Using Music and Dance to Explore Gender Norms

By Laura Fasick.

Published by The Humanities Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

It has often been remarked that our most internalized standards are the ones we find hardest to view as anything other than natural. Even at a time when gender roles are increasingly confused, many young people react with hostility to any attempts to explore roles that they prefer to accept as pre-ordained. Yet once a teacher introduces the arts – both classical and popular – of dance and music into the classroom, a space opens for questioning, exploration, and discussion. Using music with a long history, such as opera, allows a teacher to show how images of gender have shifted over time, so that, for example, the castrati singers of Renaissance Italy were among the most celebrated sex symbols and the most popular portrayers of heroic men in their day. Using popular music, such as videos from David Bowie’s glam rock days, provides an opening for students to identify aspects of self-presentation that we now categorize as “male” or “female” and to discuss the disorientation that occurs when those categories blur. Likewise, showings of classical ballet can prompt students to go beyond their initial discomfort with “men in tights” to recognize how male danseurs have embodied power and sexual prowess for generations of audience. Hip-hop, meanwhile, gives a modern-day example of dance that is so aggressively “male” that female dancers sometimes find it hard to establish themselves. Thus using the arts in the classroom can allow us to examine and analyze the ways in which we construct gender identity and norms.

Keywords: Music, Dance, Gender

The International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 5, Issue 2, pp.47-52. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 489.856KB).

Dr. Laura Fasick

Professor, English Department, Minnesota State University Moorhead, Moorhead, Minnesota, USA

Dr. Laura Fasick received her doctorate in English Literature from Indiana University at Bloomington. Since 1990 she has been on the faculty of the English Department at Minnesota State University Moorhead. She has published two books: Vessels of Meaning: Women's Bodies, Gender Norms, and Class Bias from Richardson to Lawrence (Northern Illinois UP), and Heroes of Work: Professional Men and Domesticity in the Mid-Victorian Novel (Edwin Mellen Press). She has also published numerous articles in scholarly journals and essay collections, including articles in Nineteenth-Century Literature, English Literature in Transition, and the Victorian Newsletter.

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