The performance of softer masculinities on the university dance floor.
Abstract: In this article we examine the masculinities of heterosexual men in English university dance club settings. We highlight that multiple influences shape perceptions of gender and sexuality--influences that are also used to subvert a polarized gender and sexuality order. This is evidenced by how straight men dance, interact, and even kiss each other. Accordingly, we ask what it means when queer masculinities are performed by otherwise straight-identifying men. We examine the implications that the queering of straights has on understandings of gender and sexuality, arguing that, whether the context is a sporting event or a dance hall, social terrains rely on a body of assumed knowledge that helps construct the social meanings inculcated in and performed by moving bodies. We suggest that homosocial intimacy expressed through men's dancing together, which used to be considered subversive in the 1980s, is increasingly found in the domain of popular and normative heterosexual youth culture today.

Keywords: dance, masculinities, queer, peer culture, athletes
Article Type: Report
Subject: Masculinity (Physiological aspects)
Dancing (Physiological aspects)
Heterosexuals (Physiological aspects)
Authors: Peterson, Grant Tyler
Anderson, Eric
Pub Date: 01/01/2012
Publication: Name: The Journal of Men's Studies Publisher: Men's Studies Press Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Social sciences; Women's issues/gender studies Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2012 Men's Studies Press ISSN: 1060-8265
Issue: Date: Wntr, 2012 Source Volume: 20 Source Issue: 1
Product: Product Code: 8424000 Dance NAICS Code: 71112 Dance Companies
Geographic: Geographic Scope: United Kingdom Geographic Code: 4EUUK United Kingdom
Accession Number: 283455184
Full Text: The music blares throughout this university's student club. Youthful and intoxicated bodies pulsate, absorbing the music's rhythms. The colored lights flash across the walls and reflect off the floor. John and Peter synchronize their gyrating hips to the beat, then down and around to the song's syncopated lyrics. Their attractive bodies slowly succumb to the libidinal forces of the music. When the lyric of Taio Cruz's (2008) song, "Come on Girl" beckons, "I love how you shake that little booty around the club, I just wanna turn you, me, into a us," Peter and John's crotches join, pulsing and grinding together in synchronized form. John wraps his left arm around Peter's lower back and Peter's right hand grabs John's neck and draws him in closer. As the music and lights climax, their lips touch. The song ends, their eyes open, and they smile.

But this is not a gay club, and Peter and John are not gay. This is a university dance club, and Peter and John are self-identifying heterosexual athletes who attend the university. After dancing, Peter leaves John to walk over to his girlfriend, who is standing nearby. He takes her hand and gives her a kiss on the cheek.

Peter and John are not alone in the sexualized nature in which they dance with other men. In this and four other clubs with university students attending, where we conducted our participant observations in and around the south west of England, men danced this way. They show that English undergraduate men today oftentimes go to clubs with other men, in groups or pairs. For much of the evening they even dance with each other.

It is not just men dancing together that we see. We recently saw four men snake through a crowded dance floor, holding each other's hands, so as not to lose each other in the dense crowd. At the same club, men sat in a corner, arms draped around each other. At a considerably more working class (non-university) club, we also saw two male youths (dressed in clothes symbolic of the lower-class) kiss. While this may be surprising, it has been documented as a growing social trend: research by Anderson, Adams and Rivers (2010) shows that 89% of undergraduates in their study have kissed another male on the lips, and McCormack and Anderson (2010) show that heterosexual sixth form students are highly tactile with each other.

In this article, we suggest that these behaviors, what used to be subversive signs of a polarized gender and sexuality order, are increasingly predominant in the domain of popular and normative heterosexual youth culture (Anderson, 2009; McCormack, 2012). From fashion to casual kissing, on the dance floor or in the classroom, we ask, what does it mean when gay and queer masculinities are performed by otherwise straight-identifying men? What implications does the queering of straights have on understandings of gender and sexuality for today's English male youth? And where does the dance floor fit in to this?


Men's gender and sexual identities are both socially constructed (Seidman, 2002) and continuously contested categories of social power (Flowers & Buston, 2001). Significantly, as Foucault (1990) demonstrates, these categories are not a natural fact of human nature, but are a "set of effects produced in bodies, behaviors, and social relations by a certain deployment deriving from a complex political technology" (p. 127). According to Foucault, the dissemination of gender and sexual norms come not only from the top-down, but they are formed by a complex matrix of power relations between individuals and institutions. Homophobia and sexism, then, are forms of official and self-regulatory powers that aim to segregate and relegate gender and sexuality (Kimmel, 1997).

