Men Who Dance

My little boy has been going to dance classes for the last year and a half. It’s mostly ballet, with a bit of this and that thrown in (tap, rhythmic gymnastics), quite laid back, low pressure, lots of giggles. The whole time he has been the only boy in the class, and I find that bewildering. Because he started when he was three, and three-year-olds dance. They dance because they hear some music playing, or because they feel happy, or want to make you laugh. Sometimes he dances because it’s morning and there is a day coming. And yet somehow it is standard for parents who see that in little girls to make the connection with dance classes, yet not for the parents of little boys to do the same.

Whenever I have mentioned to someone that my boy is doing dancing they have been positive about the idea, but very often have said something along the lines of, “it’s great for boys to learn movement, it will be really useful if he wants to do soccer or something later on”. To which I generally reply, “yes, or also if he wants to DANCE”. Honestly, do these people think Hugh Jackman sprang fully formed from the head of Terpsichore? If we want the next generation of leading men to be ready, they need to be learning their stuff now. Not that I expect my child to be one of them, necessarily; I’m just agitating for boys learning to dance to be commonplace. I will go further: I’m on a crusade to make the expectation that a man can dance the default. I am also struck by the bizarre impulse to find a euphemism: you don’t need to call it “movement”, my betesticled offspring will not be diminished by the word “dancing”, nor even the word (gasp) “ballet”.

It can be hard for us to remember that the men we see playing action heroes in the movies did not in fact seek careers as spies or soldiers, they chose to become actors. Which means they probably did dance training. So in the spirit of reminding ourselves of this happy fact, I have assembled here a few clips of some of my favourite Leading Men Who Are Dancers.

Patrick Swayze is now in the position to be made the patron saint of leading men who dance, so I will begin with him. Here he is dancing with his wife, Lisa Nieme, at the World Music Awards in 1994.

I expect it will surprise no one that Antonio Banderas can dance. Here he tangos in a clip from the movie Take the Lead.

Adrian Lester is thought of as an a-list leading man more in theatrical, and specifically Shakespearean, circles than in film. In Kenneth Branagh’s song-and-dance version of Love’s Labours Lost he spends most of his time keeping a lid on it, so as not to show up the other actors. However, in this number he gets approximately one-and-a-half minutes to show what he can do. Feel free to fast forward through the first three chumps (sorry, Ken).

I had never heard of Sam Rockwell when someone [ETA: it was tigtog, silly me! In this post.] posted this clip of his screen test for Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, but he obviously needs a vehicle for those feet (ahem).

Although most people found out about Christopher Walken when he danced for the music video of Fatboy Slim’s “Weapon of Choice”, he actually came from a hoofing family of working vaudeville actors, so was one of the type who learned to tap before he could walk. Here is a routine he did for the American version of Dennis Potter’s surreal Pennies from Heaven.

In Emma Thompson’s book about making Sense and Sensibility she mentioned reminiscing with Alan Rickman about performing on stage, in their youth, in the musical Me and My Girl, and being grateful they no longer had to tap dance for a living. I assume from this that Alan can dance when he has to, but I can only find this teeny bit of footage from the somewhat obscure movie The Search for John Gissing. I want to see Alan tap!

When Hugh Jackman first hosted the Oscars and broke out the moves you could hear the surprised noises from the audience who, if they had thought about it, should have remembered that he got his first break as a song and dance man in a British National Theatre production of Oklahoma! Here he is hosting the Tony awards and explaining how it makes producers nervous when action heroes dance, and a bonus compilation someone put together which includes some clips from The Boy From Oz.

Sadly there is no publicly available footage at this time of Aidan Turner dancing (he was a dancer before he decided acting would be more interesting, and I’m convinced you can see it in the way he carries himself). I hope that sometime soon a director will find him a role in which he can show off his full range of skills. Better still, I would like to see a project that brings all these men together, and then lets them dance.

Categories: arts & entertainment, fun & hobbies, gender & feminism

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28 replies

  1. No fair! I was just about to stop procrastinating and drag myself away from the computer! Must. not. click. links. Will come back to them later 🙂
    I was sure my youngest was going to follow his sister into dance classes, we did try for a while but it turned out his phenomenal aversion to being told what to do trumped his love of dance – he kept doing things like sitting down in the middle of class and refusing to move.

