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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Mandance, masculinity and queerness

I vividly remember watching my first Synchrony performance last winter. Sitting in Sayles, off to the side crouched amongst friends, as each of the dances happened with all the silly moves and funky lights. I remember getting the memo to always applaud whenever they did the “Synchrony Crawl,” and cheering wildly when a friend of mine rushed onto stage to take their position. There was one dance that seared a bit deeper in the crevices of my mind: Mandance. “Pour Some Sugar On Me” by Def Leppard started playing as a troupe of men began thrusting towards each other. The next few minutes were filled with even more thrusting, humping the ground, stripteases and finally a strip-tastic climax with shirts flung in the air and falling like petals in the wind. I was mesmerized by the sheer confidence of the people willing to put on a show like that in front of such a large audience, and resolved to be a part of it next term.

And so I was. The song was “It’s Raining Men” by the Weather Girls, choreographed by good friends of mine. Practices were filled with them doing something entirely absurd, all of us laughing and then trying it ourselves until we were sort of on time with the music. It was a bit of a scramble to recruit people, organize practices and make it look good for dress rehearsals, but we got there. The time came for the night of the performance in spring 2023. I remember nervously waiting in the Sayles basement. I had stripped in front of the rest of the dancers, but that was a much smaller audience. This was taking my shirt off in front of essentially the entire school. I was chronically out of shape, the freshman 15 seeming more like the freshman 40 at the time. Then our cue came, and we all ran out on the stage screaming “MANDANCE!!” at the top of our lungs. The moves came as naturally as they had during practice, without much thinking but with so much adrenaline and passion. The cheers of the audience as we went from one over-the-top absurdly-sexual thing to the next only spurred on our energies through each part of the choreography. We exited stage right followed by howls of giggling and sincere hugs between the performers for a show well-done.

And so I decided to choreograph Mandance this term. I had an idea to have a Mandance that went international, no English songs. We had some external difficulties while choreographing, only having three practices before dress rehearsals, not knowing the dimensions of the space we were using and troubles with recruiting. Up until the last minute before we rushed into the Great Hall, I wasn’t sure how it was going to pan out. While it was not Sayles, which would have been the ideal performance space, we made it work somehow. Everyone was roughly on time, committed to the bit and had a great time. I worked hard to make the songs fit into each other, to make sure the moves were simple but not boring and to pull together our ragtag bunch to dance our hearts out in front of our little Carleton community. Needless to say, I am proud of the people who joined and of the choreography we put together along the way.

I have an interesting relationship with Mandance. While I present, as of recently, very masculine, I still identify as non-binary. I exclusively use they/them pronouns despite how much people tend to forget that when they see my beard or deeper voice. For the longest time, I have been quite uncomfortable in terms of how I present myself. I’ve tried gender-neutral clothing, presenting as femme as I could manage. I’ve now found peace in my presentation as masculine, content with how I look supplemented with healthy servings of eyeshadow, exercise and stylish fashion. I find my queerness in how I present to be sure, but also in how I try to break from gender roles, trying to be emotionally open and vulnerable among other things. So what am I doing choreographing a performance literally called Mandance if I myself do not identify as one?

Mandance, to me, is an extremely interesting expression of masculine sexuality. Oftentimes, in media and in day-to-day interaction, this kind of sexuality is present as this overwhelming and domineering force. It is dominating, aggressive and pushy, to overgeneralize for the sake of argument. It’s present in the expectations around dating, in interacting with other men and within the pursuit of one’s goals. So when twenty to thirty guys get together and decide to wiggle their hips, thrust back and forth across each other without any regard for appearing serious or dominant, it represents to me a departure from that little box that this sexuality is limited to. Guys can also be silly, unserious and sincere about how they choose to act and present themselves, in stark contrast to the overly serious, self-conceited and emotionally closed-off ideals of contemporary masculinity. To me, that is the beauty of Mandance. It is a space for guys to show off, sure, but in a way that is categorically absurd in how over-the-top sexual the performance itself is. It is in a way a parody of masculinity.

This is not to say that Mandance is not sexy. It is. Quite so, according to some people I have surveyed. How does this fit into my pretentious analysis of masculinity, performance and this one event at Carleton? There are people of all sorts of body types who join Mandance. Is there a bias towards people who are already comfortable in their bodies, and thus more likely to be conventionally attractive? Probably, yes. However, that doesn’t stop people who fall outside those standards from joining. The attractive power of Mandance, just my personal theory, is in the projection of absolute confidence on the part of the performers. All of the things about absurdity and exaggerated sexuality remain true, but when done with the sincerity of a performance like Mandance where everyone is really giving it their all, it loops back around to being hot by virtue of the self-confidence of the men performing. Yes, what they are doing is extremely silly, but because they are doing it with an understanding of how absurd what they are doing is and not really caring, I believe that’s what gives Mandance its strange allure.

Maybe you don’t care about any of that. Fair enough. But it is an event, and a rare space, on campus where groups of men can come together and be unapologetically sexual and silly without fear of judgment or mockery for their actions or expressions. I ultimately think it’s a great thing to bring together men, and others, to express themselves in ways that society at large tends to look down upon. Or if you really don’t care, it’s a great time with great people and not the worst way to spend a few hours a week plus or minus a weekend or two. I’ll be choreographing next term, and hopefully into the foreseeable future. You should be there, either on stage or in the audience, to partake in this stupid and wonderful event we get to share.

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