Dancer challenges gender stereotypes through unique choreography

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Bernard Brown said he couldn’t kiss another man who grew up in South Los Angeles – it raised eyebrows of disapproval.

Graduate student wants to challenge stereotype of gay men as inferior through questioning gender roles that he thinks are generally attributed to sexual acts, such as the male being dominant, Brown said. As a dancer, Brown uses his choreography to shatter the preconceptions many people hold about what masculinity should be, he said.

In his choreography titled “Active / Passive,” Brown said he uses the touch and interaction of male bodies to show the range of emotions a person experiences in a relationship. The choreography will be presented in the “New Shoes 9” program on Friday and Saturday at the Highways Performance Space in Santa Monica.

Brown became interested in presenting the concepts of masculinity and intimacy through choreography after working as a teaching assistant for Sex Squad at UCLA last year. In the group, undergraduates use their own experiences breaking stereotypes around sexuality to help others Los Angeles teens feel comfortable expressing their own gender identity, Brown said.

“I was so touched by (the students),” Brown said. “I wanted to infuse some of this information into my own work. “

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In the choreography of “Active / Passive”, Brown based the movements on wrestling poses. He wanted to distinguish between movement as part of a standard sport and movement that can be read as sexual. Brown said he deliberately chose wrestling as the inspiration for his choreography because of the privacy the wrestlers have when they are wrestling.

“(The wrestling) is violent, but there is also a lot of movement involved,” Brown said. “So I thought the connection between wrestling and sex was very powerful.”

Male intimacy is usually presented by violence in sports, Brown said. He hope to present the sport of wrestling as the polar opposite of what happens when gay men get together intimately. He said his goal in “Active / Passive” is to explore the spectrum of privacy that may exist. between men, from contact sports to sexual contact.

Timna Naim, collaborator and dancer of the piece, said they spent hours on Google Images with Brown and dancer Raphael Smith looking at photos of wrestling poses to emulate. The images – featuring pelvic-to-pelvis movement and close body contact – appeared to be homoerotic, Naim said.

Naim said there is privacy in wrestling, since the ultimate goal is to pin someone down.

“We see this active movement coming from both sides, but ultimately someone loses, which is the passive,” Naim said. “That kind of speaks to the title of the play.”

The use of wrestling images and the emphasis on the close proximity between the bodies help create tension between the performers, Brown said.

“It’s not like they’re literally having sex or having an argument, but rather the abstraction of it,” Brown said.

While choreographing the play, Brown said he had a specific storyline in mind. A young man decides whether or not to go to a nightclub. When he decides to enter, he is attracted to another man, but is unsure whether he should be open about his attraction.

[Related: Alumna aims to choreograph change through honoring hip-hop culture]

In addition to drawing from his own experiences for choreography, Brown said he implemented the personal experiences of Naim and Smith as young men to make the work reflect multiple experiences.

“I use my work as an autobiography in a sense, and their information and experiences help color this work,” Brown said. “I use their body like a page in a book to help understand something that a lot of people are going through.”

Smith communicates the themes of the work through non-verbal interactions with the other performers, he said. he transmits feeling uncertain when touching partner’s leg while avoiding eye contact and then quickly leaving on this side of the stage, he said. Direct eye contact between dancers throughout the play helps demonstrate intense feelings of intimacy, love and anger.

In February, Brown showed the piece to an audience at UCLA’s Kaufman Hall, where he said he received mixed reactions from his peers.

“Some people didn’t necessarily get the story at all, and that’s fine with me,” Brown said. “But what moved them was the sensuality of the piece, especially with men who were so open, vulnerable and lush, but also very assertive and aggressive.”

Brown hopes to use the choreography to broaden the dialogue around what is sometimes called toxic masculinity – when straight men use their physical bodies and privileges to coerce, manipulate, and shame other people.

“I’m an open and open gay man, but my job is seen by more people, rather than just me walking around, ”Brown said. “This is what has a wider impact and it gives some hope to young people who might not be so confident.”


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