In this paper I firstly propose a reading of this story which draws attention to the narrative’s investment and deployment of sexist and homophobic discourses in order to present its male subject as ‘normal’. The purpose here is not to criticise the authors of the story, but to highlight some of the problematic features of boy-friendly approaches to curriculum design generally, and the boys and dance ‘problem’ in particular. I argue that it is the meanings associated with certain forms of physical movement which should be the focus of pedagogical attention, and not simply the ambivalence of some boys to some forms of dance.
In the next section I discuss the pitfalls inherent in the construction of boys’ non-involvement in certain forms of dance as a ‘problem’. I place ‘problem’ in quotes here because I am concerned that it is the low number of boys who willingly dance (in certain ways) that is often understood as problematic by physical and dance educators. Far from being simply a ‘problem’ with or for boys, I argue that the rejection of dance by schoolboys points to a rejection of movement practices that are seen as feminine or signifying homosexuality, a point that has significance for all students. What is at stake here is not so much the relatively small amount of space available for dance in schools compared with other movement forms such as competitive sports, although this is a significant issue. Rather, I am concerned with the meanings associated with certain kinds of bodily movement and the sexist and homophobic regimes of bodily practice that these meanings underscore and that operate within schools (Clarke, 1998; Flintoff, 1991; 1994; Wright, 1996).
I conclude by linking the issues raised in the first two sections of the paper to the relatively recent intensification of interest in the emotional well-being and academic performance of boys in schools. That is, I argue that the process of defining male rejection of dance as a ‘problem’ for boys is indicative of a wider tendency to see the protection and cultivation of hegemonic masculine norms of behaviour as paramount. This tendency ignores the possibility that it is the rejection of dance and certain kinds of bodily movement by certain kinds of male students that is at stake. But rather than being a problem for these boys, this is more likely to be keenly felt as a ‘problem’ for those students who already participate in dance or who would like to do so. This is likely to be mostly, although not always, female and non-sports-minded male students; students who are already at risk of being marginalised within the movement cultures of schools.