I have only been doing aerial work for about eight months now, but in that time, I have yet to come upon an aerial studio, performance troupe, or class, that is not disproportionately filled with women. Don’t get me wrong, I love women as the talented goddesses they are. But there is something to be said for the lone male in a sea of estrogen who can only dream of being as graceful, or looking as good in a leotard as his female counterparts. The reasons for this uneven representation of males in aerial work are numerous, but I will discuss a few below, along with some of the things I have come to learn as a male in a largely female-dominated art form.
The first thing that comes to mind when I consider this unnerving gender gap is stigma. Like many industries and art forms where one gender population is more pronounced than the other, there is a stigma associated with the minority gender. For males these fields can include anything from ballet to stewardship on major airlines. Within these professions (aerial work is an excellent example) there is a widely held notion that by participating in these “feminine” activities, men are somehow emasculating themselves. Oftentimes this sentiment exists because people fail to consider the work that goes into training to become a skilled performer. There is nothing emasculating about the strength and endurance required of an aerial performer. And even if there was, so what?
I’m supposed to wear what?
Another obstacle to widespread male participation in the aerial arts is wardrobe. As men, we have been socialized not to wear form-fitting clothing, especially clothing articles such as tights, which are generally only acceptable for girls. And while I do my best not to let this bother me, there are times where it feels strange being so exposed to those around me. There is also the matter of safety for male aerialists, as certain moves can cause a good deal of pain if not executed properly, or if proper clothing, such as a dancer’s cup, is not worn. While the obstacles for men and women are not always the same regarding wardrobe and safety, these issues are certainly nothing that should stop a male from participating in this beautiful art form.
Maybe women are just better?
However, I do recognize that there are times when, as a guy, it is easy to feel intimidated by the many, talented women with whom I train. This is especially true before class or practice when my female counterparts are contorting themselves into all kinds of spectacular positions, and I am still celebrating finally being able to touch my toes. When they are in the air, I look on in awe at the displays of grace and elegance that my uncoordinated limbs still struggle to achieve. Many of the moves and techniques we learn seem so perfectly designed for the female form. Because of the large number of females that participate in aerial work there is an undeniable gender slant to the way we are taught certain techniques.
How to survive
This brings me to my final point, coping strategies I have used to make my aerial arts education go more smoothly with regard to the glaring gender disparity. With the seemingly, endless advantages females have in this field, I have had to adjust both my thinking and behavior to see the unique advantages males have in aerial arts. First off, what I lack in grace and elegance, I realized I make up for in strength. This is a place where being a male certainly has an advantage, upper body strength. I can do pull-ups for days, something that some of my female aerialist peers cannot do quite so easily.
When it comes to learning moves that seem to be designed for females by females, I have found that putting my own masculine twist on these moves is not only fun, but also sets me aside from the others. By changing these moves to suit my body, I feel that I have made them my own. I have also realized, during these beginning stages of my aerial journey that being the only guy in a room full of females isn’t so bad. In fact, it grants me a distinct advantage in that I get to stand out. By practicing aerial dance I have become an unintentional representative of my gender, and all griping aside, this motivates me to work harder, believe in my abilities, and show off as much as possible because I am tired of these talented women putting us men to shame.