Teaching American men how to dance is a different ball of wax than teaching American women to dance. Dance seems to be a natural part of a girl’s early childhood development. Aside from social encouragement to take dance classes, even if you grow up poor (like I did), dancing around in your underwear to Cyndi Lauper can be as valuable and valid for your development and physical awareness as a ballet class. How many hours did I spend crooning into my hairbrush in the mirror, aping my favorite pop star and imagining I’d be the next Madonna? It’s clear that a female’s success is somehow linked to her ability to coordinate her limbs, and even if adults cringe when their daughters wiggle their hips like Beyoncé, it’s all a part of learning how to be a woman. Teaching a female how to partner dance is often just a matter of reining in and refining a girl’s natural tendencies.
American boys on the other hand, are encouraged to do more physically aggressive things and pushed away from “girly” pursuits. If they aren’t that hearty, then they get nudged into books and computers, thus stunting their kinesthetic growth. In the age of the internet, start-ups and engineering degrees, men have earned status points by being brainy at the expense of brawn. Either way, there’s a huge gap in the kind of movement training that boys get, whether it’s formal or informal.
As a result, partner dance lessons for men aren’t just exercises in learning steps, but often an exploration into moving like a man. Whether a guy comes from the engineering or the athletic side of the equation, there’s a lot in the middle that’s left out of men’s physical education. Strength and resilience are just as important as fluidity and grace and in just about every private lesson I find myself wanting to connect my male students to an example of masculinity that is both graceful and powerful.
To this end, here are some important movie clips that every man who wants to dance (or just be awesome) should watch. I chose these cuts from movies as opposed to dance competition or performance clips because a) a lot of these images are already in the public consciousness and b) film clips are better quality than most youtube dance videos.
1. Saturday Night Fever — “You can tell by the way I use my walk…”
Every man should learn to walk like John Travolta. Confidence is the first thing you need to demonstrate when you ask someone to dance. Extending that confidence into your partnered movement is necessary to be a good lead. While you’re at it, watch Travolta’s awesomely simple solo showcase. It’s musical, masculine and utterly reproducible by any mortal.
2. Dirty Dancing — “This is your dance space…”
Who can ignore the allure of Patrick Swayze…. an actor not from the 40’s who could actually dance? Amazing. The joy of this movie is watching a talented and masculine dancer teaching a dorky awkward girl how to move. This scene highlights a man’s awareness of his own space and the importance that plays in good partnering.
3. White Nights — Duo
This Duet between Baryschnikov and Hines at the height of their careers shows the beautiful contrast between a street and a studio trained dancer. The choreography is amazingly simple and shows their skill and expression beautifully. It’s a great study in two versions of masculinity. The movie is worth watching all the way through… it’s one of the few dance movies out there that doesn’t end in a big predictable dance number that somehow saves the day. It’s a dance movie with an actual plot.
4. Strictly Ballroom — “Show Me Your Paso Doble”
This is one of the best and most hilarious dance movies I’ve ever seen. I still cry and laugh uproariously every time I watch it. This scene shows the contrast between the trained dancer (who is slightly effete) and a latin man who expresses his culture’s dance in a way that is both macho and inspiring. Ultimately our lead character takes on this masculine bearing to great effect.