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Dancing Has Men Beating A Retreat To A Safe Distance
Cox News Service - Dancing Has Men Beating A Retreat To A Safe Distance - Cox News Service - 1990s
by Terry Morris

Why Men Don't Dance
Reasons include "I don’t know the steps’ and fear of not looking like a real man

Dayton, Ohio –

Scene l: Junior high girls dance with each other in a gym because the boys are lining the walls, looking tough and pretending they prefer each other’s company. The girls are having more fun.

Scene 2: A well-dressed, middle aged woman sits at a wedding reception, marooned because her husband won’t go out on the floor. "I don’t know the steps," he whines. Neither of them is having fun.

Scene 3: A random sampling of men who don’t know each other are inspecting a display of power tools at a mall when an impromptu ballet performance for Saturday shoppers begins. Something instantaneous and non-verbal passes between them and it has to do with discomfort at seeing a man in tights. "Ithn’t that thweet?" one lisps, and they all turn back to the tools.

If this was a movie, the title would be "Real Men Don’t Dance."

But it’s life. It’s the way things are in the United States, where most men would rather sit this one out, no matter how happy it would make most women.

So who is that hurting in a world with many more serious problems?

And if someone has shown he can move rapidly up the corporate ladder, or go from hole to hole on a golf course using his arms less than anyone else in the foursome, why does he need to dance anyway?

Maybe because he’s missing something, and it’s having an effect on us all. There are many people who believe just that, and only some of them are women.

Dermot Burke, an athlete-turned-dancer who now is executive director of the Dayton Ballet: "Men who can’t/don’t/won’t dance are denying themselves something pleasurable."

Susanne Davis, a fold-dance administrator at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah: "We’re becoming a society of spectators, like the Romans. When we no longer put our energy into experiencing, we’ve lost a part of our identity.

Estrella Mira, a dance and physical-education teacher for 25 years in the Dayton Public Schools: "Dancing establishes socialization, independence, creativity, coordination and balance. And those are only a few."

Ballroom champion Barbara Haller of Middletown, Ohio: "A man who knows how to dance can make any woman feel good."

George Kenworthy, principal at square dance-crazy Morton Middle School in Ohio’s Vandalia Butler District: "It teaches hand-eye coordination, how to take oral directions, and the physical activity is excellent. I can’t say they’ll be dancing with their wives at 40 or 45. I can say that when they (students) leave this building they have a social skill they can use the rest of their lives."

With all of those advantages going for it, what is it that keeps men from dancing?

A lot of it is simply not knowing how, mixed with male pride and insecurity.

"There’s a certain intimacy to having a woman in your arms. Not many men want to show they aren’t able to do it," says Paul Rasmussen, a 67-year-old lifelong ballroom dancer who has retired after an international career with the former NCR Corp.

Tim Haller, an engineer for the General Electric Co. who also is a dance teacher (and the other half of a ballroom championship duo with wife, Barbara) says proficiency brings empowerment.

"I can still remember feeling useless at my first high school dance. I stared taking lessons so I wouldn’t have to a feel stupid anymore."

Midge Hicks, an officer for the Miami Valley Dance Council, a network of groups that teach and practice square, round and ethnic dance, says, "We could sure use more men here. In fact, we have ladies learning men’s parts. Men are afraid to go out and make a mistake and have people laugh at them or make fun of them.

Men who study dance, whether ballet or ballroom, typically receive special treatment to protect from ridicule.

Couples who sign up for lessons at the Arthur Murray studio near the Dayton Mal are given a handout that includes the following advice:

"In teaching couples, we have learned that men seem to progress more slowly than do women; in addition to learning steps and timing like the lady, the man must also understand how to lead very early in the process. As a result, the lady must remember to be patient with the man and not expect too much too soon."

Barbara Haller, who also teaches, says the handouts don’t always help.

Even so, many non-dancing men view any kind of dancing as less than manly.

"The hard-living, hard-loving, tobacco-chewing, wife-beating, dog-kicking, pickup-riding dude remains as the only real concept of masculinity for some people," says the Dayton Ballet’s Burke.

Dance writer Clive Barnes, in a Dance Magazine article on the shortage of male performers more than 10 years ago, wrote: "Most anthropologists would endorse the view that in tribal patterns the men fought, hunted and danced, and the women cooked, reared the children and governed the society. But it was the men who danced.

Now it’s come full circle. Men who dance are more likely to be considered wimps than warriors, no matter how many Mikhail Baryshnikovs or Patrick Swayzes put on tights.

Not everyone likes to admit it, but wimp is just another word for suspected homosexual.

"To stay in dance, a man needs a strong self-image, or he has to be very good. It’s probably much easier for men to be involved in social dance than ballet," says Davis, who teaches at the No. 1 dance university in the US. An amazing 5,000 students enroll in BYU’s ballet, modern ballroom and folk dance classes every semester.

Culture and background also serve as bricks in the male dance barrier.

Burke, who was born in Dublin, Ireland, thinks it’s American.

"The idea that dance is for sissies is a learned prejudice, imparted from one generation to another," he says.