As Hocquenghem (1972/1993) suggests, homophobia becomes a tool to regulate the suppressed homosocial and homosexual desires inherent in everyone, not just self-identifying homosexuals. The work of Sedgwick (1990, 1993) rearticulates and expands this point, becoming a popular springboard for much of queer theory today. Sedgwick uses the term homosociality to analyze the blurry lines between encounters of men of the same sex and homosexual identifications. In the process of policing these desires, homophobic social stigma begets a system of compulsory heterosexuality maintaining the hegemonic gender norms observed in Western cultures (Rich, 1980; Rubin, 1984).

But the stigma associated with men's homosexuality reflects more than just the fear of sex between men: male homosexuality, as Sedgwick and others have demonstrated, is also disparaged because it is regularly conflated with femininity (Barrett, 2000; Kimmel, 1994; Nardi, 1995; Pharr, 1988; Pronger, 1990), something Schwartz and Rutter (1998) describe as the gender of sexuality.

Boys (Epstein, Kehily, Mac an Ghaill, & Redman, 2001; Pollack, 1999) and men (Anderson, 2005a; Messner, 1992) wishing to avoid homosexual stigma generally do not work (Williams, 1995) or play (Adams, 1993; McGuffey & Rich, 1999) in feminized terrain. Important to this research, they also do not act in effeminate ways if they desire to be perceived as heterosexual and masculine (heteromasculine) among peers (Kimmel, 1994). When therefore occupying feminized terrains boys and men traditionally position themselves away from femininity to show they are not feminine and therefore not gay (Anderson, 2005a; McGuffey & Rich, 1999). Epstein et al. (2001) note, "Even little boys are required to prove that they are 'real boys' in ways that mark them as masculine, even macho, and therefore (by definition) heterosexual" (p. 135). Hence, homophobia does more than just marginalize gay men; it also regulates and limits the behavior of straight boys and men.

The desire to be perceived as heteromasculine is understandable in a culture that distributes privilege unequally according to gender and sexuality (Connell, 1987; Lorber, 1994). Consequently, when heterosexual boys and men fear the stigma of homosexuality, they normally conceal their same-sex sexual forms of homosociality. This is because same-sex sexual behavior or even same-sex emotional intimacy or physical tactility is normally conflated with a homosexual identity in North American and Western European cultures (Anderson, 2005a; Lancaster, 1988; McCormack, 2012; Parker, 1999). Under this framework, the only way to be considered heterosexual is to avoid any same-sex sexual act or behaviour that might indicate one has same-sex sexual desires, something Messner (2004) describes as being "100 percent straight" (p. 422).

Borrowing from the one-drop theory of race (Davis, 1991; Harris, 1964), in which a dominant white culture once viewed any person with even a portion of black genetic ancestry as black, and thus non-white, Anderson (2008a) calls the stigma attached to the behavioral component of homosocial interaction the one-time rule of homosexuality. One same-sex sexual or even pseudo-sexual experience (including close dancing) in contemporary hegemonic codes of masculinity is usually equated with or stigmatized as having a homosexual identity. This effectively prevents men from grinding their hips together and/or kissing on the dance floor.

None of this is to suggest that sexual orientation, identity, and behaviors are synonymous; indeed the matrix of sexuality is fraught with ambiguity and contradictions that are complicated by sexual fantasies, attractions, behaviors, self-identities and cultural understandings (Foucault, 1990; Rubin, 1984; Sedgwick, 1990). Accordingly, this onetime rule does not work equally in all cultures.

Furthermore, not all cultures conflate homosexual behaviors with a homosexual identity, something Herdt (1981) famously shows with the ritual copulation of younger boys by older boys in Sambian culture. Thus, the way North American and Western European heterosexual men identify with same-sex sex seems more prohibitive, and the meanings attached to it are stigmatized differently than the way other cultures understand same-sex sex. This variance highlights the multiplicity of genders and the plurality of sexualities, both intra-culturally and cross-culturally.


