A striking thing seems to be happening in contemporary male dance films.In the 1990s and into the new millennium, men suffering from masculinity crises often engage with dance in order to once again make a credible claim to their masculinity.Somehow, somewhere, men engage with dance to at least temporarily emerge as forthrightly masculine.
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Yet this choice of dance might make more sense if we consider how we popularly think about dance and how dance contributes to the construction of a cultural identity, understood as ‘how one’s body renders meaning [and is rendered meaningful] in society’ (Albright, xxiii).
Popularly, many meanings of dance circulate in contemporary Western cultures.
In the film Billy Elliot directed by Stephen Daldry we see many important ideas and presented with one of them being identity.
The idea of identity is presented through the use of a number of techniques such as symbolism, contrast, music and dancing.
When small town high school teacher Howard Brackett, who initially thinks of himself as straight, is outed on national television, he turns to a home-improvement cassette program entitled ‘Exploring Your Masculinity’ to teach himself how to appear to be straight.
In one of the cassette’s segments, Howard must resist the temptation to dance while the tape plays ‘I Will Survive’ and the stern macho instructor implores Howard to think about real men like John Wayne and Arnold Swartznegger.
So pervasive is this trend in films like Strictly Ballroom (1992), The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994), The Full Monty (1997), and now Billy Elliot (2000) that there even seems to be something of a formula guiding it — disturbing or disturbed femininity triggers a masculinity crisis which results in dance being set up as the recuperative cinematic space of mainly white male masculinity (Somerville).
While variations abound in the implementation of this formula, the basic pattern in each film is the same.
In this respect, dance is no different from any other spectacle or even performance.
What makes spectacles so gripping is their demand to be read.