“Show me some attitude”: Masculinity, youth and dance

Dr Beccy Watson
Leeds Metropolitan University
IRiSS Research Seminars 2011-12
“Show me some attitude”:
Masculinity, youth and dance
Wednesday 7 December 2011, 3:00-4:45
• Introduce Flip n Strike dance project
• Contextualise ‘working analysis’ of masculinity,
including intersectionality
• Present some initial findings
– Assess the significance of the project re future dance
– Assess the significance of the project re theorising
masculinity and embodied leisure
• Discussion
• Get you dancing (only kidding…you can watch
Flip n Strike: Boys dance project
• Flip 'n' Strike is a dance
education project for young
men aged 13 plus that
covers martial arts
movement, street dance
techniques and pantsalot
(urban trouser dance).
• The project runs on Tuesday
evenings (5 to 6pm) from 13
September for twelve
sessions at the Mandela
Centre, Leeds
• The project is funded
through the West Yorkshire
Police Authority Community
Trust Fund (‘proceeds of
• RJC is based in Chapeltown,
Leeds, an area that sees the
impacts of drug related
activity and pressures on
young people to become
involved in ‘street’ activity
with often negative
Arts and sports as ‘diversion’
• Coalter (2007)
• “vague and unexamined
claims” (p.115) regarding
sport and reduction in
anti-social behaviour
• Significance of role
models and leaders
• Sport is a complement
not a substitute
• We need more research…
RJC Dance Leeds
• http://www.rjcdance.org.uk/
• RJC work with over 100 young people every week
through their different classes and projects.
Through this work RJC aim to enable young
people to stretch their bodies, develop potential,
encourage them to have pride in themselves,
their heritage and their community.
• RJC is a Black British led organisation with core
funding from Arts Council
Flip n Strike at RJC Dance
• RJC are committed to offering opportunities for young men
to focus on themselves and their physical and emotional
well being by trying out new forms of physical activity and
dance based exercise
• De-Napoli Clarke (Artistic Director and lead instructor) is an
influential and positive role model in the local community
(Leeds Black Awards Community Hero 2009) who draws on
life experience to get young men thinking about who they
are and who they want to be – using dance as the vehicle
through which to achieve this
• Hard work, commitment and co-operation are underlying
values that RJC promote, enabling positive actions and
increased self esteem
So what kinds of dance at Flip n Strike?
• http://www.rjcdance.or
• http://www.youtube.co
• 2 male instructors have
been employed to work
throughout the project
• Break dancing - ‘urban
culture’ as influence
and input to the project
Masculinity and dance
• Masculine hegemony – impacts
and complexities
– Profeminist analysis (e.g. Messner)
• Bramham (2003: 68) “dominant
hegemonic masculinity is clearly
alive and well but should be
• Gard (2008) dance for alternative
• Hearn (2011) masculine
hegemony is ‘embodied practice’
– this is missing from critiques of
the concept (hm)
• Intersectional approach:
– It’s more than gender …
Contextualising Masculinity
• Connell (2000):
Multiple masculinities
Hierarchy and hegemony
Collective masculinities
Bodies as arenas
Active construction
Internal complexity and
– Dynamics
• Norman (2011)
– ‘double bind’ embodiment
“ The constitution and construction
of masculinity is, we would argue, a
contradictory interweaving of
hegemonic and socially marginalised
positionings which, from the point of
view of societal actors, has started to
shake quite dramatically. We need to
debate this situation further in
theoretical terms, and to explore it
empirically with the help of
appropriately creative methods, in
order to work out what it means for
the continuation of masculine
domination and of inequalities in
gender relations. “ (Bereswill and
Neuber, 2011, p.83)
Contextualising Masculinity: Gender and race
• Hooks (2004)
– We real cool
• Back (1994)
– Fear and desire (of black
– “the particular crossing of
racism and gender” (p.182)
• Hall (1988)
– Noble savage/violent
• Carrington (2010)
– Hyper masculinity of the
black athlete
Intersectionality: Theoretical approaches
• Disrupt/reject ‘fixed’ identity
• Crenshaw (1989) CRT
• Davis (2008) ‘buzzword’
• Knapp (2007) fast travelling
concept ‘raceclassgender’
• Gressgard (2008) ‘relativist
• Lewis (2009) ‘thinking
(diagram courtesy of Women’s
Resource Centre, wrc.org.uk)
Intersectionality, leisure and
• Villa (2011: 181)
– “Embodiment is per se
intersectional in its form”.
