I’ve been noticing in these cold and dark months especially how little physical contact I am having with other men.
Sure, I get to the dojo and train with my male buds (my “brothers”) here and there, and it’s satisfying to wrestle and play fight. But there is something about dancing — moving with more spontaneity, ecstatic joy and celebration — that I miss.
As if on cue, I got these pics in the mail.
That’s me on the left with the scruffy beard and brown blazer, embracing the joy of dancing with two men, one a dear friend and the other a stranger — until we danced together.
They are from a wedding I attended with my wife and daughter, 6 months ago.
I look at these pictures and think about the many times dancing with other men has been deeply healing and life-changing for me (more on those experiences in point #9) and I wonder why have I not done it more often, lately.
In many shamanic societies, if you came to a medicine person complaining of being disheartened, dispirited, or depressed, they would ask one of four questions: “When did you stop dancing? When did you stop singing? When did you stop being enchanted by stories? When did you stop being comforted by the sweet territory of silence?
~ Gabrielle Roth, founder of the 5 Rhythms dance.
I’m captivated by the first question,
When did you stop dancing?
Let’s explore this together, especially in the context of men dancing with their fellow brothers.
Why did we ever stop?
Or worse, why did some of us never even dare to try?
Why NOT dance with other men…
It seems to be that — even though it’s 2019 — any kind of physical contact shared between men that is not violent (such as hugging, cuddling, comforting and especially DANCING together) is labeled as gay by the vast majority of men who still live in what Anthony Porter a tight Man Box (see Anthony Porter’s TED talk if you don’t know what that is).
Men dancing together seems — to heterosexual men — to feel foreign and strange to behold, like seeing your dad putting on his pants backwards.
Not letting my life be dictated by homophobic fears, and following the threads of my own experiences, I’ve become deeply curious about the rich history and ongoing practice of men — of all sexual orientations — dancing together.
Men have been dancing together for millennia and there are also some surprising new forms of dance and movement which have more recently emerged.
Let’s take a look at these unique examples.
1. HULA: A way to train as Warriors
A lot of people look at Hula as just women dancing. But, we love it man.
— Hula Dancer in video below
La-Akae Perry, a leader and teacher of men’s Hula,
In ancient times, warriors were actually recruited from Hala (Hula community).
Sunny Leuthu describes in this video some of the traditional ways they condition themselves with rigour and bravery because “To dance like a warrior, you need to train like a warrior.”
But, it’s not only about following the path of their ancestors and demonstrating it in ritual performances, La-Akae shares his deeper intentions as their leader and teacher,
I look at it as my responsibility to shape them into better individuals, better fathers, better sons, better brothers. Our goal is that when men are done dancing, they leave here as better people.
2. ISLAMIC DANCING: Vigorous communion with a Higher Power
There are many examples of religious devotion shared by men.
A few traditions — like Sufi whirling dervishes — express it in graceful and very contemplative ways.
I chose this example above because of the deep passion and fervor.
Steelcitychick who wrote this comment underneath this video on youtube summed up my impressions also:
Call me weird, but I’ve watched this video at least 10 times, after a hard day at work, just to find peace and serenity! To me, it’s about people (men) finding solidarity in their faith and their humanity! It just brings love and peace to my heart!…yeah…I sound corny.
But seeing a bunch of men, not speaking but rather coming together to connect, in a spiritual way, just brings so much joy! Something that is lacking in Western culture!
3. CAPOEIRA: a way to practice self-defense and celebrate community
My limited experience and understanding of Capoeira is that it was born out of both African tribal dancing and the suppression of Afro-Brazilians practice of fighting and self-defense. It came out of needing to train and hone their instincts and skills in a public way, while also cleverly disguising doing so within an oppressive society. Hence it was framed and emphasized to be a dance.
It has grown to include peoples of all ages, genders, and cultures. I am struck by how it deftly channels and refines the masculine instincts to both assert dominance and to defend and deflect attacks.
Capoeira is also unique amongst martial arts as a communal celebration. Sparring takes place within a circle of the peers singing and playing music to give courage and strength to the “dancers” and also to bring the community together.
4. LEADERLESS BALLROOM DANCING: a way to share power
A new movement within the dance world has emerged quite recently.
I love how these two men de-construct gender roles and power dynamics in the realm of ballroom dance before an audience.
Watching them shift from leader to follower to mostly co-leading and sharing power is an evolutionary step our broader society has yet to take.
5. GREEK WAR DANCING: a demonstration of strength and unity
There are many cultures with men getting in synch with one another to express solidarity and gather courage before battle.
I chose this video of Greek dancers who seem to do it with a somber composure — because it shows another side of Greek culture other than the Zorba The Greek stereotype of joyful dancing we may be used to seeing.
By the way, did you watch it to the end to see the two boys dancing with knives in a mock war dance? Having taught martial arts to boys and men for over a decade, I have seen myself how that the act of “play fighting” actually makes us less prone to feeling the need to act out violently.
