In the past, dance has been known as a predominately female space. But all that has changed. The amount of male dancers to flood the dance scene has increased immensely over the past few years (and we couldn’t be happier about that!) We sat down with Angel Roberts and Marcus Payne of Peace Love Hip Hop to discuss the ins and outs of how the perception of male dancers has changed over the years, what it’s like to own/teach at a studio that’s home to 93 male dancers, and what we can do to welcome more males into our dance world.
What’s it like being a male dancer?
M: It really differs depending on the genre of dance. In the hip hop community it’s very welcoming. Hip hop has grown over the past couple of years where there is now a very large community. A lot more boys and men have been flocking to hip hop. You don’t really feel like you’re by yourself in that regard. You feel like you’ve got an army of boys with you and it’s a good feeling.
A: I think there are definitely stigmas — some people might think male dancers are feminine, which is completely not true. Time and time again, male dancers are proving that they are far superior athletes than males in so many other sports. With dance, the goal is to look effortless, so it isn’t as obvious as in, say, football, how much work and strength it takes.
How has the perception of male dancers changed throughout the years?
M: Dance is moving from the studio to all realms of media. Musical artists, social media stars, they all are influenced by dance. Whether they’re pop artists or hip hop artists, they hop onto the trendy dances. It’s influencing all types of media. The perception of male dancers has grown to something more than just ballet dancers or tap dancers. All of the males in these media outlets are influenced by this new culture.
A: 20 years ago, the only male dancer you could find in print or in the movies – was Mikhail Baryshnikov in white tights. Today, there’s men like Usher, Justin Timberlake, Justin Bieber, who are strong male figures that can dance to popular music with moves other people can emulate. It helps the general population see just how powerful and masculine dancing can be.
How has social media changed the dance world for males?
M: Social media has expanded the dance world for males so much. Friends who have no correlation to dance will send me videos of male dancers and say, “Oh! You have to see this guy!” or, “This new freestyle is crazy!” Social media has really helped dance branch out to a new audience, one who has never seen it in these capacities. The growth of social media is forever expanding the dance world, specifically for male dancers.
A: Well, you take for example — Fik-Shun’s Chain Hang Low video — I have 60 year old men, who know I’m a dance teacher, coming up to me saying, “Hey have you seen that dude who danced to that song” They know nothing about dance at all and they’re still influenced by it. Boys still have to work hard to break the stigma. I encourage all of the boys at our studio to use their social media to spread those messages — that dancing is nothing to be ashamed of. They post freestyle videos of themselves, they post themselves in dance class, and more and more people start to see dance as a strong, masculine passion. Our boys tell Marcus & I that they still get made fun of at school, but the more that we educate people and broaden people’s horizons, that dance is strong, the more boys will be influenced to adopt dance as a passion unashamedly.
What can we do to change the stigma?
M: When we were in Myrtle Beach at the Showstopper Convention, we had just performed at the showcase and we had 10 or more boys. A mom came up and asked, “Can you talk to my son? He’s involved with a dance studio but he also plays sports where teammates pick on him.” As a male dancer, me talking to him might have helped. But I thought that it’d go further if his peers would talk to him. I pulled some of the boys aside and said, “Hey let’s go talk to him and let him know we all deal with it. We’re not in it by ourselves and once you love what you do, other people who once made fun of you will be looking up to you.” The boy is still involved with dance and he now posts stuff on Instagram (trophies, competition photos, etc.). It’s really all about peers. When you see someone posting freestyle videos and can see someone your age dancing as well, you think, you know what? There are other people who deal with the same stuff. If they can do it so can I.
A: It’s up to this generation of boys to glamorize their passion and use the power of social media to inspire and share their love of dance. The more boys display how proud of their passion they are, the more boys will flock to dance.
What advice can you offer to male dancers?
M: My advice would be to be open-minded. I didn’t start my dance career until very late. I wish I would have been open to different styles. As you get older, it gets harder to get a really technical base if you don’t have that foundation already. Be open to all styles of movement. Do your research and explore. There are so many options for dance as far as studios, workshops, and conventions, so just be mindful of those things. You can grow your knowledge and meet so many other male dancers like yourself, which will boost your confidence. If you branch out beyond your studio, you can continue to learn and do more in the world of dance.
A: Just be true to who you are. Don’t let anyone turn you into something that you’re not. Figure out who you are as a dancer and stand strong. The biggest thing I see is that some teachers just don’t know what to do with male dancers so they turn them into a prop. That’s not the point, that’s not it. If a male dancer feels uncomfortable, the audience feels it too and it turns other male dancers away. Sometimes you might have to guide a dance teacher if they aren’t sure what to do with you in a routine. Make suggestions. Another key is to travel to conventions. You might be the only boy in your studio, but at a convention you meet 8 other boys that are also the only other boys at their studio. Conventions are eye-opening and life changing, especially for boys, even more so than for girls. Even if you’re the only one, just go do it on your own. You make connections, learn new styles, and build a community of dancers just like you.