Magazine article Dance Magazine

He Said/she Said: Dancers and Choreographers Talk about the Role of Gender in Their Lives and Work

Magazine article Dance Magazine

He Said/she Said: Dancers and Choreographers Talk about the Role of Gender in Their Lives and Work

Article excerpt

Jae Man Joo

Growing up in Korea, being a male dancer was looked down upon. For six years, my mother kept the fact that I was taking dance classes a secret from my father, because of traditional views Koreans have on gender roles and that men don't dance. In my public school I was the only male who danced and I lost a lot of friends because of it. Even when I went to college, I was the only male dancer in a class of 39. I think in the past 15 years that has changed, and Koreans have become more open and accepting of males pursuing a career as a dancer. My father is now even proud of my dancing.--Jae Man Joo, dancer, Complexions Dance Company, NY

Jowele Willa Jo Zollar

A woman-centered space is where the women are in power, artistically and collaboratively. In the women's consciousness-raising sessions of the '70s you could express your feelings in a safe way. Now we call it dialogic learning, dialogic process. It's about asking questions and valuing everyone's voice at the table. When I first did Hands Singing Song, the section where it's about handshakes, high fives ... it was all women. Then later I said, "This is really about male energy." When I reset it on Philadanco, I made that section all male. Within the African American male culture, there is a competitive, bragging culture, which I love. We kind of took that over in Batty Moves with the raps that we do: "I'm the best," "No I'm the best, and this is why."

When men come into a dance department, often it's with scholarships, and I think women get the idea that we're a dime a dozen and that our voice has less power. I try to say to the young women, "I bet you have something to say." That's why we did this project Next Generation, which is to nurture female choreographic voices.--Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, artistic director, Urban Bush Women; faculty, Florida State University.

Joe Goode

I was a classic little boy who went to see my sister in a dance recital. She was the featured soloist in a ballet--all the other girls were fireflies, but she was the Glow Fairy. At a certain point, she reached under her tutu and switched on the battery pack, and all the lights in the theater went out and she twinkled. I looked at her and thought, "Well, that's what I want to do with the rest of my life." It never occurred to me it was something I couldn't do or wasn't allowed to do. I didn't know I was going to have to fight for it.

When I choreographed 29 Effeminate Gestures, the gestures led me to understand that there was this effeminate side of myself that I had chopped off, covered up, and retrained. I wanted to reclaim it as my essential self.

Dancers are tactile. We're in a profession where men are allowed to touch men and men are allowed to touch women, and all other configurations. All those things are disobedient to the dominant culture. We are deviant people as a profession. We've created a kind of tribal culture. That's a great gift.--Joe Goode, artistic director, Joe Goode Performance Group, San Francisco

Sarah East Johnson

Women are still mostly expected to be thin or small graceful. delicate, ephemeral, light, silent and gentle. All of these qualities Keep us safely within our gender roles. The reason I chose acrobatics as my company's method of physical training, instead of dance training, was that it emphasizes power, strength, connection, and what you can do with your body as opposed to what your body looks like.

Something that concerns me, even in some of my favorite modern dance companies like Merce Cunningham and Mark Morris' recent choreography, is that when there is partnering or lifting, 99 percent of the time the men are lifting the women. And half the time the men aren't even bigger than the women! Particularly when a choreographer questions so many of the conventions of movement, to not examine the roles of who lifts whom is short-sighted. It does seem really late in the history of the women's movement for muscularity and strength to be things that we're finally comfortable with. …

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