Pole pas de deux

Pole pas de deux

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.

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