The apex of cultural awareness of homosexual identities came at a particularly relevant time for the study of men and their masculinities (Anderson, 2009). Just as our culture grew aware that anyone could be gay (sending men into homophobic performances in order to prove that they were not gay), the gay community was hit by two substantial socio-political events. These events impacted not only gay masculinities (Levine & Kimmel, 1998) but men's gendered understandings as a whole. The first came in the form of a cultural backlash to the gains made by gay men and feminists of the '60s and '70s.

The development of the counter-culture in the '60s and '70s and the subsequent conservative backlash of the '80s are perhaps best seen in the phenomenon of disco. Disco was invented by largely unacknowledged black, gay DJs who overlapped "soul and Philly (Philadelphia International) records, fazing them in and out, to form uninterrupted soundtracks for nonstop dancing" (Thomas, 1995, p. 439). The use of black soul music, itself derived from black gospel, marks the secularization and appropriation of black church music by gay men and, thus, the reconfiguration of religious narratives into sexual ones. Thelma Houston's "Don't Leave Me This Way" and Cheryl Lynn's "Got to Be Real" are disco examples that reconfigure the ideas of spiritual salvation in gospel and soul into ideas of sexual salvations.

In this respect, disco, for gay men, became a popular church of the orgasm. The fact that the etymology of disco relies on a space--the discoth6que--speaks to the central role that "claiming a space" had within the development of disco and gay communities. Disco provided some of the first spaces where gay men could come together and "out" their forbidden desires to one another.

Disco came to a sudden demise, however, in the '80s. The homophobic-slanted 1979 campaign of "disco sucks" set out to abolish disco and its homosexual (sexual deviancy) and feminine associations (Dyer, 1995; Hughes, 1994). The apex of this phenomenon was most poignantly expressed during a mass demonstration at the halftime show "Disco Demolition" at Chicago's Comiskey Park baseball stadium. Here, DJ Steve Dahl led an over-capacity crowd of 50,000 in a sacrificial explosion of the crowd's donated disco records; he piled them together and detonated several pounds of TNT to the crowd's chants of "Disco Sucks! Disco Sucks!" (Cheren, 2003). Accordingly, just as disco emerged from the closet in the '60s and '70s, it was forced back in with the beginning of the homophobic '80s.

Indeed, with a recession in 1979 and continuing into the 1980 election of Ronald Reagan (as well as the 1979 election of Margaret Thatcher in Britain), cultural conservatives were determined to reclaim their respective countries from the apparently out-of-control counter-culture and New Left of the '60s and '70s. The excess of disco, both its material glamour and sexual freedom, could not survive such cultural changes.

This trend continued in the '90s with the religious right's crusade to reclaim "the soul of America" (as Pat Buchanan declared in 1992), which in most contexts meant to remasculinize America. Heterosexual gender roles were to be recalibrated through organizations like the religious right's "Promise Keepers." Freud's explanation of homosexuality as the product of an absent father figure also found a renewed emphasis during this time (Kimmel, 1997). Mainstream culture was hell bent on addressing and redefining the crisis of masculinity.

Notably, however, the gender inquisition of the mid '80s and '90s made its mark in dance music. Disco was phased out and replaced by the largely homophobic and "hypermasculine" genre of rock 'n' roll. The only surviving remnants of disco were its musical decedents, "garage" (in New York from 1977-84) and "house" (in Chicago from 1984-89), both derived from the original New York gay, black disco music trope. These genres, however, eventually developed into "acid house" (1988-92), "hardcore" (1988-92), and "industrial" (1983-92). The new forms of club music abandoned diva narratives and instead emphasized sensory overload with pure, electronic loudness and speed, employing rigid rhythms, dark tones, and extreme frequencies.

Left in the wake of these inherently hypermasculine forms, disco waned and its use was primarily transfigured into requiems for the many lost by the HIV/AIDS crisis. As Hughes (1994, p. 156) poignantly writes, "1970s [disco] songs like 'Don't Leave Me This Way' and 'Never Can Say Good-bye' [became], in the 1980s, part of the work of mourning." Songs that once celebrated sexual excess were now being used to cope with unimaginable losses. Bodies that were once virile with heightened sexuality and donned masculinities were now stripped by disease, poxed with Kaposi's sarcoma, and stigmatized as contagion by ignorant and reluctant governments.

