circa 1981

By Ian Enriquez

Societal values differ from culture to culture. When looking at the social dances, one must look at the values present in that place and time to understand what is going on. Gender role is a cultural component that is easily observable in dance. We will look at dances from three continents and make note of the different struggles and values they exemplify.

Life in Arabic culture has been historically characterized by a segregation of gender. The same is true of their social dances. Men and women danced and celebrated in separate rooms, so it is still culturally common for people to dance in groups with their own gender. The Raq's Sha'abi is a rural dance from Egypt done to celebrate an event, such as a wedding. The style is upbeat and the movement characteristic includes a continous chest pop and a bounce eminating from the heel. The dance is appears flirtatious and forward.

During the colonization of Northern Africa, Egyptian dance gained popularity through film and became associated with harems. In and of itself, the word "harem" conjures up a lavish and seductive image in one's mind. In fact, a harem is simply a room in one's home where women can find protection from strangers that may come to the home. The word comes from "haram" meaning forbidden, as men outside of the immediate family were not allowed to enter the room.

As for the dance, its flirtatious nature mixed with the growing cultural objectification of the dancer created a stigma that made male dancers less acceptable. It has gotten to the point that men are turned away from dance classes out of an ignorant belief that this style of dance is only to be performed by women.

The men of Ka Pa Hula O Kamehameha stepped through their hula 'auana performance during the final presentations of the 40th annual Merrie Monarch Festival.

This experience is mirrored in the Hawaiian hula. The hula (traditionally a ritual dance) is danced by the community. Men and women dance together as segregated sets (not couples), telling a story. The growth of tourism in the islands brought on a lot of changes in the dance as women began to wear grass skirts and showed more skin, and men began to take on a lesser role. Men from foreign cultures presented themselves as an audience, thus turning these social gatherings from Egypt and Hawaii into an entertainment form for outsiders. In Egypt, the cultural separation between genders allowed the native men to partake in the audience role and separate themselves from the dance. However, Hawaiian culture has very different gender values and the men did not adopt the views of the foreigners. The male dancer remained a part of the dance in more underground settings, awaiting for his turn on the stage. Today, men have stronger representation in hula and play a big part in reconnecting the dance to its traditional roots.

In Austria, a great revolution in social dance occurred with the invent of the waltz. This is known as the birth of couples dancing. Though couples have danced together in group formations, this was the first time that couples connected solely with each other. Couples held each other a little too close for Christian comfort and the church looked upon the dance as a sin. European culture began to place greater value on romantic couples, while many other cultures (like the Hawaiians) still emphasized the greater community. The waltz is both rigid and graceful, where the man is in full control of the woman, mirroring cultural views on gender roles. As gender roles evolved, so did the relationship between men and women in dance.


Lindy master Frankie Manning doing an air step

Couples dancing experienced a lot of growth in the United States during the 20th century. As Africans in the Americas began to experiment with couple dances, the role of the woman began to change. In the 1930s, the lindy hop was the biggest craze and a new energy had entered couples dance. Instead, of dancing in a tight embrace, partners danced with more space between them. The movement vocabulary now included lifts and even releases where the partners momentarily let go of each other. This new freedom reflected the changing values of society; while men still maintained control, women were displayed more than guarded. It was not until the sexual revolution in the 1960's that women finally broke free of man's control in couples dancing when the twist was born in Georgia. By the end of the century, American culture valued individuality above relationships and community. Dancers danced independently with their partners, in groups, or simply alone.

Clogging evolved as a social dance as the more individualized competitive style mixed in with Appalchian big circle dances. These formation dances are a combination of couple and community dancing. By the late 1920's formation clogging joined the competitive circuit at the annual Mountain Dance and Folk Festival in Asheville, North Carolina. The first ever winners of this new category were The Soco Gap Cloggers, pictured here.

Today the absence of men in social dance has affected the clogging scene. Social clogging events tend to favor choreographed line dances that do not require couple formation. Dance is still looked upon as graceful and effeminate, and therefore not a place for real men. This myth and bias will take a long time to correct, and it is the pioneers on the stage that will lead the way into accomplishing this goal.

Chapter 3: Performance Dance

The Soco Gap Cloggers


Last Updated: September 15, 2006