– i.e. the complex processes
of ‘lived’ social relations
only have meaning as
embodied practice
• Active, embodied leisure
(+sport and PA) can
contribute to mainstream
debates on intersectionality
• Boys recruited to Flip n Strike through RJC
– Chapeltown Youth Development Centre (CYDC) and RJC Dance Youth
• Focus groups and semi-structured interviews with
– Prior, during and post project
• Observations at every session
– Sept to Dec 2011
– Observations at performance/sharing of work at WYPA Community
Trust Fund Awards Presentation
• Opportunistic conversation/chat with boys and relevant others
– Police Inspector, RJC Board Member
• Evaluation/Report for RJC after completion
• Thinking intersectionally about leisure (Watson and Ratna, 2010)
Some initial findings
• Each week has had over
10 participants – often 13
or 14 and the highest
attendance in half term
week was 17
• Youngest – 13, oldest –
youth worker in 30s
(positive impact)
• Predominantly black
participants, mixed
race/heritage, South
Asian (1) and 2 East
Eurpopean (white)
• Boys have said:
• “My co-ordination is
improving and my fitness”
• “It aint boring, it’s good”
• “The instructor is good, he
treats you with respect”
• “wicked for the first session”
• “I like the music and the bass
line, it keeps you motivated”
• “I want to be a footballer,
that’s my ambition and if this
helps because it’s good for
fitness then it’s good”
A typical session
• First half is ‘warm-up’ – half an hour of constant exercise to
music with an emphasis on co-ordination as well as strength
so jumps, stepping and punching, squats and press ups, star
jumps. Building up repeats and rhythms in the movements.
No breaks and pumping beats. And always with a commentary
from De-Napoli, e.g.
• “ Dancers – some people think dance is all about sissy and
things when it’s about strength. Dancers need to stretch,
footballers need to stretch – their hamstrings are tight, tight!”
• Second half – after short break for water/drink is more about
developing dance movement – martial arts based, break
dancing freezes, developing short pieces. New skills, e.g.
cartwheels, side jumping kicks. “It’s just about giving it a go”
“it’s a male thing”
“give me some attitude geezers”
“look at the energy guys”
“it’s a male thing – if you need to
belch it’s fine, if you need to fart, go
“let me see those muscles popping
“stop looking like a girl”
“I could have been there with KK and
Don Revie – but I chose this”
“strong tummies, strong arms,
strong, show me some attitude, style
it out”
“you gotta get those bodies fit, get
them as fit as ‘raas’. You have to get
tight, nimble, fit, not just pah-pahpah. You need stamina”
A space ‘celebrating’ masculinity –
hegemonic and heteronormative
Not a disruption of masculinity
(through dance) but an assertion of
certain masculinities
Gard – dance as a space for
alternative masculinities, not the
case here
Bramham – dominant masculine
hegemony in PE
Embodied masculinity - Villa (dance
– race, gender, class), Hearn –
masculinity expressed on and
through bodies
RJC’s effective delivery
Development Director (Female):
I think there’s something that, dance is predominantly female oriented
and as we have a male, as in De Napoli, who can teach males it’s just
more engaging for boys and I think they can have an experience with
dance without thinking it’s dance for boys who are not boys if you
know what I mean, that are worried it’s effeminate, or that boys don’t
do that so when they see somebody like De Napoli who’s very
masculine they see dance as something completely different. (…)
I also think the environment helps as well. I think the environment, I
mean I don’t really like to use the word ‘controlled’ but I think it’s a
disciplined environment. You get in, you say your niceties and then it’s
straight onto the floor, let’s go, it’s business as usual. We’ve got a job
to do and off we go with Napps…..I think it’s the environment in which
they enter and I think it’s also about the delivery and the presentation
of the work by De Napoli as well.
