Man-hating women are trying to destroy men’s lives when everyone knows that there are biological differences between men and women that are so genetically coded that the very idea of some form of simple equity completely ignores evolution, history, culture and every good movie I’ve ever watched. Or something.
I finally had the chance to read Clementine Ford’s second book: “Boys Will Be Boys” this week while in Yogyakarta. I bought the book on pre-order but have been so dedicated to working on my PhD and my role at my boy’s school (and another chance to dance) that I didn’t try to read it until I had some time. This is not a book review – more a comment on some of the things that the book raised for me, particularly if I can call myself a feminist. In the name of full disclosure, I thoroughly enjoyed Clementine’s first book, “Fight Like a Girl” – despite how uncomfortable it made me feel. I am quite a big fan of Clementine in general and had the chance to meet her (and get her to sign my book) when I presented at SexRurality in 2017. For a man-hating Femi-nazi that wants to fire all men in to the sun with a giant cannon, she really is nice.
I enjoy reading texts and engaging with content that forces
me to interrogate my way of thinking and examine the way I go about things.
Challenging yourself is a fantastic thing. Accepting that challenge and using
that challenge as a lens to explore your own character and behaviour is an even
greater and more powerful thing. I have always been taught critical analysis –
from my high school days through university through life – I have always wanted
to know the why. Why do I react in certain ways? Why does society? Why can’t I
change my behaviour? What motivates me to change it? Is it intrinsic or
extrinsic motivation? And as a man, particularly a white cisgender
heteronormative identifying one (sorry if you rolled your eyes, but GTFU if you
did) – why am I allowed to do things, say things, behave in certain ways or
even change them – especially when others can not? What privileges do I have at
my disposal that others do not? Do I need to check myself? Do I need to speak?
More importantly, do I need to shut up and listen?
“Boys Will Be Boys” was at times depressing – particularly
for being so accurate and at times familiar. How much people conform to
gender-norms based on their child’s biological sex is one explored well in the
book. This section really resonated with me – especially discussions around the
clothing, toys, play and roles boys in particular are expected to have because
our society is so rigid and confused. It resonated with me because we have
TRIED as a family to avoid these stereotypes. You cannot control outside
influences, but from giving our boys dolls and dollhouses to play with; to
supplying dresses for the dress-up box; to letting them wear pink (gasp); to role
modelling diversity in our household domestic roles; we have tried to challenge
what is normal. The chapter reminded me of the time a friend was shocked we
allowed our son to play with a doll and pram – he told us he would buy his a
lawnmower. I asked him was he worried all that playing with a pretend baby
would make him a good dad. There wasn’t a strong answer.
There are some other great sections on the book – the stark raving madness of the Men’s Rights Advocacy Movement is not something new to me – but a great read all the same. Those groups sit somewhere better misguided fanaticism and terrorism (literally calling for men to suicide outside their local MP’s office to show them your pain) and Ford does a great job of looking at the history. There are more comprehensive books on the topic (“Angry White Men” by Michael Kimmel) but this is a great take with some hilarious points. The sections on rape, the way our culture shields men from their crimes and victim blames are incredible uncomfortable reading – but again, not new. Anyone that has listened to a news report after a rape-murder, when the police call for women to “make smart choices” rather than asking men to have a break from raping them knows this.
Clementine does a great job of breaking down many aspects of
our own society and the fucked up, yet incredibly privileged place men occupy
within. Ford looks at how many men are broken, oblivious and hurting ourselves
and others as they go along. Is it all men? Surely it is #notallmen. I know
from my own lived experience, its not all men – but its plenty of them and not
enough men are doing enough in terms of real action to change things for the
better. This book, as well as Ford’s last one is really uncomfortable reading as
a man. They are both not written for us. In a world that the majority of the
content I have access to is written or created for straight white men – it nice
to have to listen for once, rather than have things provided and pitched right
at me. I’m not the expert here. Or the target audience. Or the champion. Its
not the way things normally are.
Reflecting on this, “Boys Will Be Boys” and a few other
texts I’ve read relatively recently has made me interrogate myself on where I
sit as a feminist – and namely if I am one. I mentioned at a party the other
day that I could not consider myself a feminist; much to some surprise at the
time – but this relates more to feeling comfortable beholding the label rather
than my ideological standing on the issue. Just to be very clear on my
perspectives, feminism is not a cancer. It is not scary. It is not evil. It is
not targeting men or enslaving men. Men are already enslaved.
