CriticalDance Forum

Nudity in Dance
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Author:  djb [ Sun Jan 11, 2004 1:35 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Nudity in Dance

Thank you for that astute observation, failli! I haven't read "Sisters of Salome." Does Bentley say anything about how revealing men's ballet costumes are, and what that says about men enjoying being looked at?

MW, when you say most women would rather see a man in a tuxedo than in a g-string, are you talking about men in general, or men with beautiful bodies? Also, you said "Not that women don't enjoy looking at men, but we all know there is a difference." What is that difference?

<small>[ 11 January 2004, 02:49 PM: Message edited by: djb ]</small>

Author:  Torrignani [ Sun Jan 11, 2004 3:50 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Nudity in Dance

Failli - fair point about male costumes - they do indeed accentuate the male physique at times. But I think the difference would be the amount of body actually revealed - often female dancers have their entire legs, shoulders and arms completely bare. This doesn't happen often with male dancers.

djb - the "difference" I think is that traditionally men respond more to a woman's beauty than a woman respond's to a man's handsomeness. For example, anthropologists have long noted that for thousands of years the two features of women that men find most appealing are breasts and hair. Conversely, women are more attracted to how a man is groomed, his social status, etc. In other words, men are more attracted to a woman's physical attributes, whereas women are much less enticed by a man's physical attractiveness.

How does this relate to nudity in dance? Even female costumiers design more revealing clothing for the female dancers. Why? Because culturally it is appealing to see a woman with more skin showing. Right or wrong, I think we can all agree this is the case. Again, I'm not arguing that women don't enjoy looking at attractive male dancers, but would a performance that promised rampant male nudity pack 'em in the way a show that promises female nudity does? Would a performance with male nudity have more males in the audience than females? Doubtful. On the other hand, I've been to many opera/ballets with much-publicized female nudity to find more females in the audience.

I hope this answers your question, djb. I think there is a place for both male and female nudity in dance, theatre, opera, etc. As long as it is done appropriately, it can be very effective. My point is that you are much more likely to see nude females, or females in more revealing costumes, simply because it is more culturally acceptable.

Author:  djb [ Sun Jan 11, 2004 7:01 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Nudity in Dance

So what is "appropriate" nudeness? Was the point of having the women's tops be transparent to pack in the male audience? I'm only guessing at this because I didn't see the piece. But was there some other point? (This question is directed to those who've seen the ballet, not to MW.)

I think that majority of people ballet and opera audiences tend to be female regardless of what the dancers are wearing.

<small>[ 11 January 2004, 08:50 PM: Message edited by: djb ]</small>

Author:  Failli [ Mon Jan 12, 2004 3:29 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Nudity in Dance

Originally posted by djb:
...what that says about men enjoying being looked at?
Indeed, in my experience, young lads who do ballet are terrified of having to take those baggy pants off and stand there in tights, on display for the whole class to see.

Not until I was introduced and acustomed to certain protective male undergarments did I feel comfortable being seen in tights. This has been the experience of most ballet boys I know of, when they reach a certain age.

This is the difference between men in tights and women in tights. With women, at most you see the shape of their legs and bottom (and if they've got a tutu on...) whereas with men, it's all there; the only part worth hiding is made vulnerable, especially considering the balletic posture, having the pelvis upright and not tilted back.

Maybe that's why, to keep up, women have to have bare arms and shoulders...?

I just thought you might like to hear a guys perspective on wearing tights.

<small>[ 12 January 2004, 04:32 AM: Message edited by: Failli ]</small>

Author:  Failli [ Mon Jan 12, 2004 3:43 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Nudity in Dance

Originally posted by MW:
...often female dancers have their entire legs, shoulders and arms completely bare. This doesn't happen often with male dancers.
In Le Corsaire often men's costumes are with little or no shirt (possibly to make up for the fact that they are not in tights...?)

In contemporary pieces too, I usually find that men will be in, for example, maybe cycling shorts (i.e. tights cut off above the knee)and no shirt, and women will have simmilar tights (maybe a little shorter) with a singlet-top, or similar. All in all the male tends to show more skin, although I do agree that in most classical works, men are slightly more covered up than women.

But then, if you count all the fabric that goes into making a tutu... ;)

<small>[ 12 January 2004, 04:44 AM: Message edited by: Failli ]</small>

Author:  djb [ Mon Jan 12, 2004 3:46 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Nudity in Dance

Failli, you've demonstrated that one should not infer that someone who appears onstage in revealing clothes (such as what ballet dancers wear) is necessarily seeking attention through exposing himself. The same holds true for women.

