustino and Damien Patterson - Arabian Dance in Ballet Nouveau Colorado's production of the Nutcracker by Garrett Ammon and Dawn Fey
  • Jenye Butterfly Showcase of the Stars Pole Pressure 2011
  • Sarah Tallman - Sugar Plum Fairy in Ballet Nouveau Colorado's production of the Nutcracker by Garrett Ammon and Dawn Fey
  • Meredith Strathmeyer - His Mother in Ballet Nouveau Colorado's production of Intersection by Garrett Ammon and Michael J. Henry 
  • Wendy Whelan and Tyler Angle rehearsing Christopher Wheeldon's choreography to This Bitter Earth/On the Nature of Daylight by Dinah Washington and Max Richter
I'd also like to acknowledge my teachers: Diana Hoffman Fantano, Estee Zakar and Elona Fish.  The journey is just beginning.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Men, Poles, Sexism

(A version posted earlier on Studio Veena)

It's two days before Christmas and all through my house not an ill feeling was stirring...Then I noticed the following call in my Facebook timeline. (sic)" **CALLING ALL MALE POLE DANCER** PLEASE HELP me. Do you absoultly need a bare chest to pole? Can you compeet in a vest....? Then I read the thread. In essense something is cooking with certain competition rules regarding men dancing topless."
In my very best short Spanish/Italian temperament I posted to the supportive friends wall:

"Thank you M.E. I only have access to KT's thread in some other dancers time lines. I find the Olympic swimming arguments and guys topless in tiny swimsuits "distracting" offensive. 1) Our dance can be sexual. For both men and women. Get over the sexist crap. 2) Some of us could care less the Olympics. We are artists. The whole thing is sexist. When I ballet dance I have just as much hanging out in tights and a dance belt. Wow. Distracting... Pot Kettle Black.

I then posted this as my status:
"Sexism and discrimination against male dancers is alive and well. If our ass and bulge is hanging out its distracting. Tell me that at least 50% of the "dance wear" on Bad Kitty isn't distracting. Rules, competition, legitimacy, fitness. I'm an artist. If you don't like my sexy male ass hanging out don't look.

I have dealt with this subject from both scholarly and gut levels since I started blogging about dance. Dance can be sexual. You can find Allegra Kent's thoughts about dance here in my blog. Suzanne Farrell has also spoken out on the matter. Ballet is sometime choreographed with the men topless. Sometimes the ballet dancers appear almost naked. I don't ever have any intentions of competing but I get waxed. Everything. All gone. I wear tiny black stuff when the mood hits me. I  don't see anything different when a woman who normally dances barefoot comes to class with her heels in something really revealing just because. One of my initial blog posts here on Veena was about a reaction I got from a female dancer in my studio that had problems with my swimsuit. It was the very same reaction I saw today. 

I guess my heart will always be with the artistic in pole "dance" because you just can't logically judge art on a 0 to 10 scale. You like it or you don't. You might be offended, you might be inspired. You might be sexually aroused. Art isn't logical.

Dancers are performers. We are meant to be seen. The mirror, the camera, the heart. You can be technically great and stink because you have no passion. I try to make my dance as honest as I can make it. If I offend someone I am just as likely to move someone in some way. A few minutes after I posted my mini-rant on my page a female friend responded, "I like the "asspect" of male dance."
That kind of comment is one of those that keeps me dancing. I am just as empowered by the sexy in dance as any woman. I want to be attractive. Deep inside I want to be desired. Rules just can't change that.

I'm a dancer.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Dancing with Conflict

(Originally Posted on Studio Veena)

I tend to be very analytical even when it comes to dance. Starting on a new path in my life always means understanding the history and the cast. Dance is rich in that respect. At the end of my first encounter with a dance pole my teacher asked me if I wanted to freestyle. The question seemed pretty strange for someone who makes his living as a scientist.  Then I thought what the hell. I had watched enough YouTube to know that a woman by the name of Karol Helms made it look fun.

Clocks by Coldplay. I will never forget that feeling. The uneasy connection between me and dance was born that day. That conflict still lives inside of me today. It is all about my search for style and the social stigma that I feel as a male dancer. Not just pole and not just ballet, just my being a non-social dancer.

The demon really came to life the first time I took a spin to the floor. Now what? Roll over and play dead? Push up hands and knees? Roll facedown? Attempting to deal or rather not deal with the floorwork question made the next “pole dance” lesson hard. Finally in exasperation I looked at my teacher, and said, “Now what? I can’t do this.” With that declaration I crawled to the pole in my best sexy and gestured that I was flipping my hair and ran my hands down my sides.