  2. Also: Tupac Shakur, onetime ballet dancer who got his start in hip hop as a backup dancer for the Digital Underground.

  3. I dance Modern Jive, and in my experience, people who dance, especially people who dance with me, are hot!

  4. My daughter’s ballet class has zero boys in it. And in the recent recital I think there were a couple from the school amongst hundreds of girls. Makes me wonder what parents send their boys to instead of dance and what the girls are generally missing out on (as there are only so much time for extra curricular activities).

  5. My son did gymnastics for a while, but because it didn’t come easily to him he gave it up after a year. There is a boys gym class in our town, and we have an ex Olympian male gynmast running it. But still the only one who is there consistently is his own son. The other boys seem to come for a couple of years and then go onto something else. There are some boys in the local hip hop classes which are also taught by a lovely young man. But most of the boys seem to go into footy, soccer and cricket. There are even more girls in tennis than boys. I think the pressure to conform to some particular type of masculine stereotype is still very strong. About the only local sport that I know of that has equal numbers of boys and girls is swim club. But I can’t talk about that 😉

  6. Kevin Bacon!
    Dancing is one of the ways I fill the hours with my bub so I’m hoping they’ll do dance regardless of gender. I just hope we can afford it!
    I did dance at Uni and it’s my preferred ‘fitness’ activity, so have been delighted at the resurgence of swing dancing in the last decade. An excellent style for guys to get into dance via.

  7. Mindy, I did gymnastics in a mixed class as a child, but I quit the year they divided the classes into boys and girls, because the boys’ class wasn’t going to be trained in balance beam, which was easily my favourite and best. Instead we were meant to emphasise things like our upper arm strength, which at 7ish? (I’m working off hazy childhood memory here) seems an early time to start kicking in enforced physical difference, but wevs.

  8. Li – they might start so early because the gymnastics programs are designed as feeders to the Olympics program rather than an end in itself – how many people do gymnastics as an adult recreational sport? And the kids in other countries often start very young. I too did gymnastics as a child and only joined purely because I wanted to use the giant trampolines. But it very rapidly morphed into a quite serious program (eg regular competitions) for a young child (5 hours a week) which is why I ended giving it up as it was excluding too much other stuff.

  9. Good on ‘im and he’s in terrific, talented and utterly loved and respected company.
    Also – and this might be a bit naughty but I do recall Patrick Swayze saying this in an interview – if he keeps it up in latter years and is interested in girls, he’ll have quite a few dancing around him to choose from!
    My hub did dancing for quite a few years until, yes, ridicule in his teens started to occur. Funny then, that a decade or two later when those same old schoolmates would stand back in admiration at LC’s dancing skills at weddings.

  10. Literally the only thing I have ever liked Richard Gere in is Chicago, entirely due to the tap-dancing.

  11. HaT has consistently excellent posts, but I have to nominate this one as the Best HaT Post Ever! Thank you so much for this, Orlando, and I’m completely with you on encouraging boys, and just everyone to dance.
    I’ve always loved to dance, and although my spastic CP meant that I couldn’t always do what I wanted to, I learnt to folk dance in primary school, did Jazzersize, went to every Blue Light dance I could (even though I was the school pariah), and could even waltz at one point. Not to mention many hours of dancing to Madonna records etc in the living room. Unfortunately my physical abilities have deteriorated a lot in the last decade or so, so dancing on my feet is too dangerous, but I’ve recently transitioned from using a mobility scooter to an electric wheelchair, and I immediately thought WHEELCHAIR DANCING. But here in WA all I’ve been able to find for w/chair dancing classes is one that is held as more of a therapy class, at 10.30 am on a week day morning. Nope – don’t do mornings!
    It’s probably just as well you couldn’t find a clip of Adrian Turner dancing – too much risk of all of us overheating!

  12. Christopher Walken, Sam Rockwell and Alan Rickman are three of my top four favourite actors (the other being Ben Mendelsohn), so this post is THE BEST.
    (I don’t have children so that’s about all I can contribute.)

  13. I’ve done a few different kinds of dance, and it’s the same in all of them. Even Renaissance dance – blokes who are willing to dress up in frocks are still difficult to convince to dance. Yoga is the same. Of my children it seems to be youngest (the Boy Who Will Not Sleep) who has inherited my love of/need to dance. He is a very physically expressive child. I’d hate to see conventional notions of masculinity smother that out of him.