<small>[ 12 January 2004, 05:09 AM: Message edited by: djb ]</small>

Author:  Jeni Rosier [ Mon Jan 12, 2004 6:15 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Nudity in Dance

Nudity is a tricky subject and I for one would like to be warned before a performance. School & college teachers might appreciate a warning before they book tickets for 32 sixteen yr olds too. Only very rarely have I found nudity to be justified, and in those instances - such as Deja Donne's In Bella Copia, the dancers do not fling themselves about in the nude. Their nudity conveys meaning all by itself instead of adding to the meaning that's in the movement by being nude. Make sense?

I've always wondered, are dancers told about possible nudity at casting/audition? Is it made part of their contracts and do they get paid any extra for it (I doubt it, but models do and I think that's fair)

<small>[ 12 January 2004, 07:21 AM: Message edited by: Jeni Rosier ]</small>

Author:  Sirene [ Mon Jan 12, 2004 10:38 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Nudity in Dance

We just had a nudity-in-dance experience. My 14-year old daughter and 2 of her fellow dance majors had put off their "performance review" assignment such that they had to find a dance performance to review in L.A. this last weekend. Not a lot going on and they needed a modern dance performance this time around, so I took the girls to see the Mizerany and Butterworth Dance Companies.

There was plenty of warning. The event listings mentioned nudity, eroticism and gore and the featured premiere was Mizerany's "Etude for Male Nude II". One of the girls' former dance teachers saw us in line and pulled me aside to make sure I knew there would be full frontal male nudity. I had talked to the parents of both the other girls about it and prepped the girls, as much as I could (including admonishments not to giggle).

One thing I didn't expect - the venue was small,and the performance sold out, and the only seats the girls could find together were on cushions on the floor of the stage in front of the front row. Which put them as close as 2 feet away from the dancers, including the unclothed one.

What was interesting was that piece that included nudity was not sexual but there were several clothed pieces that were quite sexual, including "Bump in the Road" ... the audience giggled a lot during this one but the girls didn't get it - no frame of reference (you can do a web search if you want to know what I mean by that).

There was a discussion session with the audience and the dancers afterwards, and from listening to that, I think the nudity was necessary for the second half of "Etude", and that even doing it in an abbreviated costume would have lessened the impact.

The one thing I would have changed would be the front row seats. I think that was a bit much. But, the girls took it in stride. They loved the the small venue and the choreography. My daughter chose to focus her review on the Butterworth Company dances and avoid the nudity/sexuality issues in the Mizerany dances all together, but we did have a discussion in which we both agreed that we would have been more uncomfortable with a nude woman. Interesting.

<small>[ 12 January 2004, 11:53 AM: Message edited by: Sirene ]</small>

Author:  Torrignani [ Tue Jan 13, 2004 6:51 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Nudity in Dance

Jeni - I don't know about dancers, but in theatre actors are made aware of nudity before auditions and it is written into their contract.

Sirene - excellent and timely post. Your account raises several interesting issues:

1. At what age should kids be exposed to nudity? My answer would be that it depends on the nature of the nudity and the individual child. Some nudity is utterly innocent and not the least bit "offensive" - for a performance such as Pilobolus, I think kids of any age should go. To stray from the "mainstream" of dance, I would say the same is true of cabaret shows like the Moulin Rouge in Paris and Folies Bergere in Las Vegas. Both shows feature an abundance of topless women, but both are completely devoid of violence, profanity, innuendo, or sexual situations. Basically they are shows for all ages with topless women - I would take kids of any age to these shows. It sounds like you had no problem taking your 14 year old daughter to see this performance, and I would probably agree. I don't have kids and don't know many 14 year-olds, but I have a hunch girls could handle nudity with much more maturity than boys. Is this a fair statement? Also, I think a lot depends on the individual - some kids are just more mature at certain ages. This would also factor heavily into my decision.

2. What is the difference, if any, between sexuality in dance and nudity in dance? I alluded to this earlier, but some dance troupes feature frequent nudity but are almost entirely asexual. I think my age limit would be higher for sexual shows. Sirene, you mentioned some of the clothed acts were more sexually provocative than the nude act - which were you more concerned about your daughter seeing? Again, I have no kids, but I would be much more hesitant to take a young person to a show with rampant sexual content, whether or not the dancers were clothed.