When my teacher stopped laughing she got serious. She told me to look at Baryshnikov (“Misha” to the ballet world). She suggested that some of the other female dancers and I should get together and take a look at how the guys danced in clubs. Baryshnikov was a great help. But the guys in the gay clubs not so much. It is not like there was anything offensive about their dance. It’s just that I’m over 50 years old and I knew that trying to grind the pole in a little nothing show your stuff bikini was a fail that could lead to a divorce.

So it was Misha. Misha was my salvation. It didn’t hurt that my wife thinks Baryshnikov is one of the sexiest men on the planet. My first encounter with his power and emotion was his dance to Horses by Vysotsky in the movie White Nights. A year later I found myself standing at the barre at Ballet Nouveau Colorado clueless in the land of plié and Balanchine. Beginner class. My, “I got this I can plié.” didn’t last long. I had the joy of going to a Boulder dance supply store, buying ballet shoes, tights and a dance belt. Dance belt. Joy. What a nice way to say guy thong. All I could think of at that point was cut out the carbs. Thank God for the legs and hockey player ass. My years of ice skating saved what little comfort I had after pulling up my “dance belt” and tights in the locker room at the ballet studio.

At this point the analytical kicked in and I figured that I wasn’t the only guy who ever faced the, “He dances, he must be gay” stigma. I mean Baryshnikov was known all over ballet for being the “The horny little Russian”. Balanchine… Tallchief, Le Clercq, Farrell. Peter Martins… Heather Watts, Darci Kistler. A single Google search brought up some scholarly stuff: When Men Dance: Choreographing Masculinities Across Borders by Jennifer Fisher and Anthony Shay, The Male Dancer: Bodies, Spectacle, Sexualities by Ramsey Burt, Men Who Dance by Michael Gard, I was a Dancer by Jacques D’ Amboise and finally Apollo’s Angels: A History of Ballet by Jennifer Homans.

I devoured them along with my once a week pole dance and ballet lessons. My blogspot blog entry about my first public pole dance performance after I blended classical ballet with pole is still #1 in page hits. It works. I feel sexy and powerful when I transition using a deep plié or show my attempts at mastering the Russian classic arm positions of Vagonova at the top of a spinning pole. But I have to say that the uneasy truce I have called between the hockey player and the dancer in my head can be easily disturbed. I have found my style and it works as long as I don’t wonder too long about what other people see when I dance. I can’t ignore it. Growing up male can be such a handicap when it comes to feeling instead of thinking. I am not alone either. Michael Gard studied male dancers who identified as either straight or gay. The stories of the straight dancers were filled with this conflict.

It is one of the reasons why I choose not to be anonymous in person or on the Internet. What if more of us spoke out and told the world that our need to dance has nothing to do with our sexual preference? Maybe the guys in ballet wouldn’t have to dance three parts in Nutcracker because there are only six guys under 18 in the entire student company. Maybe more guys would be able to say that watching Wendy Whelan and Tyler Angle rehearse Dinah Washington’s This Bitter Earth/On the Nature of Daylight moved something deep inside.

Oh and This Bitter Earth… It’s mine. As soon as I can plié and shoulder mount again.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Rest of the Story (A reply to my original post on Coaching and Teaching)

(Posted on Studio Veeena after I strirred the hornets nest with my blog about Coaching and Teaching).

I understand that many of my readers probably think that I have overreacted to something meant to be humorous or tongue in cheek and I totally understand that. However as (Veena Member) said I grew up male and I have been subjected to what borders on or what could be considered physical and emotional abuse by teachers and coaches.

I come from a pole dance studio that is very spiritual. The dance is used by my teacher to heal in a gentle but firm way. We are never allowed to say "can't or never". But her reminders and insistence are quiet and gentle. Her approach to dance is philosophically very Eastern. Her warm up is demanding both mentally and physically but I never walk out of her class feeling like I have after some hockey practices or gym classes. When my arm is out of position on a move she gently moves it. When she does it without saying a word after the fifth or sixth time I feel like I'm letting her down and that is my reminder to suck it up and pay attention.

What I want to say is that one of the reasons men don't dance is because we are always supposed to be tough. We can never cry, we can never show hurt. The whistle blows... we skate. Seeing that list brought out something in me that dug up a lot of old wounds and reminded me that if I reacted as I did yesterday how did some of my older players remember me as a coach before I had to rethink my methods and change?

When I put on my skates and take the ice I am the guy the players are supposed to look up to and trust. In a dance studio I'm the student and when I look in the mirror and see my demons I know that all the push ups in the world are not going to fix what hurts and I also see things from a different viewpoint because I do coach and teach.

Everyone responds to teaching methods differently and I just want people to think carefully about the way they run classes and approach students. Some students shut down and other thrive in the class environment. Reach as many as you can.