The Gender Binary in Relation to Dance

The music video Sergei Polunin in “Take Me to Church” by Hozier is able to reveal assumptions commonly held in dance around gender.

The camera work is steady. The video starts with a shot of the ceiling and then descends down to Sergei Polunin. For most of the video the camera is a short ways away, however, it’s focus is on him intermittently adding to the intensity of emotion in certain moments. For some shots the camera is close up and filming from almost beneath Sergei Polunin, this interesting style adds a dimension into how he is presented.

The white wooden church like structure Sergei Polunin is dancing in is expansive. The space is simple, there is a loft in a small portion of the second story but beyond that the space is open. The walls are incomplete, the frames showing, and the windows appear to be large holes in the walls. The floor is solid stone tiles of a light gray color, slightly dirty. The light beaming in is bright and glows in white fog that is rolling over the floor.

Sergei Polunin is dressed plainly in tight skin tone shorts and dirtied ballet shoes. He is wearing less than is generally worn for classical ballet. Additionally he is showing a multitude of tattoos. The tattoos are bold and dark on his stomach and sides. Sergei Polunin also has tattoos on his arms, wrist, hand, foot and chest. His hair is dark strait and growing out to be a little shaggy.

The song Sergei Polunin is dancing to, “Take Me to Church” by Hozier, has deep emotionality and is a great coupling with Sergei Polunin’s style of dance. Within the song there is variation of intensity that compliments the burst of action in the choreography.  

There is a dichotomy between his fully controlled spins and the moments where Sergei Polunin holds his head, his body seeming to break down. Sergei Polunin demonstrates an opposition and union of movement, one example of this is his ability to collapse all the way to the floor with grace. His movements are decisive and even as he is incorporating modern dance into ballet there is still form and structure to his movements. The motion of Sergei Polunin starts slow, tensioned and then unfurls into ballet spins and flashier choreography. Always returning back to ballet dance he is able to add emotionally charged moments that are almost theatrical in nature. There is an emotionality in his moves, particularly when there is a softer moment in the music.

In ballet there are many contrasts between classic female form and classic male form. The way Sergei Polunin holds his head is loose. He begins the piece with his hands on his hair bending his head down. His head is lifted but not tensioned. The way his head moves adds to the burst of motion he has and the emotionality. This contrasts greatly with the way female ballet dancers hold their heads which are generally very poised and tilted slightly up at the chin. The feminine head position is held with grace and firm ease.

The hands are important in ballet. In feminine form they are held softy with the second finger extended out just slightly. They remain smooth, slow changing and delicate. However in male classical ballet the hands are interrupted from delicacy often by lifting a women or focusing on quick burst of muscularity. Sergei Polunin has some form to his fingers during specific ballet moves but he also has flat hands for catching himself on the ground and curled finger pushing through his hair. He also at one point makes a fists with his hands which is something not often done by classically trained female ballerinas.  

The way Sergei Polunin expands his limbs through the space is mostly in quick fast points of movement where he is expanding and contracting often. There is a focus on concentrated muscular feats. He has a looseness of his limbs as certain points. Feminine classical ballet is different, the movements are generally supposed to be slow deliberate extensions that show off flexibility and endurance. The motion through space is graceful and full of very structured form.

Sergei Polunin’s movements come in explosive bursts, the focus on agility and strength. The motions are an embodiment of masculinity, protruding, angular and quick. This assertive action can easily tie into gender stereotypes in general and the conception that our contemporary society still holds about gender. In the gender binary men are noted for strength, assertive attitudes and loud demeanors. Differing from this, women are noted for grace, delicacy and consideration. Women have been expected to uphold this smooth action and water-like nature. Considering the role society has placed on women it is no surprise that femininity in dance is associated with smooth graceful movements. There is an emphasis on posture, detail, fluidity and rounding of the body.

Sergei Polunin’s movements, to “Take Me to Church” by Hozier, uncovers some of the gender bias and associations that are so deeply ingrained in our society, that are reflected in the form, movement and posture of dance.