Where are the Men?

Where are the Men…??

“Where are the men?” is a question often asked to the adult dance parties and group classes I’ve attended over the past 15 years. The easy answer is that they don’t like to dance and prefer less vulnerable activities to pursue in their free time. Many people speculate that men don’t want to look silly doing something, or that they don’t like feeling awkward and clumsy. I can certainly understand where this is the case. Putting one’s ego on the line is a challenge none of us like to take.

But, the truth is much deeper than this easy explanation. In Europe, lots of men dance with their wives and partners, usually at least once a week. The same is also true for Canadians. I am told there are restaurants, clubs and other venues expressly offering a night out for dancing. Unless you are in South Florida for Salsa or in North Myrtle Beach for the Shag, one is not likely to find this same phenomenon. (Obviously giving credit due to Lynn’s Speakeasy, Villa Antonio’s for Latin Night and Johnny’s Hideaway for Shag night, there aren’t many places to dance that aren’t studios).

There are notable exceptions as well with free style dancing. Younger people go to clubs and free style as part of the normal 20-something courtship ritual. In the Latin communities, Salsa dancing is pervasive and the best male dancers are revered by men and women alike. Argentine Tango aficionados can be found in every culture and community, being connected by their passion for Tango. The best male dancers in this world are elevated to an even higher status due to their abilities to “lead and follow: with an intoxicating effect.

So, why are US men who do not fall into the Latin or Argentine categories so bashful? Is it that once a male turns 30 or gets married he looses his rhythm or his machismo? The more complex answer is actually more likely that our culture is the culprit. This is itself fascinating because such a large percentage of the US population claims European heritage. However, a darker part of our US cultural evolution emanates from our Puritan heritage. These folks didn’t dance at all and they scorned anyone with a bit of fun in their personalities (anyone remember “The Scarlet Letter?”)

And there is another dark side to this reluctance that is best portrayed in a scene from the movie “Men Who Stare at Goats.” In this scene, George Clooney’s character is explaining to Ewan McGregor’s character how Jeff Bridges ran the paranormal unit in the Vietnam war, and described how Bridges told his recruits to “dance like no one is watching”-just let go of their inhibitions. One recruit, Kevin Spacey’s character, refuses. We get a flash-back from his life where he is about 14 years old, in his bedroom, and dancing wildly. His father bursts into the room and throws something at him and shouts: “Stop that! Are you a queer or something?” This immediately hurts and embarrasses the boy and of course he is never the same again.

The point being that in addition to having a cultural hangover of Puritan condemnation for any expression of freedom, we men also have dark suspicion that if we dance and enjoy it, we might be homosexual…Better to be bashing into each other on the football field or chasing a little white golf ball around the links than get caught dancing!

I say “Malarkey” to all of that! The truths are that women love men who dance with them. They love the “lead and follow” element of dancing that has no other equivalent behavior. They love the suggestion that a man who dances well-attentively, creatively, and passionately-will have similar qualities in other couples activities with dancing being the best indicator of how he’ll perform.

If any men need a role model, go to a Salsa club and see who gets the prettiest girls. Go to an Argentine Tango Milonga and see how the men are more likely to be flirted with by the women hoping for a dance with their favorite. These are unmistakably machismo events, and are the remaining place in our amorphous culture where it’s OK for men to be men and women to be women, and these differences are celebrated and rejoiced.

Lastly, feeling gawky when learning anything is completely normal, so that is not an excuse not to dance. Has anyone felt at ease hitting a golf ball for the first time? It’s doubtful. So, the sooner men get over their ego’s resistance to looking silly the better because it doesn’t matter to your dance partner. She just wants to dance. And as a man learns how to “lead and follow” with connection, attention, creativity and passion, his whole world will start to change. I guarantee it!

-Jim Manly

One response to “Where are the Men?

  1. I concur 100% as my husband seems to be unfortunately paralyzed in this cultural web of dance condemnation. Great job, “JIm Manly,” for this eloquent piece. Love it! I think I know who wrote this, by the way.

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