Homosexuality and its association with HIV/AIDS was not only pathologized as a lack of masculinity, but it was perceived as a "lifestyle" that resulted in death. Gay men were stigmatized as being effeminate, diseased, and even a threat to the public. In Britain, this atmosphere expressed itself in the 1987 witch hunt for gay football (soccer) referee Norman Redman who disclosed his HIV status. Mark Simpson (1994) writes how Redman was forced from public life and moved to a secret address after receiving threats and having excrement pushed through his mailbox. Soon after, the Football Association moved to ban kissing among its players after goals, on the justification that it would prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.

The men's movement of the HIV/AIDS era was, just like during earlier parts of the 20th century, a way for men to distance themselves from what one was not to be. This time, however, in addition to using the stigma of femininity and employing religious righteousness (especially in the United States), dominant culture was now using medical epidemiology to configure its strictures against homosexuality and gender expression. The anxiety over HIV/AIDS played a dramatic role in men's desire to constitute their masculine subjectivities.

HIV/AIDS had an incalculable and unfortunately rarely acknowledged effect on the gender expression of men, both heterosexual and homosexual. Men's suspicions of other men's serostatus functioned as a form of sexual survival and fostered an environment of systematic corporeal policing among men. Such anxieties became reflexive and shaped how men developed and advertised their bodies for sexual encounters. To disassociate oneself from previous markers of gay virility, namely the hair and moustaches of the '70s and '80s now signifying the older and possibly infected generations, the sexual economy of the '90s depended on the theory that the younger and more muscular a man was, the less likely he was to have HIV/AIDS. In the late '80s and early '90s, body hair became a sign of age; it meant age in particular but experience in general and thus was conflated as a prime indicator of health (Signorile, 1997). This led to the ultra-masculine, hairless, shaved bodies and faces that dominated the '90s and continue to spread throughout metropolitan heterosexual communities.

Essentially, this era was more or less a corporeal contest based on who looked youngest and disease-free, explicated through hairless muscularity. The '90s gay sexual politics continued to edge the more feminine and less masculine alternative gender signs further toward the margins of gay communities. Medical technologies of the '80s and '90s also added to the masculinization of gay and straight cultures.

Steroids were first introduced into gay communities as a necessity for HIV/AIDS patients, but were soon misused by many gay men as body enhancers (Halkitis, 2000). Similarly, with the proliferation of fitness industries in the '90s (with gyms and vitamin shops becoming a cornerstone in most urban areas) gay men adopted new workout regimens to ensure muscular physiques (Pope, Phillips, & Olivardia, 2000).

If HIV/AIDS did anything good for the gay community however, it brought such visibility (albeit the wrong type) that it solidified that homosexuals existed in great numbers, that we were lurking in every social institution. Equally as important, it was another catalyst for gays and lesbians to talk about homosexuality from a "rights" perspective. Then, as the virus later took hold in heterosexual communities, the stigma it brought to those infected slowly began to wane. This is not to say that HIV/AIDS was not and is still not overly conflated with homosexuality, or that it is not still stigmatized; but there is at least more nuanced understanding that HIV/AIDS is not caused by homosexuality. As this recognition occurred, social attitudes began to swing back in the other direction. By 1993 homophobia, and the orthodox masculinity used to sustain it, was in retreat.

Thus, just as increasing homophobia (through the awareness of homosexuality) begat compulsory "heteromasculinity" and social distance among men in the '80s and early '90s, it stands to reason that a reduction in cultural homophobia would have just the opposite effect. As homophobia declines, men should be permitted--even encouraged--to come closer together, physically and emotionally. As homophobia decreases there might even be a reconstruction of the relationship among sex, men, and the gender order so that decreasing homophobia might also decrease men's dominance over women (Bourdieu, 2001).

This is explained by Anderson's (2009) notion of homohysteria: where men fear being socially perceived as gay; or, in other words, a culture of high awareness of homosexuality and high homophobia. Men's gendered behaviors are highly policed in a homohysteric culture. However, in a culture of low awareness of homosexuality or one with high awareness of homosexuality but low homophobia, men are given a wider range of gendered expression. Thus, there are two steps in creating cultural homohysteria--the first is raising awareness that homosexuality exists, and the second is stigmatizing it.

