Dancing Masculinity

By Scott Wells


This month Scott Wells and Dancers turns fifteen. Looking back on my first choreographic effort, I realize I’ve come full circle. The first dance I ever made was a duet with a longtime friend, Brian Vonnell, who I met in creative movement class at Cabrillo Junior College in Santa Cruz. I remember we played with oranges—tossed and fought over them. The ending was a competitive circling of the last orange. We reached for it and came away holding hands. We walked offstage leaving the orange behind. I’ve always liked a gesture that is simple, basically innocent, but for some reason has charge for an audience. I made several men’s pieces in college and while the audiences applauded them for their provocative homoeroticism, I think they were about the desire and right to be affectionate and sometimes just about love.

Our 15th anniversary show will premiere Dance for 8 Men and Home Again (our all-time audience favorite). The current men’s piece feels different because of the maturity of the eight men and also because of the sense of weight and power. These seem like big guys to me and I hope they take up too much space onstage—that they explode the confines of the stage as they throw themselves and each other around. I’m using balance beams for this piece. I’ve been working with beams for years in my contact classes. They challenge the beam walker to be precise with their weight and teach them to utilize micro movements of the joints to move their centers. In one class Anne Bluethenthal mentioned how beautiful the balancing and supporting each other on the beam was. I said, “maybe I should make a dance with them”, and she responded, if I didn’t she would. When these beams are tossed or danced with—the density and mass remind me of the big guys diving through the space landing on the floor. When we walk or dance on them as balance beams the delicate shifts of weight and fluid support is, to my eyes, exquisite.

This work may also be about love and affection, but I think now there are more nuances of isolation or loneliness. Twenty-five years later I’m less optimistic about my own potential to transcend my own cultural imprint. Hell, back then I thought I was going to be enlightened—actually enlightened. I’d just been living in a monastery for a year and approached dance as a spiritual practice. The not being enlightened seems a little disappointing, but it’s okay just being here. With the guys every Saturday. Conversations about potential fatherhood, money or art precede our dancing each week. I love this time being with men. Men in groups: It’s deep in our makeup, feels tribal and it’s also in my makeup with two older brothers and growing up on military bases. The military—there’s that side of men. Violence is largely the domain of men. Sports and competition are a training ground for war. Like puppies fighting is training for hunting. And sometimes men can be as cute as puppies.

When I was making Rocky vs. Baryshnikov (a dance with boxers) I went and saw a boxing match. It was intensely violent. I thought how extreme boxing is, but that also in our culture being a male dancer is extreme. Boxing seems almost insane, but is more accepted by or more comfortable for the mainstream than the male dancer who for many must seem like a freak.

In 2005 when I had an audition and so many men showed up I knew I had to make group dance for men. I like rehearsing every week with men. I’m not sure how else I would hang out with them. If we don’t fulfill ourselves in our process of rehearsal and creation we won’t be fulfilling anyone else when we’re on stage.

This article appeared in the June 2007 issue of In Dance.

In 1981 Scott Wells discovered the pleasure of contact improvisation shortly after becoming obsessed with the struggles of modern dance. He stuck with both and currently directs a company in San Francisco and tours annually to Europe.