I long for a world:
in which men can have more of an engaged and equal role in the raising of their own children without scorn from society for failing to be the major bread-winner.
where men actually do their meaningful and fair share of domestic labour – especially carrying the mental load of their families domestic lives instead of “helping around the home”.
where men take actual responsibility and play a fundamental role in the reproductive labour in their relationships – like being active in contraceptive choices, not relying on women to “take care of it” and considering a vasectomy when you’ve bred sufficiently.
where empathy and compassion are considered important male characteristics.
where it is ok to cry and hug and be physically touched by another man without being called a poof.
where we can shed this bullshit Ocker-AF attitude of what “men are” and stop being slaves.
Equality is needed in our world and men are often too dumb to realise that fighting for it will actually benefit them. Men are drunk on the power we withhold from others, rather than enticed by the possibilities of sharing the burden.
So why not label myself a “feminist”? Despite my belief in the ideology and the goals that the movement is fighting for – I don’t do enough advocacy in that space to call myself a feminist. It must be more than a few words and basically doing the right bloody thing. Sure, we can have a discussion about intersectionality or the role that the patriarchy has in the enslavement of men and the oppression of women – but words are cheap. I don’t deserve a cookie for that.
I also don’t get to choose that I am “one of the good men” (if you haven’t watched Hannah Gadsby’s speech – or her incredible work Nannette: go do it now) for doing what I basically should. I don’t get to call myself a feminist for wanting social justice and equality – I get to call myself a human.
There are far better people (particularly women) out there doing far more work that deserve recognition, praise and all the cookies that men get for doing something that is “vaguely feminist. Until I can do more to earn my stripes – which is doing more then interrogating myself, exploring how to be a better human, and doing what I already should be – I’ll have to wait for my cookie. I’m a definite ally. I’m definitely a believer. I’m just not convinced I’m doing enough to earn the label.
Every dancer has their forte and my Creative Director, Annette Carmichael was just highlighting mine. Sure some can spin and leap and have amazing flexibility – but I was in possession of a “very useful skeleton!”
“Just let him jump on to you, don’t try and catch him”. Simple instruction. Focus. I tried to relax as Scott again tried to put his right leg over my left shoulder and gracefully leap on to my useful skeleton. We were at the start of our intensive journey together. We had a week to recreate the duet in The Beauty Index.
The duet we were working on was a core part of the performance and the source of a lot of adulation and adoration (and the best photos) in the original performance. For the remount, I was assuming a part held by the very talented Sam le Breton last time around. This was my second time as part of a production and to say the rise was giddying is to put it lightly.
In the months after Annette confirmed that we were getting (most of) the band back together to remount “our” work, The Beauty Index, I had worked incredibly hard to get myself fit. I wanted to hit “the Sixty” so much harder this time around, so there were months of weights and fitness classes in the lead up to our first rehearsal. I was going to tear my old role apart! As performers, we all held a lot of ownership in the work – being involved in so much of the original choreography had elevated our sense of engagement in the piece – all those who were returning wanted to lift this remount higher than the original. Never mind the fact that we were opening up for a group of flexible, talented young people as part of a two-show bill. Our pride was at stake!
At the first rehearsal back, Annette told us that Sam would not be able to come back and perform in the remount. This meant someone could come forward – or someone would be tapped to step up. I though about this for a while. Last year was my first time dancing on stage. I was not sure I was up for the physicality of the role. I refrained from stepping forward and committed to thinking about it. There were serious doubts.
I got home and there was a missed call from Annette and a message. Would I step in to Sam’s role? Would I perform the solo? The duet with Scott Elstermann? Play such a key role in the performance? I sat on the couch and stared at my phone. I was a lot fitter than last year – but could I actually do it? The performing? Holding the audience? It is a role that demands intensity and focus. I walked in to the kitchen and asked Jas what she thought. We chatted. Was I comfortable? Was I capable? Was I up for the challenge?
I messaged Annette: “Just got your message. I’m keen”.
Mind is keen, body is….
Annette and I went through details, organised rehearsal schedules, chorography, scores, musical cues. I was bursting with excitement. We had a series of one-on-one rehearsals scheduled to nail down the gruelling solo early. Annette was sick for a rehearsal, so I decided to head in alone and work through some dancing. About forty minutes in to the session, I leant forward innocuously, and my breath left me. Pain surged through my chest – wrapping around me like two hot wires stretching around me from between my shoulders – one around my chest, one down my spine. This was bad. My back was screaming.