Anderson (2009) argues that homohysteria waned in the late 1990s as identity politics contested the stigmatizing of gay identity, raising awareness of the issue as a human rights concern, and advocating for legal equality, which is then thought to bring cultural equality and less policing of heterosexual men's gendered behaviors, too. It is argued that Britain today is in such a state: today's male youth no longer fear homosexualization through the performance of femininity or homosocial intimacy or tactility (Anderson, 2009; McCormack, 2011).


There are a number of trends that may influence how university-aged, heterosexual men construct their sexual and gendered identities differently today than they did in the 1980s and 1990s. First, since the early 1990s, both qualitative and quantitative studies show a significant decrease in cultural and institutional homophobia within Western cultures (Anderson, 2002, 2005a, 2005b; Anderson, Adams, & Rivers, 2010; Laumann, Gagnon, Michael, & Michael s, 1994; Loftus, 2001; McCormack, 2012; Price & Parker, 2003). Second, there is increasing evidence of a form of normative masculinity growing more inclusive of feminine gender expression, particularly among university-aged, white, middle-class men (Anderson, 2005b, 2008a,b, 2009; McCormack, 2011,2012; Price & Parker, 2003).

It is reasonable to suspect, then, that these changing cultural trends have implications for a sex-gender system that conflates homosexuality with femininity. For example, Ibson (2002) shows how increasing cultural homophobia influences heterosexual men to further police their gendered behaviors while decreasing trends in cultural homophobia has the opposite effect, this is something many describe as metrosexuality. Anderson (2009) explains it through inclusive masculinity theory.


AS idealized buffed bodies of the late '80s and early '90s served to show that one was not diseased, not effeminate, and not gay, things have radically changed since. For example, in 1997 Leonardo DiCaprio was culturally promoted as a sex symbol. His status as sex icon was not felt at all levels of society, but his twinkish build resonated with young women and gay men. His sexualized boyish physique stood in stark contrast to the sexually esteemed men of the 1980s, men like Stallone and Schwarzenegger.

DiCaprio's emergence as an idol marked the cultural change for men to be sexualized not through muscle, but the avoidance of fat. This is a trend that gained in strength over the next decade. Filiault (2007) shows that what remains important for men today is not how much muscle they have, but how little fat they have covering that muscle. This rapid change is likely produced by a number of social influences, including corporate marketing. Whatever its antecedents however, the emergence of DiCaprio as a sex idol signals a further shift away from the dominance of orthodox masculinity in the broader culture.

Simpson (1994) coined the term metrosexual to describe this, but the idea of homosexualizing heterosexuals goes back to Frank Rich's 1987 Esquire article in which he called it "the most dramatic cultural assimilation of our time" (quoted in Buckland, 2002, p. 142). Rich warned that the commoditized sensibilities of the gay PINK (Professional Income, No Kids) market were quickly crossing over into the heterosexual mainstream. English soccer player David Beckham then became the lightning rod for dialogue surrounding these new conceptions (and consumptions) of metrosexuality.

The further broadening definition of metrosexual is also evident in Anderson's various research settings (2005b, 2008a, 2008b, 2009; Anderson, Adams, & Rivers, 2010; McCormack and Anderson 2010). Some interviewees use the term metrosexual to describe their increased fluidity in gender expression, others use it as a euphemism for bisexuality, and still others use it to describe a heterosexual male who dabbles in same-sex sex. When reporting their differently gendered perspectives on sex, women, clothing, or just about anything else that varies from orthodox prescriptions, many of the men Anderson interviewed asked, "So does that make me metrosexual?" (Anderson & Adams, 2010)

Defining the term metrosexual is not our intent. In fact, the term's resistance to a definitive label is arguably queer (Coad, 2008). Indeed, the queer power behind the evasiveness of the term metrosexuality gives it deconstructive as well as productive power. It provides a label for men under which to identify who contests orthodox masculinity, yet it provides enough wiggle-room for still-shifting understandings of the term.

Significantly, the behaviors attached to the label metrosexual are codes that were once attached to the label homosexual. So while metrosexuality means different things to different people, it is the fluidity of the term that makes it influential in queerly challenging the orthodoxy of masculine peer culture. The label has given men a long-awaited popular justification for the ability to associate with femininity and to cross previously stigmatized boundaries of homo-sociality. The term metrosexuality permits men to say, "I am not gay, I am metrosexual" while dancing with and kissing other men (see also McCormack, 2012; McCormack & Anderson, 2010). It has therefore serves as a mediating factor in the manner in which homophobia has traditionally policed gendered boundaries.