  14. Fucking awesome post.
    Oh, that Pennies from Heaven piece. Absolutely heavenly!

  15. Thank you, everyone, for your insights. Especially Book Girl, for telling us about the ways you have negotiated the changes in your physical abilities, and kept dancing. I don’t have any useful information about places close to you, but you might be interested in looking at what SmartLab, which operates in the UK and Ireland, does with wheelchair dancing. Here is a project they did called ”Streets Called Home”, but they do all kinds of fascinating work.
    Please feel free to post any links to favourite bits of dancing, the more the merrier.

  16. nice post, i’ve been taking the takkers to ballet for about three years now and there has only been one lad in any of the classes that i have seen, and not in any of the classes that my girls have been in. this is despite there being heaps of brothers around enduring the wait. this left me unprepared for the prep classes end of year school dance. the report from Dr HoneyAir was that the lads went off and ended a sweaty mess and the lasses stayed aloof from proceedings. now there is some powerful (and f**ked up) social conditioning.

  17. Men who dance are soooo sexy and so much better in bed. I am not sure when it happened in the west but I tell you in Tonga (a small island in the south pacific) the boys are born to dance and dance they do. I am an Australia woman who has lived in Tonga for the last 2 years and my boyfriend can stop a crowd with his dancing-the only problem is the fact that I am being out danced!

  18. The Tiny Tyrant has declared he is “a bellydancer” like Mummy, and we love to get our groove on at home. Unfortunately, as bellydance generally tends to be a woman-only space (and that’s complicated, in this culture, and I am not sure about challenging teachers’ “female only” mindset for even their kids’ classes) he has not been to a proper class beyond a few “mummy and me” style ones run by my old school.
    Instead, he currently goes to circus class, which he utterly adores (and which is full of small boys, and run by 3 wonderful older teenaged/early 20 something guys) and seems to basically be “gymnastics but not calling it that or freaking out about body size and shape quite so concertedly”.

  19. Was that Jasika Nicole in the background of that Banderas clip?

  20. Aphie, I wonder if Jamil would know someone who’d be happy to teach boys? Jamil is my belly dance teacher at the moment, and being a bloke and all, he might be able to identify someone from the inside, as it were (of both the Arabic and belly dancing cultures).

  21. I encountered this quite by accident (I must have clicked the wrong link). Just some thoughts: 1. I’ve avoided dance, especially in public, for my entire life. Frankly I’d rather go back to working in physical danger than get on a dance floor. ::shudder:: 2. It seems that both vocal music and dance lose boys when classes are gender mixed. It seems these might be a time when “separate but equal” would be the best course.

  22. @Love Tonga (and who could blame you?), there’s no question it’s enormously culturally variant, what is expected of/permitted for men on the dance floor. Another response I sometimes give people is, “or if he wants to move to Brazil. I need to get him prepped for that.” When we were there, if there was music playing, no one sits on the sidelines. It was glorious.
    @Ariane, I’m intrigued to hear of a male belly dancer.
    @dylan, you mean the boys just sit there and do nothing, rather than join in on the class? What a colossal waste of everybody’s time and potential.

  23. Jamil is an awesome dancer. Here’s some linkage for your belly dancing pleasure: and
    He’s also a fantastic teacher. Heaps of fun, very encouraging and shares his obvious love of dance very generously.

  24. Don’t forget John Travolta, who even managed to get a dance scene in Pulp Fiction.

  25. Woo, Ariane! I’d love to hear a male dancer’s thoughts on teaching boys to bellydance!

  26. Orlando, there is so much time wasted, not just for the boys, there are sisters and grandparents as well. one of the mums in our group takes her one of her girls to mums and bubs, then has an hour free till her eldest has her turn. one of the Dodgsonian elements of parenting seems to be that one errand takes twenty minutes, and two takes an hour and a half, so i do not envy the juggling that she has to organise.

  27. Thanks for the link Orlando, great stuff!
    And here is my current favourite boys-who-dance clip. This group is made up of Cambodian young people with various disabilities, in this vid mostly Deaf young men, with only only one young woman. They did several performances here in Perth on last year’s International Day of PWD, and I had the great pleasure of seeing them live, they were outstanding.

  28. Oh, dear no link – mod magic please?

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