3. Do we react differently to nudity in dance depending in the dancer's sex? I think so, and so do you, Sirene. You mentioned you would be "more uncomfortable" with a nude woman. First of all, were you uncomfortable seeing a nude man? Was your daughter uncomfortable? If so, was it because you were there together? I can certainly understand why you would be more comfortable with a man - as a heterosexual male, I would certainly be more comfortable with a nude female. I attended a performance by Les Enfants Terrible at La Mama theatre in New York last year, which featured copious male nudity with no female nudity. I found myself thinking at certain points, "I wish the women would dance nude for a change." Personally, I'm not uncomfortable with either male or female nudity, but I would certainly prefer female.

In terms of necessity, you could argue that nudity is really never "necessary." Likewise, you could argue that the dancers should all perform in burkas. I guess my position is that nudity can be a wonderful enhancement to a beautiful performing art such as dance, be it ballet, jazz, modern dance, etc.

Djb - I would object to nudity merely for the sake of selling tickets, but I think we can agree, flesh does sell. And why not? What's wrong with admiring God's beautiful creation presented in a dignified, classy, ethereal manner? I do fear the day, though, that we are so used to the nude body we don't even cast a second glance. If we lose that wonder, what else is there?

Author:  djb [ Wed Jan 14, 2004 12:44 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Nudity in Dance

I'd say those Moulin Rouge and Folies Bergere costumes are designed to emphasize the sexual characteristics of the female body and are, therefore, hardly without sexual innuendo. By the way, is there also an abundance of similarly-clad men in those shows? Topless men wouldn't be comparable, because there's nothing extraordinary about seeing topless men in public in our society. So maybe men in g-strings. Are there lots of them in these shows?

I think someone who is more comfortable with nudity in one sex than the other is not truly comfortable with nudity.

I wish I could find out whether there was something about that ballet the Boston Ballet performed that would make sense of the women's costumes having transparent tops while the men's didn't. The times I was in dances with revealing costumes, either it made sense because of the story, or at least everyone was costumed similarly.

Author:  Failli [ Wed Jan 14, 2004 8:39 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Nudity in Dance

Originally posted by MW:
...girls could handle nudity with much more maturity than boys. Is this a fair statement?...
I don't think it is.

Originally posted by MW:
...I think a lot depends on the individual - some kids are just more mature at certain ages.
I agree.

Author:  Sirene [ Wed Jan 14, 2004 2:41 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Nudity in Dance

Great questions, MW, you really made me think. I’m a fly-by-the-pants kind of parent, so I tend to deal with situations as they present themselves rather than spend time planning in advance things like the age at which my daughter first sees male genitalia.

Originally posted by MW:
1. At what age should kids be exposed to nudity?
Kids are so exposed to sexuality in this culture that the nudity was kind of anti-climactic. Probably not nearly as exciting as your average R-Rated movie or rap lyric. I’m sure this is the first live adult man my daughter has seen at without clothes on, and probably the same for her friends. They are not the most mature 14-year-olds, but as dancers they are already used to doing pas de deux with boys in dance tights and more comfortable with both physicality and with boys than some other girls that age. The dance gave them plenty of time to look (or not look) without feeling like they were doing anything wrong and without being expect to react or interact. While I didn’t seek out this performance, I think it was OK to take them - although I was a little nervous about what people would think of me for taking them. As far as boys go – there was a boy from her school there also. I didn’t have a chance to talk to him or his mom but he told the girls he covered his eyes during the nude part. The dancer boys, again, seem more mature about such things than the average 14-year-old boy on the street.

An aside – the night before this performance we went to their high school performance of Pippin. It included simulated nudity – by high school students - with a male and female dancer in skin-colored unitards doing a dance during the “bedroom scene”. It felt less OK for my daughter to see two kids we knew doing that dance than for her to see a nude professional dancer who was a stranger.

Originally posted by MW:
2. What is the difference, if any, between sexuality in dance and nudity in dance?
Gosh, I think sexuality (or do I mean eroticism?) and nudity are two different things. You can have one, or the other, or both at the same time in dance, art, movies, etc. This performance included two dances that felt “sexual” to me, one was “Bump in the Road” (described as a portrayal of a “exhibitionist male self-gratification”) and the other was an excerpt from “Edgewalkers” (included representations of male/female and male/male coupling). “Bump in the Road” was an amazing performance that intended to make everyone a little uncomfortable (and there were lots of nervous giggles from the audience, especially the men). I would have felt better about watching it without the kids being there. On the other hand, the kids had no frame of reference for this dance (my daughter said it was the only dance she didn’t “get” at all). “Edgewalkers” had a story and the sex was just part of the story, in the same way that it is in movies these days.