However, we do not deny the limitations of metrosexuality as a popular term and its inability to completely subvert hegemonic positions of orthodox masculinity. Edwards (2006) argues that just like the "new man" literature of the '90s, metrosexuality is a media invention that is more connected to "patterns of consumption and marketing, or the commoditization of masculinities, than to second-wave feminism and sexual politics" (p. 4). But developing an inclusive masculinity model that builds upon the commoditized foundations of metrosexuality suggests that inclusive masculinities operate in opposition to certain aspects of orthodox masculine values. Thus, the emergence of metrosexuality is compelling in that it highlights alternate masculine narratives. Metrosexuality (real or imagined) has permitted men of many classes and backgrounds to associate with increasing discursive forms of femininity.

We argue that the existence of inclusive masculinity in the form of metrosexuality highlights awareness that heterosexual men can act in ways once associated with homosexuality with less threat to one's public identity as heterosexual, and that this has an increasingly positive influence on men to associate with women and femininity.


We propose that today's cultural formations of gender and sexual categories can be best viewed in the often academically neglected landscape of the dance floor, which is a particularly good indicator of the power of the broader culture. In Dancing Desires (2001), Jane Desmond argues that "dance provides a privileged arena for the bodily enactments of sexuality's semiotics and should be positioned at the centre, not the periphery of sexuality studies" (p. 3). Indeed, social dance redolently employs and reflects cultural notions of gender, sexuality, desire, race, class, and social bonding and its academic embrace could prove productive for many academic fields.

The study of gender as performance and as choreography can be a challenging project, however. One struggles to organize ephemeral gestures, glances, and costuming into discernable lexicons and categories to be analyzed--vivisecting the moves of a live body and repositioning them to suit theoretical frameworks. Moreover, the discourses surrounding gender and sexuality are continually plagued by slippery semantics that ultimately reflect the subjective historic specificity of its very construction.

Nonetheless, closely examining the nexus of cultural moments and movements cannot only illuminate hegemonic regimes (be they middle class, white heteronormative modes of gender, for example) but can also deconstruct them, offering new directions for productive action and intervention. To unsettle hegemonic discourses is to make the invisible, visible.

McClary (1991) emphasizes how the dancing body is a significant sight worthy of academic attention, arguing that it is through the body's corporeal interpretations that the musical/historical moment is often revealed--especially when it is subversive in nature. McClary writes that music "especially as it intersects with the body and destabilizes accepted norms of subjectivity, gender and sexuality--is precisely where the politics of music often reside" (p. 32). In this intersection, dance becomes the vehicle of the music and performs the negotiation (and disruption) of contemporaneous gender politics. McClary also proposes that "music is foremost among cultural 'technologies of the body,' that is a site where we learn how to experience socially mediated patterns of kinetic energy, being in time, emotions, desire, pleasure and much more" (p. 33). Here McClary draws on Teresa de Lauretis's notion of "technologies of gender" (which de Lauretis derives from Foucault's "technology of sex") as a system of knowledge production.

de Lauretis (1987) focuses on cinematic practices as technologies of gender. According to de Lauretis's theory, gender, like Foucault's theory of sexuality, is not a priori but is rather "the set of effects produced in bodies, behaviors and social relations" relative to a "complex political technology" (p. 3). Combining the projects of de Lauretis and McClary, we would like to focus on both the music and the dance floor of a club as forms of gender technology.

Besides the musical structure encased in pop music--which employs variations of tension and release with choral/verse and density of highs/lows--the lyrics, more than any other factor, point to pop music's explicit project of uniting bodies through sexual desire. Notably, many of the hit pop songs carry traces of the liberating theologies characteristic in earlier forms of disco such as Destiny's Child's "Survivor" (2001) ("I will survive//Keep on surviving//I'm a survivor") or Christina Aguilera's "Fighter" (2002) ("Made my skin a little bit thicker//Makes me that much smarter//So thanks for making me a fighter"). These songs uncannily recall defiant disco antecedents like Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" (1979) and Diana Ross's "I'm Coming Out" (1980) that often relied on individualism and self-reinvention. Interestingly, many of the clubs we attend now mix these songs with current pop music (along with several other disco/gay/camp songs). It is quite common in the southwest of England to see men dancing and singing to "It's Raining Men," too.

