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Travels with my dance

Posted on June 7, 2011

This week: where have all the young men gone? 

Last night I was at a modern jive and Argentine tango event and there was a young guy dancing. He was, as my female partner said, “hot” in every sense: good-looking, fast on the floor, talented. He was more or less fighting young women off. As soon as he finished dancing with one girl another one took her place.

This is of course no surprise to anyone who dances.

What is a surprise is that there were not many young men like him at the event. I’m not exactly the hottest piece of stuff on the dancefloor, but I can move a bit and was there with a young woman in her early 30s, about 25 years younger than me; most of my dance partners have been about 25 years younger than me.

Again, this sort of thing will come as no surprise to anyone who dances. It’s an obvious truth that if you can dance well, you will never have trouble meeting women. So why are young men who dance in such short supply?

In fact, it’s not universal that there are no young men: travelling the country you become aware that the young men are concentrated in particular dance forms. From what I’ve seen, lindy hop is the favourite, with Argentine tango second, but in ballroom and salsa the young man who dances well is a much sought after prize.

web_passportsThere is a theory that dance is a form of ritualised combat. It’s a theory that seems plausible to me. When a boy goes on the dancefloor, the way he dances tells you a lot about him: the very fact that he dances at all tells you he is confident with himself and confident with women. While his friends are at the bar, using Dutch courage to actually talk to a woman – he’s out there dancing with one, doing what all his drunken friends want to do.

That confidence is attractive in itself – no matter how good or bad he is as a dancer.
Often, I’ve found, that confidence is built on experience in the martial arms. A surprising number of male dancers have a background in judo, taekwondo, akido and kickboxing – Bruce Lee and Patrick Swayze, for example, both became dancers with a background in the martial arts.

Balance, timing, agility, physical strength – these are all apparent on both the dance floor and in the boxing ring, so the natural fighter and the natural dancer will share the same physical qualities. In lindy hop, for example, those air steps are too similar to judo and aikdo throws for anyone to deny the intense physical nature of the dance – which probably explains its popularity amongst young men.

This doesn’t help the girls doing ballroom or salsa who are seeking a partner… A couple of years ago I was taking ballroom classes with one of Scotland’s leading teachers and, as ever, the class was dominated by partnerless, young women (and older men, with age you get a bit more canny about these things).

There was a beautiful young woman who had been looking for a ballroom competition partner for over a year. After a lot of persuasion I got her to go along to some lindy hop. Ballroom dances, especially competitive dancers, are often so focused on their dancing that they forget there are other dancers out there – swing, Argentine tango, modern jive, blues – and it comes as a shock that there are dancers who move well on the floor without the discipline of ballroom technique.

web-train-ticket-return-rtn-portion-from-brighton-to-norbiton-london-england-route-not-london-1-jrMy friend was in this category, and very surprised by the preponderance of young men at lindy hop. She went not with the intention of becoming an expert swing dancer – ballroom was her passion – but because she realised that was the only place she was going to find a young guy who danced.

Needless to say, after a few months she persuaded one of the guys to come along to ballroom classes… So, the moral of this is not that “there are no young men dancing”, but rather that they dancing in places the normal unpartnered girl isn’t. They are not going to come looking for you – you’ve got to go looking for them.

Nicola Rayner was editor of Dance Today from 2010 to 2015. She has written for a number of publications including The Guardian, The Independent and Time Out Buenos Aires, where she cut her teeth as a dance journalist working on the tango section. Now acting editor of Discover Britain magazine, she continues to dance everything from ballroom to breakdance, with varying degrees of success.

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