Comments from the other male instructors support this – teaching
style, responsiveness of the group/participants
Unpacking (this) masculinity
• Volunteered
• They are not dancers (2
to 3 are from RJC Youth)
• They try different skills
and movements,
regardless of ability
• They turned up to share
work at the Police
Awards evening
• ‘Of the street’
• How they are with each
other – language,
codes, music – not
• Shirts off!
• Reference points from
instructor – e.g.
patwa/accent, jokes
Concluding comments
• There is a need (and a desire) for this type of project – i.e. spaces for
males to dance (links to related research)
• There is an assertion of masculinity that this context enables and
– Being male is to be celebrated and shared – male bonding is both clichéd and
yet ‘real’ (implications for sport research)
– The other is feminine/female but not always (and female is strong)
– The other is soft/sissy but not simply exclusionary (homosexuality is not
subordinated but heterosexuality is clearly normalised)
• This dance space is a place in which (black) boys belong. This informs a
more nuanced understanding of
– What is ‘cool’ and how this operates (benefits and detriments)
– What expressions of masculinity are ‘available’ across gender, race, class
– What has changed (or otherwise) regarding the fear and desire (of black
males) couplet?
– What alternatives to and meanwhile, what meanings embodied within e.g.
hypermasculine athletic bodies?
• Sport/active leisure and dance as contexts for analysing masculinity – new
Intersectionality and leisure
• Leisure is a site/space/context
that lends itself to
• Critical approaches have much to
gain from thinking
– Politics and praxis
– Leisure in transition
– Leisure scholarship in
• Pluralist (leisure scholarship
already is?!) – Rojek (2010)
• Its application needs critical
consideration – not intersectional
• Methodological challenges –
cannot cover everything…but
does that matter?
Some references
Back, L. (1994) ‘The ‘White Negro’ revisited: race and masculinities in south London’ in A. Cornwall
and N. Lindisfarne (Eds) Dislocating Masculinity: Comparitive Ethnographies, London, Routledge,
Bereswill, M. and and Neuber, A. (2011) ‘Marginalised Masculinity, Precarisation and the Gender
Order’ in H. Lutz, M.T.H. Vivar and L. Supik (Eds) Framing Intersectionality: Debates on a MultiFaceted Concept in Gender Studies, Farnham, Ashgate, pp. 69-88.
Bramham, P. (2003)
Carrington, B. (2010) Race, Sport and Politics: The Sporting Black Diaspora, London, Sage.
Coalter, F. (2007) A Wider Social Role for Sport: Who’s Keeping the Score? London, Routledge.
Connell, R.W. (2000) The Men and the Boys, Cambridge, Polity.
Gard, M. (2008) When a boy’s gotta dance: new masculinities, old pleasures, Sport, Education and
Society, Vol.13, No.2, pp. 181-193.
Hall, S. (1988) ‘New ethnicities’, Black Film/British Cinema, Institute of Contemporary Arts
Documents 7, London: ICA/BFI.
Hearn, J. (2011) ‘Neglected Intersectionalisties in Studying Men: Age(ing), Virtuality,
Transnationality’ in H. Lutz, M.T.H. Vivar and L. Supik (Eds) Framing Intersectionality op cit. pp. 89104.
hooks, b. (2004) We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity, London, Routledge
Villa, P.I. (2011) ‘Embodiment is Always More: Intersectionality, Subjection and the Body’ in in H.
Lutz, M.T.H. Vivar and L. Supik (Eds) Framing Intersectionality op cit. pp. 171-186.

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