Superficiality and the Liberating Aesthetics of Dancesport

I wrote this article when I was at University, in 2005. The Inter Varsity Dance Association has had it up on their website ever since:
Men in dancesport: take a closer look
Martin Jee, of Exeter, speaks out about men and superficiality in the dance world. Superficiality and the Liberating Aesthetics of Dancesport

The clothes we wear, our hair-styles, the things we say and do are the defining factors of our identities. We are judged everyday, every hour, and every minute by “everyone else”, and we judge them in turn. Our society’s superficial assessment system can find us friends and lovers, but also kill the sensitive among us. It is the most efficient way of summing someone up, but also the worst way to know somebody for who they are. So we create ourselves identities by which we hope other people will make the most favourable judgement.

With the majority of guys, there’s a brick wall of prejudice up against dancing. They think dancing is girly and that’s that. They say “dancing is for girls, and I am a man and I am far too manly to dance around like a girl; so I won’t be going ballroom dancing, my son.” In this statement they are asking you to judge them on their projected identity of positive manliness, on their aesthetic value. They betray their true motivation for wanting to be seen to be ‘manly’- their natural abhorrence of being negatively judged.

In actual fact these guys just want to be judged positively. They want to escape the hurtful consequences of being ‘mis-judged’. The way to do this is to judge each other on something deeper than the superficial, something deeper than the way we look, or the things we do. And if we can do this, if we can exchange superficiality for the personality, falsity for truth, our friendships will be stronger and our lives happier. We must extend carte blanche with our handshakes.

More and more it seems to me that our time at university is one of the few times in our lives where we will be able to escape the unhappiness of superficial mis-judgement. School was a cut-throat den of appearance and once we leave university, we will be jettisoned back into the world of superficiality: a world of value judgements based upon the CV we have, the jobs we get and the cars we buy. So wouldn’t everyone at uni be better off enjoying this environment where we judge each other on something deeper, and leaving the superficial judgements aside?

But these guys who think dancing is too ‘girly’ for their fragile identities to cope with are judging Dancesport on exactly the same thing they don’t want to be judged by: aesthetics.

Dancesport is an activity that combines the physical demands of a sport with the aesthetics of art. Every Tuesday, Friday and Saturday night we transform ourselves into living art. It has a purely aesthetic purpose. But that’s not why dancing is so good. Its so good because of the way it makes you feel. It is active, dynamic, new, challenging, self-expressive. It transports you away from the grey world of studying into a world of elegance and style. We dance holding on to members of the opposite sex. A way of dancing which can create intimacy between complete strangers. This ultimately makes friendship easier to establish, and then harder to break. Dancesport is the quintessential social society. Asking somebody to dance with you risks embarrassment because on the face of it you are asking someone to judge you not on what you look like, but upon what you do. In this way, it is a leap of trust. When you reach out for their hand you trust them not to turn you down. When you dance both partners share a risk of failure, a risk of messing things up and looking a little silly. This creates a temporary bond of necessity which leaves a residue that lasts beyond a three and a half minute dance. So although Dancesport appears superficial because it is an art form, in reality the social context in which it places you facilitates the creation of bonds of friendship and prompts social judgement based upon something other than the purely aesthetic.

So if you are a guy and you choose Dancesport, you choose value-judgements over aesthetic. You choose to ask others to look at you and think about who you are, not what you seem. I challenge all those guys wrapped up in ‘manly cotton-wool’ to come along to Dancesport on a Tuesday night and give it a go, it could be your first step to social liberation.

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