I am back in Manhattan after attending the National Dance Education Organization conference in Chicago. Four days of a whirlwind of dancing and meetings and workshops and networking and seeing old friends from all parts of the dance world and making new friends as we forge into the future.
As I reflect on this conference so many things come up. First, out of the 4 conferences that I attended this was hands down one of the best, for a myriad of reasons. Partly, it could be that after 4 years, I finally got the swing of how the event works and was able to navigate the plethora of workshops more effectively. But a big part of it was how this particular conference, as a man in dance and dance education, was framed.
I started the conference working on a dance collaboration with 20 plus of my fellow male dancers, which was an incredible experience in itself that I have many reflections and thoughts about. I ended the conference attending a presentation about a collaborative multi-arts project that has been going on at South Dakota State University for the past 8 years. Starting and ending with these two activities speaks directly to the nature of dance, our participation in it as an art form, and what not only dance but the arts overall gives to us as a society. I have a lot to say about it all but I will attempt to be succinct and to the point in my reflections.
Twenty plus men coming together to create, to share, to explore, to bond, to goof around, to pay homage to their physicality and to their elders, would have sent me running and screaming from the room had it been in any other setting. As a gay male, who found solace in dancing because it was removed from the mythology of “male bonding ”and the images of “superior male physical prowess” this scenario could not have been more uninviting. Being one not to shy away from what frightens me and knowing that this was a safe environment in which to experiment, I jumped in “feet first” and hoped for the best.
Working for over 8 hours in the physical realm on a common goal with a group of men with a multitude of individual expressions and personal identities created an environment that was more than the sum of us all. By the time we got to the performance I think we all felt the importance of what we were doing and why we needed to be together as men in all of the many ways that each one of us expresses ourselves. From the bravado to the intimate, from the young to the old, from the ballet influenced, to the moderns and post moderns, to the jazz, hip-hoper, contemporary and beyond, there could not have been a better representation of the variety of male expression in dance today.
Something truly special occurred in the process of creating this dance and we all knew it from the beginning and from the feedback that we got. The audience felt it also. But I must drive home the point here that it was the process and not the performance that made it possible to do what we did. The performance was a culminating statement but the process was the nitty gritty and for the next two days I missed not getting together for rehearsal so that I could share in a common goal, in the intimacy, in the bravado, in the intergenerational support, in the camaraderie, in the exploration, in the reverence, in the goofing around, and yes, dare I say it in the “male bonding” or as I see it the “human bonding”.
In the end is this not what we all want whether it is male or female or however we identify ourselves. I have bonded with many females in much the same way. One does not preclude the other and is not to the exclusion of the other. This was a great way to start a conference on dance and dance education. I would love to see other affinity groups do the same as we move forward toward 2015 and beyond.