I chatted with the physio after my second session with him. It had been two weeks. I’d been swimming as often as I could to free up my back. I was still in pain but recovering. He reassured me I would be fine for the dancing– it was probably a 4-6 week injury, so I was ok to ease back in to things. Six weeks had me up to the last week before working with Scott. Five days of intense rehearsals – two hours a day with Scott, two hours with the rest of the cast. There was not a lot of wriggle room if I pinged it again – but I had an entire show to re-learn, a solo to master and a duet to prepare for. There was not time to rest. Only time to recover.
There were weeks of hot and cold packs. Intense stretching. Intense hope that my fitness work before rehearsals would leave me in good stead to not just recover but be at performance standard. As the performance inched forward, my back freed up increasingly and I was able to perform more of the choreography with an improved range of motion. I would hopefully be fine. Hopefully.
A box, the corner of the shed
One week of intense rehearsals with a professionally trained dancer is a privilege that my football playing, punk rock loving teenage self would never have considered, but here I was. Warm-ups were a treat. Led by some woman who I begrudgingly met in Broome six years ago as I was dragged for an obligation (the incredible, hilarious and talented Sandi Woo) we explored space, movement, our body.
Scott and I worked on our connection as dancers. How to work together. I was in a space that many professional dancers would’ve happily traded for. We worked hard in warm ups to learn how each other moved (well, Scott learned how I moved, I learnt how to move). In footy parlance, we trained bloody hard.
We worked and worked. I slowly got more and more of the details and nuances I needed. Not all, I never got it 100% there – but that is the beauty of working with someone like Annette. No matter how good I got it down, there was the next way to improve. It wasn’t meant to be good enough. It needed to be the best I could do it. And finding that best takes exploration and improvement right up to the final time I did it on stage.
We did two shows for this remount – a Friday and a Saturday night in the Albany Entertainment Centre. It is a pretty serious venue. Early rehearsals had gone well. Dress rehearsal not so well. I, personally, was a mess and as a collective we misfired a bit. Didn’t bring the passion. We needed to step up for opening night.
I’d convinced a few personal VIPs to come both nights – all incredibly supportive individuals that have a special place in my heart. All a long way from contemporary dance devotees. There were some serious personal nerves, but I felt like I could do a solid job. The solo was the killer for me – to go too hard meant being too exhausted for the duet and “the angel” later in the show. There was no recovery time off stage after my solo. Not go hard enough and the solo lacked impact. It was a pretty fine line – the solo channelled anger and hate. Keeping a lid on that is not easy.
The first night, up to the solo felt solid. I was concentrating well. Keeping in time. Keeping myself together. “The Sixty” was so imprinted on my mind and body now that it was ingrained in my muscle fibres. Intensely familiar and personal. There was a zone. I was in it.
The performance progressed, I hit the solo incredibly hard. I screamed, the tortured scream of a broken man. I contorted as my body broke apart. I collapsed in a sopping pool of sweat. Shattered. Chest heaving. I rose for the duet, making my way through the lifts as best I could while my quadriceps screamed at me for rest. Scott and I connected. We broke apart. I focussed on my role. My embodiment of hate and fear and terror.
We hit the crescendo of the duet. A backwards hinge. During rehearsals it had been decided this part needed more action during the remount. We were to run backwards before quickly connecting and hinging backwards together. Annette had wanted us to be more “reckless”. Adrenalin surged through my body, dripping with sweat I came to the point that I ran backwards.
I neglected to look back and relied on the fact that I had a highly skilled professional on the other side who would (should) connect and catch me. He always did in the rehearsals anyway. We brushed arms. I threw my head and body backwards. We flicked in to position. We held. My chest heaved. I squeezed my glutes and abs to effortlessly rise in to a standing position and walk into our next position. I fell. Slumping to the ground. Shit. There would be a note for this….
A little less man-love
We ran through notes of the performance the next night. Scott saved me the night before, scooping me up of the ground in a tender embrace. We paused. I walked off in to the next position and tried to forget about it. To move on. We covered it well, but it was not right. The rest of the show had been great – our returning performers had stepped up to a new level. Our new guys were incredible. There was a lot of excitement within the group to go better on the second night, but the duet needed to be perfect. Thankfully, we (I) had a final chance to make amends. We got our note on what to work on for tonight. I would try to not fall over. A little less man love.
