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GENDER & DANCE

(1998) Guest Editorial - 'Gender and Dance' 
In: Dance Forum Autumn/March
Australian Dance Council ACT

Peter Stock, Organiser of Stamping Ground


To introduce this edition, which includes articles about some elements of maleness and dance, I draw on my 30-year dance background and experience as the organiser of an annual male-driven dance festival.

For activists and the scholarly, the themes of dance and maleness are a treasure trove. In the wider cultural context the same themes might be regarded as a thinking person's nightmare. Consider the statement that 'dance permits males to get in touch with their feminine side...' or the situation when I asked a dancewomen whether her boys would be attending dance classes. ‘They wouldn't be interested,’ she tinkled. ‘Have you asked them?’ I challenged. The glint in the gate-keeper's eye said it all.

Hostile attitudes to male dance are endemic in the wider cultural setting and are no secret to dancemen and boy students. In Australia, theirs is amongst the most denigrated of vocations for males. Professional dancewomen also know about similarly demeaning attitudes. Ironically, dance builds strong character and elite physicality– qualities which otherwise the public values to the point of adulation.

The issues surrounding male dance in the studio seem fairly minor compared to some of the bigotry which rages in the outer world. One issue is the shortage of dancemen who commit to teaching. Another is getting male students into the studio. Once there, teachers can, and frequently do, successfully accommodate men and boys who want to dance. Tony Geeve's article (page ?) makes some useful observations and draws attention to certain gender imperatives pertinent to women teaching males.

The past two years have seen me involved as the organiser of Stamping Ground. It's an annual action arts festival focussed on male-driven dance. The event creates awareness of issues and ideas about maleness and dance and gives opportunity for all people, and especially men and boys, to link in a gathering which celebrates the creative and physical attributes of movement.

Aside from a broad program of workshops, forums and performance events it presents a range of rituals and ceremonies such as an Aboriginal dreaming exchange and paint-up, and, at the most recent Stamping Ground last January, a medicine wheel sweat lodge. The impact of these ancient ceremonies underscores a general hunger for meaningful knowledge, affirmation and communal nourishment. The importance of ritual as a way to impart these qualities (especially to young adults) and its function as 'social glue' is not well understood in our culture. Another presentation, Pathway to Manhood, also provided important information and gist for reflection. Several parents recognised that their sons were responding to such experiences at Stamping Ground and stayed for 14 days rather than the few they’d originally planned.

Stamping Ground is giving rise to more issues, ideas and curiosities than it has so far been able to explore. Nevertheless it has attained some wonderful victories such as development of new creative alliances and initiation of other projects. At last month's event 12 Koori youths attended along with a good sprinkling of other strong-minded lads. Few had Anglo-Celtic surnames. 240 participants came from far and wide, an increase of 100% on the inaugural event. The high attendance rate shows that it's possible to fly in the face of irrational cultural censorships, grubby innuendo, indifference and scorn. It’s worth noting that in the organisational role I have too frequently encountered these attitudes in the dance and arts establishment, the mens’ movement and dance & mainstream media (ABC, aside). Nevertheless, it is these hostilities which validate Stamping Ground's importance.

It seems to me there's not much truth about these days. The arts are soft and self-obsessed, crippled by funding addiction and politically useless. Artmakers have failed to counter-attack the insidiousness of corporatism and few are guiding the people to the sacred current where individual and collective poetries are contributed to the great narrative of life. This is the place of the creative spirit and central to the human dance. Fortunately for the bulk of dance enthusiasts (albeit principally girls), this special space happens every Saturday in the little hall on the corner, independent of patronage and much external control.

To me, there are two principal missions for dance. They are retaining ownership of our art and community spaces by making them more useful, and advocating creative enrichment for the children, especially in our education systems and especially for boys, who have their innate enthusiasm for music and dance stolen from them at a tender age. Fortunately though, boys don't actually stop needing or making a dance. In a survey of about 700 male secondary students conducted a few years back by Maggie Sietsma, Director of Expressions Dance Company, it was found more than 80% of those youths dance in private.

Dance is as old as social history, even if for ‘modern’ males it is still in the closet!

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