As I mentioned in a previous post, last week our student-run dance company at Kalamazoo College, Frelon Dance Company, showed our annual spring performance, which includes a wide array of dancers and pieces. The company and show are unique in that the entire school body is encouraged to participate, so that every single person has their chance to dance on stage.
Today, in our school’s student-led newspaper, The Index, a writer voiced her concern for one particular dance: the Mance (abbreviated for the Man Dance). While unfortunately I have yet to access a public video of this year’s Mance, here is the first official Mance from two years ago, and will hopefully give you an idea of the scenario indicated.
As I was a dancer involved (and a director of Frelon), I can give you a basic synopsis of what happens in this year’s even more epic piece: a group of girls starts on stage, quoting the intro to “Baby Got Back” by Sir Mix-a lot, and men slowly come on stage to check them all out in an exaggerated manner. A series of sexually explicit dance moves from both the men and women ensue, mostly involving the women making fun of the men’s daft moves. The final portion is a parody of an all-male strip tease, while the women sit in front and cheer them on.
No one can deny that the piece is overtly sexual for both men and women. It enacts stereotypes of strip teases, giving an up and down, and dirty dancing. But to imply that it employs “heteronormativity” is blatantly ignoring the whole point of the irony. Here is a group of women and men, all shapes and sizes, making sex moves in front of 400 people, but they certainly aren’t taking themselves seriously while they’re doing it. The women are intended to be “sexual objects” with a twist—they end up rejecting the men because they are so unimpressed by their presentation.
While it may be true that roles are dramatized, perhaps everyone should stop and consider exactly what that means: at a certain point of exaggeration, it becomes obvious that this group of liberal arts students surely have the capacity to understand how ludicrous their actions are. For anyone who doesn’t understand the satire, especially the radical feminist author, I refer them to this link.
On a more personal level, I am offended as both a feminist and a journalist by this article. Firstly, I am stating the obvious, but to write about your subject like they are oblivious to the conditions involved with a Man-themed dance is just close-minded. To call the dance “anti-feminist” is to assume that neither the dancers nor the choreographers considered the amount of explicit sexuality involved. Like I said, we are all brilliant liberal arts students, and we chose to exploit the joke to its full potential.
Secondly, although the author was involved in the performance and was with us the entire tech week, she failed to speak to the directors of Frelon, the choreographer, or the dancers before publishing the article today. She is entitled to her opinion, but it is pretty distasteful to not say one word to the people involved.
As for misunderstanding the representation of sexuality, I reference this comment made by my friend (also a past Frelon director):
…As a feminist, a woman and a dancer, I should hope that I can get on the stage and express my sexuality in a way that I see fit. The point of feminism is for women and men to be equal and make their own choices, free of what society tells them to do. Society tells women that sexuality is to be punished, both if it’s expressed and if it’s hidden. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
We—both men and women—were aware of the choice we made on that stage, and we felt good about doing it. Considering my parents were out in the audience as I shook my ass in front of them and pretended to grind on my gay best friend on stage, I’m pretty sure I would not have made the same decision if I wasn’t trying to be ironic.
Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but in order to be properly published on behalf of an official university’s funds, perhaps taking more discretion in writing something about fellow classmates would be appropriate. I will be the first to admit that I am extremely comfortable in my skin, and I have the utmost respect for anyone who feels good expressing their sexuality in front of the crowd, especially when it comes to satire. As for the author (and all feminist journalists in general), my advice is to educate yourself on journalism etiquette, and don’t take things so seriously.