Saturday, May 21, 2005

Why white men can't dance

I think I’ve figured out a big part of why that is, at least stereotypically. Revelation came in the form of two three-year-old girls telling me excitedly that their dance recital was that evening and that their mommies were going to come watch them. I have no idea what kind of dance one teaches three-year-olds, but the point is that it’s only taught to girls. In the suburbs, small boys are carted to martial arts studios where they wear little white uniforms, and small girls are carted to dance studios where they learn some semblance of ballet and tap but mostly enjoy wearing pink leotards and twirling a lot. Whether or not we actually go to the lessons, we’re trained from birth to believe that girls dance and boys kick things and yell.

Fast forward twenty years or so to a college party. A crowd of girls is in the middle of the room dancing, some awkwardly, some not. A ring of guys is sitting or standing around, just watching. It's creepy even when the guys don't mean it that way.

Now fast forward another twenty years. A ballroom studio is packed with women, but men are in short supply. The man leading the class is a svelte Latino who wiggles better than the women. I would read his dress and mannerisms as gay if I didn’t know they were the height of masculinity in some countries. If only the white middle-class US concept of masculinity had more room in it for hip-wiggling.

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