6. HAKA Rituals: an expression of passion and full commitment!
Then there these men dancing Haka, the traditional New Zealand Maori warrior rituals. I am struck by the power it has to transmit deep passions and raw emotion in a way that can only be done with 100% commitment.
It seems to me much more than only display of potency and posturing for battle. In this clip above it becomes an elevated act of total emotional commitment: a raw and pure expression of love.
7. CONTACT IMPROV DANCE: an exploration of freedom and connection
If you were to walk into a Contact Improv dance “jam” (open to anyone wishing to dance) you would see all kinds of pairings, many of them male on male. In this video below, we see two men moving in a way that is neither sexual nor romantic, yet deeply intimate (emotionally and physically). The liberating part is that there is no script to follow nor any controlling of the other person. Instead, both partners stay connected at all times while exploring the limits and the possibilities of movement that emerges between them.
8. MEN DANCING as an Act of Reconciliation and making Peace
Here’s a wild idea:
Instead of killing one another, men can sing carols or play soccer or dare I say it even dance together.
The first two incidents happened during WWI, in 1914, during the famous Christmas Armistice. After months of vicious fighting between the Germans and the British, both sides decided to cease shooting at one another. They did something radical instead: climbing out of their trenches and walking unarmed into no man’s land. There they traded smokes, sang carols, and kicked a ball around.
Sure, not every trench did that. Some just kept slaughtering one another. But, no one remembers those Germans or Brits as fondly. According to this BBC historical summation, this act of male solidarity — across the battle lines — was a radical act threatening the agenda of war entirely,
The response from High Command was angry — they feared that men would now question the war, and even mutiny, as a result of fraternizing with the enemy… Stricter orders were issued to end such activity — with harsh punishment for any man caught refusing to fight.
Imagine how even more radical it would be for soldiers (mostly male) to start dancing together.
9. MEN DANCING to Cure DEPRESSION and Prevent Suicide
Think about another great killer of men — depression. Too often it leads to suicide. But, even when it doesn’t, it leaves millions of men living lives of quiet defeat and desperation, becoming hollowed out versions of themselves, one of the living dead.
I remember a time, not so long ago ~ though it was 15 years now ~when I was severely depressed, suffocated by feelings of shame, despair and panic. It was a beautiful and sunny day, and yet I wanted to die. That afternoon, a male buddy showed up at my doorstep, by surprise.
I was miserable but he was unrelenting, intent on helping me get out of my dark hole. He brought me to “The Tam Tams”, a communal drum circle in the park nearby.
Embarrassed, uncoordinated and feeling totally inadequate, I stood there in a sea of people dancing wildly, frozen for a few minutes.
As forty or so men drummed in unison, I felt the rhythm vibrating through my miserable, self-loathing and collapsed body.
My friend didn’t push me. He started moving to the beat himself while facing me and encouraging me to sway a little.
It was painfully awkward at first but soon we were both dancing like no one was watching. Like our spirits were alive and on fire.
Dancing in the sun with my friend, helped me more than countless therapy sessions had. It helped me to get out of my head (where all my negativity lay) and to find my way back to my senses, to feeling much more at home in my body.
Since that day I am keenly aware of how my spirit and my body need to keep dancing, in order to stay healthy. I dance regularly and often to express and contain both darkness and light, anger and joy, making me grow stronger and more compassionate through the dance.
10. The REVOLUTIONARY Potential of MEN Dancing with One Another
Imagine this on a larger scale.
What if the millions of men currently suffering in the darkness of depression alone were to come out into the light of day to dance on the streets (or wherever) and it would be seen as the most normal of invitations, like grabbing a beer or watching a game together.
Experiences of shared joy and male vitality would certainly open many other more intimate doors. Changing how we as men relate to our one another and our own bodies, would undoubtedly ripple out into how we treat women, our partners and our kids.
That’s only the beginning.
Imagine the ripple effect on the rest of society.
Economically, if men were to heal through dancing together, I suspect we would save billions of public dollars, from needing less mental health and medical care.
Let’s imagine even bigger impacts.
Think of the darkest corners of our society — ongoing human trafficking, violence against women, sexual abuse of children, organized crime—how would these twisted and evil behaviours continue if millions of men were to become more vigilant defenders of those more vulnerable and refused to participate, because they were having too much joy and pleasure from dancing instead?
Let’s look at some deeper causes, like the most rigid structures and unhealthy systems in place now —the criminal justice system, political corruption, out of control capitalism, destruction of the eco-system — all of these systems are held up by men who lack integrity, compassion, courage, wisdom and creativity. Men dancing together is one way to teach men how to cultivate integrity, compassion, courage, wisdom and creativity.
We might just heal the whole damn f*cking world
if men would just dance together!
Previously Published on Medium
Images Courtesy of Liat Aharoni