Dance Instructor Broomfield Leads Forum on Masculinity

After several months of comprehensive research and investigation, Instructor in Theatre and Dance Mark Broomfield presented his findings on masculinity in the world of ballet dance at the Brace Center for Gender Studies this past Tuesday. Entitled, “Dancing Bound and Out of Bounds: Masculinity and the Male Dancer,” Mr. Broomfield’s lecture complemented an earlier solo dance performance at the Tang Theater last Thursday that highlighted the concepts and themes addressed in his speech. Tuesday’s presentation began with a short video showcasing the various art forms and stereotypes that would be discussed in the remainder of the program. Produced by Mr. Broomfield himself, the film featured personal interviews with choreographers and many short audiovisual vignettes displaying various stages in the evolution of modern dance, from the beginnings of classical ballet to today’s syncopated rhythms and synchronized movements. Following the video, Mr. Broomfield assumed the stage and began his lecture with a personal reflection on what being a male dancer has contributed to his life over the years. Commenting on how the prevalent hip hop culture of his childhood community made him feel uncomfortable, Mr. Broomfield described how he turned to dance as a way to resist becoming a part of “a culture that negates how I felt, because in dance I found something that I could do well and receive validation from.” Nevertheless, Mr. Broomfield reported that the “gangsta” culture popularized by today’s rappers and musical artists has created a singular view of how men should behave in acceptable society. Mr. Broomfield then provided a brief history of the male role in the advancement of modern dance. Beginning with concepts from the dawn of the 20th century, he acquainted the audience with the distinctive techniques and styles of several famous choreographers whose contributions to modern dance can still be seen today. In particular, he explored the achievements of the great Merce Cunningham, a groundbreaking artist whose “reassertion of traditional gender roles disguised the sexual orientation of the performers,” according to Mr. Broomfield. Using Cunningham’s remarkable work as a comparison, Mr. Broomfield elaborated on the efforts of several more early choreographers before beginning a short discussion on the role of race in classical and modern dance. “The black body carries its own broad history of prejudice,” Mr. Broomfield said. “Even today,” he added, “the white body carries a higher premium [than the African-American].” Mr. Broomfield also used the work of the late choreographer Alvin Ailey to show how traditional barriers of sexuality, race, and gender were transcended towards the end of the century. “Ailey’s work created the model for integration [of the sexes and races],” Mr. Broomfield explained as he discussed the ways in which modern dancers escaped homoeroticism by minimizing contact in their performances. In closing, Mr. Broomfield offered his perspective on the future of men in modern dance, stating that, “some risk-taking and courage will be needed to challenge these gender barriers.” Two more Brace Center Faculty Fellow presentations will be offered this term.