Dr Dance Blog

Male dancers look silly wearing tights

Posted by on June 2, 2014 at 3:25 PM

Since attending a day of discussion on Dad Dancing with Second Hand Dance at the Battersea Arts Centre I’ve been thinking about attitudes towards men and dance. About why it’s sometimes seen as comical that men dance, about why more men don’t dance and about the stereotype of male dancers. I was pleased to find a reasonable body of academic literature on the subject. More on that in a bit.


I spent the summer of 2012 working with the Rochdale Hornets rugby league team. I was there to see if I could help them improve aspects of their rugby training by introducing elements of dance. The idea was to get the players and the coaches thinking differently about their training habits and therefore to try something new. They were in a losing cycle and it was clear they had to make small changes to what they were doing before they would start to win. So, for example, I encouraged them to try folk dancing to help them think about group spatial awareness and ballet to help one of the players think about agility training.


One of the hardest aspects of my time was dealing with their negative attitudes about dance. Although most, if not all of them danced socially at nightclubs none of them had been involved in dance-based training and they tended to see it as trivial, at best. I took the head coach, and the winger who wanted to be more agile, to the Northern Ballet School in Manchester to meet some advanced male dance trainees and see them train in the studio.  When we arrived I asked the coach what he was expecting from meeting the male dancers. He said, “lesser men”. I asked what he meant and he said, amongst other things, that he thought they’d be homosexual and wear tights. Well, he was right about the tights. I didn’t ask about the dancers sexuality (or care). He told me they were lesser men for wearing tights. I reminded him that his rugby players wear tights too and he corrected me without the need to take a breath “Oh no, Peter, they’re skins”. Of course.


There’s a bit of research on attitudes to dance and dancers (see Holdsworth, 2013, Bailey & Oberschneider, 1997, Burt, 1995, and Sanderson, 2000, 2001, 2008).  


Sanderson developed a dance attitude scale, which she used to explore sex and social class differences in young people’s attitudes to dance. Although her results were interesting (she found that male attitudes to dance were generally less favourable, and attitudes to dance varied with social class) I was most interested in the tool she used to test attitudes about male dancers.


Sanderson asked 48 young people for their opinions on several aspects of dance, including their opinion on male dancers. From this she compiled a list of 7 statements about male dancers that 1,668 people had to rate for agreement. The statements she used are:


1. If you saw a man dancing to really soft music it would look stupid.

2. Male dancers should do movement that is very difficult

3. Men shouldn’t move to gentle music.

4. Boys shouldn’t do ballet or modern dance.

5. Male dancers look silly wearing tights.

6. Ballet dancing is for women.

7. I don’t like to see boys doing expressive movement.


What concerns me about these statements is that they are mostly framed in negative terms and as such they might set the tone for how people are meant to answer them.  She is, I think, setting up a testing protocol which says “This is what people think of male dancers, do you agree?” As such I think Sanderson is really measuring people’s attitudes to a stereotype of male dancers and this is not the same as measuring people’s attitudes to dance. I think we need to re-run Sanderson’s study with a different set of statements.


When the winger was in the dance studio with the male ballet dancers he, eventually, threw himself headlong into thinking about agility, strength and ways in which ballet training techniques could be implemented into his own training regime. He was a bright, motivated guy who spent a lot of his spare time in the gym doing strength work, stretching and toning.  I was very hopeful that he’d take some of what he’d learnt back to the squad, but it wasn’t to be that easy. Although he was happy to wear ballet shoes in a studio full of dancers, and wear skins in front of his team-mates, he couldn’t discuss the benefits of tights. That would have looked silly.



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1 Comment

Reply Najma
4:09 PM on June 2, 2014 
Yes definitely need to do a re-run this study with a different set of statements. I'm actually surprised that this was allowed to be done! Doesn't someone/some people have to check questionnaires? If I did this for my undergrad dissertation I'm sure I wouldn't be allowed to use these statements, not alone anyway, I'm sure that I'd have to also include 7 positive statements.
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