Self-liberating narratives, however, are the exception in pop music, and the majority of songs express the desire to unite bodies with narratives that rely upon another dancer's body. In "I'm a Slave for You" (2001), Britney Spears sings, "Baby don't you wanna dance up on me//To another time and place." And in "Boys" (2001) Spears orders, "Let's turn this dance floor into our own little nasty world." Spears is not only expressing sexuality, but she explicitly cites her sexuality occurring within the context of a dance club. The song's recorded narrative establishes a parallel reality to that of the live dancer on the floor. The dancer thus becomes a mimetic extension of the song's story and is called upon to act it out by dancing with other bodies in the club.

Besides performing the lyrics' narrative script, pop songs also function as choreographic instructions to dancers. When the lyric of possession or seduction occurs, such as Janet Jackson's "Got a nice package all right//Guess I'm gonna have to ride it tonight" ("All For You"), the dancer on the floor has the narrative justification to approach another dancer and engage in mutual choreography, often with choreographic movements focusing on the crotch area. Similarly, when Missy Elliott sings, "now people gather round, now people jump around," people on the dance floor (i.e., groups of men) find the justification to execute synergetic movements of gathering and jumping. A dance floor's crowd morphology is thus directly influenced by the explicit sexual and choreographic technologies encased in the lyrics and rhythms of pop music.

Schechner (1985) calls this type of collaborative nature a "collective special theatrical life" (p. 11) that can create a trance-effect. The familiarity with the songs' lyrics and rhythms provides dancers with a greater ability to repeat the choreographic narratives embedded in the music, "as if the security of repetition frees the dancer's imagination" (p.11). We argue that it is within this realm of increased imagination and self-transcendence that codes of gender expression and interaction can be most provocatively exploited and played up-on when, particularly, the dances exist within an inclusive culture-free of homohysteria--and perhaps slightly being slightly inebriated (particularity in the UK where the legal drinking age is 18).


Dance floors, and in particular university dance floors, or clubs that cater to university students, function as social training grounds for gender expression. Here, young people rehearse and repeat various modes of gender construction and play upon discursive sexual economies. In contrast to Butler's theory of gender repetition, we contend that it is within the excessive repetition characteristic to dance floors that a dancer can exercise individual agency and a sense of originality. Paradoxically, it is within the redundant and excessive repetitions of dance that liberating gaps may open up for imaginative experimentations with gender and sexuality. These improvised moments can contain movements that rupture many of the traditional gender and sexual norms that the dancer would otherwise not embody under other conditions. Through the various gender technologies located in the terrain of a dance club, dancers etch out new forms and meanings of gender and sexuality.

In her book Impossible Dance, Buckland (2002) calls the process of reformulating a dance club into a utopian gender-variant realm the act of "queer world-making." Her idea points to the imaginative potential and subversive agency dancers can possess in reshaping codes of gender and sexuality. "The impulse to dance," Buckland writes, "reveal[s] a desire to compose a version of the self that moves out of its prescribed column and dances all over the map" (p. 93). In communities that have been historically relegated to the margins, "queer world-making" becomes a critical strategy of resistance and subject formation,

But we argue that despite occupying social spheres of heteronormative privilege, self-identified heterosexuals are performing comparable strategies of utopian subject formation. Perhaps finding the rigid requisites of hegemonic masculinity imprisoning, men on British university dance floor spaces today transgress orthodox customs of normative gender roles.

They explore homosocial interactions otherwise policed by heteromasculinity and heteronormativity. Here, university students embody this desire through gender transgressions and queer interventions. They reflect a gender zeitgeist in which to participate in male bonding, it is acceptable, enjoyable, and sometimes important to perform same-sex dances together, erotically touch one another and sometimes even to kiss (Anderson, Adams & Rivers, 2010). Effectively, these students are reformulating the university's masculine peer culture, making their own queer world where their same-sex desires and enjoyments can find expression within a new framework.

DOI: 10.3149/jms.2001.3


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(1) Royal Holloway.

(2) University of Winchester.

Correspondence concerning this article should be sent to GRANT TYLER PETERSON, Department of Drama and Theatre, Royal Holloway, University of London, Egham, Surrey, UK. Email:
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