There was a Q&A with the dancers after the performance. One thing Mr. Mizerany said that made perfect sense was that the folks in the audience who giggle during the nude piece are the ones for whom all nudity is sexual.

Originally posted by MW:
3. Do we react differently to nudity in dance depending in the dancer's sex?
You hit the nail on the head – I was more uncomfortable with seeing nudity with my daughter than I would have been without her, and the same might be true for her.

Djb, you’re also right:
Originally posted by djb:
I think someone who is more comfortable with nudity in one sex than the other is not truly comfortable with nudity.
I’m not truly comfortable with nudity. I know that (Baptist upbringing).

What you both made me realize is that I would have gotten more out of this dance had it been “Etude for nude female.” Why? Because one of the ideas of the dance was the dancer completely revealing himself (the dance begins with the dancer clothed in baggy clothing, and half-way through the clothing comes off and you see the same choreography without the clothing). Has this been a woman, my reaction would have been more visceral than academic, because it would tap into all of my own discomfort with nudity and with all the other un-covering-up of ourselves that stripping off clothing represents . If fact, if it had been an overweight middle-aged woman I would have had an even stronger reaction because it would have hit too close to home.

The nudity was necessary in this piece, I think, because any covering left after the clothing was removed would have represented a less-than full revelation. You could go so far as to say that the discomfort of the audience is part of the dance.

Wow. I’ve never thought so much about a dance before. :eek:

<small>[ 14 January 2004, 04:20 PM: Message edited by: Sirene ]</small>

Author:  djb [ Wed Jan 14, 2004 2:54 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Nudity in Dance

Sirene, my comment about being more comfortable with nudity in one sex than in the other wasn't directed at you. I was referring to MW's statement about being more comfortable with female nudity.

Author:  Torrignani [ Wed Jan 14, 2004 4:31 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Nudity in Dance

Sirene - thanks for the comments. I appreciate your insight. I think it's interesting to see how you would have reacted differently to female nudity - that it would have "hit close to home" with a female dancer. Interesting perspective - I don't think I've heard that before. Maybe the piece lost something on you then by being a male nude and allowing you to concentrate more on the "academic" side of the dance? Did you find the nudity distracting at the time, or were you able to enjoy the performance as a whole? And your daughter's high school did Pippin, complete with simulated sex/nudity??? Wow, is this de rigeur in high schools these days, or am I way behind the times? Or is it just California?

djb - semantics: let's go with "prefer" to see female nudity rather than "more comfortable" with female nudity. And I must disagree about the nature of the costumes in MR and Folies. I don't know when you've seen these shows last, but as of this Fall neither show had costumes that flaunted female sexuality. They featured lots of feathers, glitter, plumage, massive headpieces, with bare torsos. I didn't see any sexual innuendo in these. And I'm not sure what your point is about male dancers - the shows did indeed have male performers, who mainly wore tuxedo type outfits, one of which at the MR was a jacket with no shirt underneath. I think these outfits would be considered "sexy" by most women. Now, I know all women are different, but most women I know think men in g-strings look positively silly, regardless of their physique. Just look at shows like Chicago on Broadway, in which the costumes serve only to flaunt sexuality of both sexes, and you'll see the females in virtually nothing, with the men shirtles or with tight shirts and tight leather pants. I just think that's society's expectation of seductive clothing for the sexes.

Another general question: in "classical" dances such as ballets, have you considered nudity in modern production to enhance, harm, or have no effect on the overall experience? Just curious what everyone's thoughts are...

Author:  djb [ Wed Jan 14, 2004 7:58 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Nudity in Dance

MW, I guess we just know different women. I, for one, am not impressed by suits and tuxedos.

Thank you for being more accurate in describing your reactions to male and female nudity. But it was confusing when you attempted to equate your reaction to Sirene's, which was a feeling of being uncomfortable, as she later confirmed. But I'm glad you are comfortable with seeing nude men. I've known so many straight men who absolutely cringe at the sight of a beautiful male body, yet seem to expect that women should be just as excited as they are at seeing a nude woman.

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