By Ellen Smith
I want to begin by congratulating my fellow Frelon dancers — and the crew — on this year’s show, “Everybody Dance Now.” As a Frelon dancer, I know that a show of this size takes an incredible amount of time and energy to pull off. There were many fun, beautiful pieces and talented dancers featured in this year’s show.
That being said, I would like to provide a critique that I hope will encourage more thought and dialogue about the role of gender and sexuality in future Frelon performances.
Every year, Frelon features several dance numbers that trouble me in their sexualization and objectification of women. I’d like to point to one particularly troubling piece from this year’s show to illustrate this issue: The “Man Dance,” set to a medley of “Baby Got Back,” “What a Man” and “I’m Too Sexy.”
For those of you who weren’t at the performances, let me recap: the piece opened with a woman showing off her butt for an audience of other women judging her, as per the opening dialogue of “Baby Got Back.” Then the men came onstage, proclaiming their appreciation of big butts. The women left, only to walk seductively back onstage to catcalls and leers from the men as “What a Man” began.
As the music shifted to “I’m Too Sexy,” the women entered once again, this time crawling on the floor. To end the number the men stripped for and danced over the women, who were sitting on the stage with their legs spread open to the — standing and dominant — men.
The “Mance” uncritically made use of society’s dominant gender roles in an attempt to be humorous, yet to me, the results were anything but.
As a feminist, a woman and a dancer, I read this piece as an astonishingly offensive display and reinforcement of problematic gendered power dynamics. It placed men as sexual dominators/aggressors and women as sexual objects, and emphasized heteronormativity.
The directors, choreographers and dancers of Frelon desperately need to start having a conversation about the role of gender and sexuality in these performances. What is it that they are portraying and reinforcing — or challenging — about gender and sexuality, and what message should be sent to the Kalamazoo College community?
The pieces in Frelon don’t necessarily need to be political platforms, but they certainly shouldn’t reinforce harmful, demeaning and disrespectful images of women.
This conversation also needs to start happening on campus as a whole. The very dances I am critiquing are often the ones for which the audience cheers the loudest, giving choreographers incentive to create pieces that objectify women’s bodies rather than highlighting their dancers’ incredible talents.
As a campus community that claims to be progressive and oriented towards social justice, I believe that we need to start thinking more critically about the images of gender that we are promoting and reinforcing through all our mediums.