It was a big night for me. A front row filled with family and friends. There was a lot of nerves. My eldest brother had come along. Tony was a long way from his comfort zone attending and I felt a lot of internalised pressure to perform well. I felt like I couldn’t just be good tonight – I had to go to another level again. This of course, failed to recognise how far I’d come in the eighteen months since I decided to give dancing “a bit of a go” for the first project – but family, ego and emotion aren’t really logical things.
There was also my brother-in-law and good friend who had travelled from Perth just before flying out of the country to make the show. Mikey had attended the previous year’s show (and also Annette’s Creation of Now, which Jasmine had a large part in). He may be the “Manpack’s” greatest fan and is well known to the cast. His infectious enthusiasm and desire to understand the work has made him stand out amongst our impressive throng of groupies and admirers.
Mikey knew Sam wasn’t in the show. He knew rehearsals had gone well. He knew I was pumped up to perform again and he was surprised to hear that there had been changes to the show overall. We had breakfast together that morning, but I still hadn’t told Mikey I was now in the lead role. I was excited for the surprise to hit him – as it wouldn’t become apparent until just before the solo. There were a lot of things go through my head.
We were on to the second round of the Sixty and I realised I wasn’t breathing. My heart was pumping so hard I could hear it above the snare in the music. Adrenalin was reaching towards redline. I had gotten myself a little too wound up.
This wasn’t entirely unfamiliar to me. In some games of football and soccer, if it was too big an occasion and I got myself too lathered up, I would struggle to get “in” to the game. I would float through, not performing at the level I wanted. In those situations, I needed a reset. Either a long break or a big hit to the body. I careered through the rest of the Sixty, missing a beat, slightly out of time here, slightly fast there. Imperceivably to most in the audience, screamingly obvious to me. We lurched in to the second last group of sixty beats, a time to “break apart”. I bent my back, almost falling. I broke again, arching and driving my shoulders back. And again. I fell. On to my back. Fuck that hurt. I looked up and flipped myself to continue to dance. I think I was back in the zone now. I could hear the music again. Feel the timing. My head was back in the game. Just. I found my hit to the body.
The performance raced though time and space. The solo didn’t exhaust me this time. Scott and improved our duet. The reckless bend was just right. My body allowed me to unhinge. There was less man love. There were small moments of panic. Of adjustment. Of problem solving on the fly. I didn’t dance as well as I did the first night, but I fixed my mistakes better. Our duet was better the second night.
And most importantly in a team sport – the rest of the cast were more solid the second night. As a group we had improved again. The young performers in A Light Shade of Red hit their straps too, shining and rising to another level. We joined them onstage for the finale, took our bows and danced on stage. We’d done it. Somehow.
Community dance is incredible. The growth I’ve felt within myself is immeasurable. The bonds and friendships that develop priceless. I’ve been able to role model to my two young boys that men can dance and choked back tears during their stage debuts perform just a few weeks after our remount. I’ve been able to show to family and friends that dance is a lot different than they may think it is. Even if the appreciation is mainly on the physical requirements – a lot of those who came would never have come to a dance performance without a community connection.
This remount was a huge moment for me. Last time around was a leap out of comfort zone to discover I enjoyed dance. This time around was a nervous return to explore a new level. It was like SCUBA diving after learning to snorkel. There were serious moments of doubt. There was a strong feeling of being held by those around me. There was just incredible support from everyone– James with his genuine words of support, Sym, Rob and Nic’s notes on my progression, all the other critical components that got this off the ground and me on the stage. I refuse to list you all in an arbitrary shopping list – but these productions require many hands, many minds and many hearts.
The Manpack 2.0 was incredible. What a group of talented, well rounded, supportive and empathetic Aussie blokes who happened to do a bit of dancing. Everyone a brilliant person – everyone in their own way, critical to the success of this show the second time around.
Community dance has given me the chance to interact with some incredible professionals. Some incredible gracious, generous and genuine individuals who created an environment for me to step up and thrive. Sandi Woo was a reassuring force for me in both performances. We have come a long way since our first meet and greet and I would like to think I’ve stepped up the quality of our interactions since then. It was such a privilege to have had such a quality human being and seasoned professional support our cast through these two seasons. A talented champion.
Pina Busch Fellowship Alumni Scott Elstermann. Our bro-love got a bit too much for everyone else by the end, but what a bloody talent. Seriously. My admiration (bordering on adulation) was not unusual – the ManPack were transfixed whenever Scott rehearsed with us. To have not just the honour to rehearse so closely was so special, let alone watch him perform. And personally, to actually have the chance to perform a duet alongside Scott is something I’ll never forget. I don’t know what Scott is going to achieve over the next few years, but I’ll watching. You should too.
