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“Oi! Dancing Boy!”: how adolescent boys recuperate masculinity and (hetero) sexuality in dance schools and secondary schools

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

Published
  • Chris Marlow
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Publication date25/09/2019
Number of pages356
QualificationPhD
Awarding Institution
Supervisors/Advisors
Publisher
  • Lancaster University
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

This thesis is an empirical study into the experiences of young male dancers, aged 11-18 years, in the north west of England who, outside of their secondary schools, attend private-sector dance schools for tuition in one or more dance genres such as ballet, ballroom/latin-american, contemporary, jazz, tap and urban dance. Its prime focus is to explore the ways in which these young dancers contest the two dominant Western discourses that position dance as a ‘feminine’ activity (e.g. Sanderson, 2001; Stinson, 2001; Risner, 2002a; Gard, 2003) and males who dance as subject to a homosexual presumption (e.g. Rodgers, 1966; Grant, 1985; Hamilton, 1999; Risner, 2007).
Data were generated from semi-structured interviews with 26 male dancers, 4 parents, 6 teachers and 4 dance policymakers / administrators. Explored through the theoretical lens of ‘inclusive masculinity theory’, characterised by a softening of masculinity and an erosion of homophobia (Anderson, 2009), data were analysed thematically (Braun and Clarke, 2006). Findings suggest that most male dancers continue to experience bullying, marginalisation and stigmatisation, especially from their male peers in secondary schools, where orthodox forms of masculinity proliferate still.
While my analysis finds ‘inclusive masculinity theory’ inadequate to explain the lived experiences of most of these young male dancers, I nonetheless find much value in the related concepts of ‘masculine recuperation’ (Hansen, 1996) and ‘heterosexual recuperation’ (McCormack, 2012), these being identity-management techniques adopted by some males who transgress heteromasculine boundaries. Drawing on these 2 concepts, I pinpoint 6 strategies employed by boys to shore up their masculine and/or heterosexual identities: professing attraction to females; acquiring a ‘sporty’ boy identity; reconceptualising dance as a sport; opting for ‘cool’ dance genres; acquiring popularity through dance and, finally, the policing of movement and choreographic practices. I find that by employing some, most or all of these recuperative techniques, boys are able to contest the aforementioned dominant discourses - that dance is for females (via masculine recuperation) and that boys who dance are presumed gay (via heterosexual recuperation).
Attention is also given to boys’ experiences of dance in their secondary schools. I conclude that while ostensibly a prescribed component of the P.E. curriculum (at Key Stage 3), dance continues to be marginalised and coded as a ‘feminine’ subject and one delivered mostly by non-specialist, female teachers - a problematic, discursive and material (re)production of gender normativity. Attempts to woo boys into dance via heteronormative schemes of work in schools or through external initiatives such as ‘Project B’ from the Royal Academy of Dance, are also deemed problematic in their gender essentialism. Furthermore, the philosophy of dance education in schools, one that privileges ‘process’ over ‘product’, does little to foster boys’ engagement with dance. Taken collectively, these findings are a cause for concern as well as a call to action.
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