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Why knowing how to dance is good for men

A dance floor session helped men involved in the study understand the concept of being different and helped them cooperate with different kinds of people.

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group of happy young people dancing and have fun on party in modern home bacony with sunset and ocean in background

By Gwyn Wright via SWNS

Dancing is good for masculinity - and helps men understand their identity, according to a new study.

Popular shows such as "Strictly Come Dancing" and Billy Elliot have largely banished ideas of strutting on the dancefloor being an effeminate pastime.

Now academics in Finland have set out to discover the effect dancing as a child had on men in adulthood.


The research team conducted a questionnaire for men who had taken part in boys' dance groups between the 1990s and 2008.

Interviewees said dancing was a good way of expressing themselves physically and made them more positive about their bodies.

It helped them grow more confident discussing life’s important questions.

The sport also made them aware of their bodies and able to read other people’s body language.

A dance floor session also helped them understand the concept of being different and helped them cooperate with different kinds of people.

One dancer said the hobby “saved him” from having a narrow outlook on life.

Participants said they could express themselves in class, in an environment which allowed them to be very different from who they were as teenagers or at school.

Diversity of bodies was accepted rather than frowned upon.

Many of the men who took part in the study said dance class was a ‘’family or community’’ which they felt they belonged to.

The boys' locker room was a place they felt they could talk about their experiences and share their views on sexuality, whether they were straight or not.

However, many of the men stopped dancing at some point in their youth because of stigma.

Sadly, many of them found their experience of giving up dancing "traumatic."

Many were too embarrassed to tell school friends they danced and hiding their hobby became a "survival strategy."

Pressure from friends rather than parents was almost always their reason for giving it up.

The researchers say attitudes towards gender roles have become more flexible in recent years but men and boys are still outnumbered by women in dance classes.

Many cultures have very different attitudes to theatrical and performance dance as opposed to participatory dance.

Partner dance and folk dance are seen as acceptable for men while ballet, jazz and contemporary dancers’ sexualities are questioned.


The researchers say in participatory dance, men’s bodies are the subject of the audience’s gaze, a role that is traditionally reserved for women.

In Finland, the dance scene began emphasizing the masculinity of male dancers from the 1950s and as recently as the 1980s they were compared to top athletes and performed martial arts moves as part of their routines.

Only since the millennium have people started to accept a broader definition of masculinity.

For the study, 17 men who had taken part in dance classes were given a survey and 11 of them were also interviewed.

Six of them were working as a dancer, dance teacher or choreographer by the time they took part in the survey in 2019. Others had quit dancing altogether.

All the participants were between 27 and 35 years old when they took part in the study.

Study author Dr. Kai Lehikoinen said: “Many of the interviewees pointed out that dancing is a way to express oneself physically without competition or measuring the performance.

“Dance served as an outlet for discussing the important questions in life.

“Body awareness is part of humanity, and we increase our knowledge of the world through our senses. If people ignore the bodily dimension of themselves, it reflects negatively on their wellbeing.

“Everyone has equal rights to develop their own body awareness. That’s why men should get to dance, too.

“Dance teaching should support teenagers’ growth as human beings. A teaching method that is based on respect for people and a dialogue with others is beneficial for a group’s sense of community, as well.

“There should be research into why basic education in the arts has usually attracted girls significantly more than boys. Doesn’t teaching in the arts take different kinds of learners into sufficient consideration?

“In our article, we emphasize gender sensitivity instead of gender neutrality. For example, this means that we question traditional, narrow gender roles and embrace diversity.

Study author Isto Turpeinen, visiting researcher at the University of the Arts Helsinki who is also a dance teacher said: “Right now I teach a group with ten boys at the age of seven and eight.

“The group was filled fast, and some kids were even placed on a waiting list.

“In practice, most dance groups are made up exclusively of girls, so teachers design their classes for girls’ bodies.

“Boys feel that the teaching is not suited for them.

“Sometimes boys are left alone, and they don’t get to have that shared experience and the sense of community that comes with it.

“My goal is to make sure that all those who have interest also have the possibility to dance and that diversity is genuinely taken into consideration in dance education.

“We have an exceptionally wonderful basic education system in dance here in Finland, and I hope that boys and men, too, would find dance education a suitable option for them.”

The findings formed a chapter of the book "Masculinity, Intersectionality and Identity: Why Boys (Don’t) Dance," published by Palgrave-Macmillan.

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