Finally, the force that is Annette Carmichael. Annette has an amazing ability to turn everyday people in to performers. It is not about 15 minutes of fame – but an opportunity to expand their personal identity. It draws you in and allows you to grow. Annette convinced us that we were worthy of the audience’s gaze. She built us up to be ready to take on the challenge – and stepped back as we stepped up. Her ability to weave a special place of magic for everyday humans to do something extraordinary is unique. Denmark and rural WA is fortunate to have her.
I love this project. It has given me far more than I feel that I have given it, as the returns were so great. From the mental health benefits from expanding my creative mind; to becoming part of a Manpack; to taking up a new challenge. The physical benefits. The new opportunities. The improvements and impacts for our family and my relationship. The joy of seeing two small boys take to the stage a few weeks after my own show – the original reason to jump off and be involved was to show my sons they too could dance if they wanted to.
This project has brought me so much and genuinely made my life better than it was. I owe this project. I owe Annette for believing in me to fulfill my role in it. There is no pressure or obligation to repay the debt, but a passion to ensure that others have the chance to challenge themselves and reap their own personal benefits.
The next chapter: Annette is seeking Two hundred women (!) to perform in her next dance performance called Chorus (Denmark, Albany, Mandurah, Bunbury, Perth and Ravensthorpe) Workshops will take place across the South of WA July – Dec 2019 leading to performances in March 2020. Don’t make excuses – if I can, anyone can. Email your interest at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A beautiful and honouring documentary from Rob Castiglione from last time around:
“The Government has come and cut a whole range of programs to fund Safe Schools. My statement is — the better allocation is going back to the programs they cut, rather than Safe Schools.” Thanks for the statement, Mike Nahan. You’ve inspired me to write to the Education Minister after she shot you down.
We’ve seen how effective targeting Safe Schools was for conservative politicians Federally and on the east coast – so it is no real surprise that WA conservatives have finally caught up. Hell, everything from policy, to road safety campaigns, to health systems to education initiatives comes from Victoria about five years late – so there shouldn’t really be a surprise. In fact, the Safe Schools Coalition launched in WA years after it had been running successfully over east since 2010.
An in some ways – you have to give Mike some credit. He hasn’t JUST attacked Safe Schools. He didn’t just come after a program that has run in one form or another in WA since 2015. Mike rolled this in to the Moora College issue to make it really difficult to argue against if you love rural kids. A side note, what he is referring to is actually called Inclusive Education WA here – but conservative voters wouldn’t recognise that, so I understand why he didn’t used the right name.
So lets have a look at some things.
We’ll put aside the details on the program it self – the ridiculous and often homophobic/transphobic claims around the material and how it is implemented have been answered elsewhere.
Just to be clear: If you think Safe Schools has anything to do with Marxism, sexualises children, brainwashing kids in to being lesbian/gay/bi/trans/intersex or parents don’t have a say – you are an idiot. Seriously. You are. Sorry (not sorry) you are offended, but you obviously lack to ability to critically analyse the homophobic hate propaganda peddled by disgusting creatures such as Lyle Shelton.
If for some reason you need to be convinced, go read any of these and come back:
Welcome back. So – this program won’t turn your kids gay or trans – but what it aims to do is create school environments where every students can learn, every teacher can teach and every family can belong. Bloody shocking.
Mike Nahan has done a great job this week of reminding WA that this program exists. It existed under his government of course, running while he was Treasurer since 2015 – but why get caught up on that. I know he hasn’t:
“There are very few new programs that the Labor Government has come up with, one of them is Safe Schools”- Mike Nahan (quote from ABC)
Mr Nahan also cares a lot about rural people and the Moora College. So this hugely expensive program will be cut to fund the Liberal Government’s refurbishment of the College. Just so we are clear, Inclusive Education is funded for $1.2 million dollars. Over 4 years. Costs of refurbishing Moora College are predicted at being somewhere between $700k (Mike’s estimate) to $7.2 million (Labor’s numbers). This doesn’t include ongoing running costs or the existing maintenance budget ($350k).
“If we win government, [we will] renew the funding for Moore Residential College, no operating costs. Landsdale College, Herdsman Eco Centre and the farm schools, not a large amount of money, by cutting back at Safe Schools and putting that money back into existing programs for education.” – Mike Nahan (quote from ABC)
If we win. Great line. Only issue with this, of course being the next election isn’t due until around 2021. Inclusive Education WA would’ve been funded approximately $1 million dollars in that time, with $350k left to put towards the refurbishment. Other small issue is that Moora College will close at the end of the year, so Mike’s new Liberal Government 2021 will have to refurbish it, and reopen it and set it up with a maintenance budget.
“The Government has come and cut a whole range of programs to fund Safe Schools. My statement is — the better allocation is going back to the programs they cut, rather than Safe Schools,” – Mike Nahan (quote from ABC)
Now, good on Mike for sticking up for the rural kids at Moora College. The problem is – Mike can’t help Moora now or next year. So why pledge funding to it three years out from the next election? Why target a program that was running (admitted Federally funded by the Liberal Government) when Mike’s party was in power?
Well – I my personal take is that it is a dog whistle to conservative voters. This paired with his attack on mainstream media reeks of Trumpist populist politics.There are other things he could’ve focussed on to “cut” once (if?) he regains power in 2021. Its a big budget. Targeting Inclusive Education WA is not accidental.
This is the reason I was moved to write to Education Minister, Sue Ellery today supporting her rebuttal of Mr Nahan’s comments. Calling for her to continue to support Inclusive Education WA. It is why I’m pleading with you to write to her, or email her and thank her. Today.
“Safe Schools is an important program designed to ensure safer school environments, for those public secondary schools that decide to access it,” Education Minister Sue Ellery said. (quote from ABC)
Don’t let populist politics impact on vulnerable WA kids. LGBTI kids experience some terrible outcomes without support from families and schools. Programs like Inclusive Education WA. So stand up, step up and stick up for these kids.
They are our future, they deserve to be loved and supported – don’t let them down.
I stared in to the night sky, allowing deep breaths to enter my lungs, fill me with energy and leave my body as clouds of steam. I stood still and strong in front of my family, my friends, my community. I felt their gaze on me, I enjoyed their attention, their focus. The lights slowly became brighter and our names became distorted. This night was the final night of The Beauty Index, a project I joined to get out of my comfort zone. What shocked me, as I watched another breath of steam rise above me, was how comfortable I felt.
Way back in December I attended a workshop that was a taster to becoming more involved in a men’s dance project. As I’d previously overcommitted in a car park(follow the link to my SeeSawMag interview) as an enthusiastic spouse at Annette Carmichael’s Creation of Now; I felt I had to rock up and see what this whole thing was about. I was terrified walking in to the Civic Centre. Some of the men here could already dance, already move well. I felt awkward and uncoordinated. Self-conscious and stiff. It isn’t like I never danced or moved – I loved mucking around at concerts and festivals, I was fit from running and football – but keeping in time and having awareness of my body? I was lost.
I enjoyed the day, and felt like I should commit to the project – but this was not coming from a place of confidence. I was desperate to push my boundaries and get myself out of my comfort zone. I really wanted a new challenge, and the way I had felt on that first day – this whole “becoming a dancer” thing was going to be that challenge. When the call came out in April to put up or shut up – I dove in to the main group of the project. A group of men with varying physical abilities, fitness, age and experience.
What followed was months of rehearsals. There were times I questioned how wise this whole thing was. There were times we couldn’t walk in a straight line, or keep basic three pattern movements in time – how the hell were we going to be part of a big performance. We ground away, getting better every few weeks – before putting in some utter shit-show of a rehearsal that would have everyone, including Annette, second guessing us. Then, things would click, timing would improve. We developed a sense of ownership over the project and the process. We could do the rehearsals – now, could we perform it?
I had no performance experience – dance or otherwise before this project. In fact, my first time on a real stage was the Wednesday before the start of the Country Arts WA Regional Arts Summit when we had the chance to wander about ManPAC as part of our “bump-in”. We were in Mandurah to be the living, breathing proof of effective community engagement and were there to work alongside delegates to put on a show on the final day of the conference. It was invaluable experience – the bunkered in rehearsing for hours; the joy of sharing a house with five other men; the late night partying and frivolity of a world far from responsibility; the hangovers; and on the final day – getting on-stage in front of an audience to perform. It was unifying. It was exhilarating. It was the chrysalis of the ManPack.
Suddenly, we were back in Denmark and back with the wider group. Hard in to rehearsals. On site. Dealing with dancing on slippery clay in the rain when we’d spent months rehearsing on floorboards, in doors. I slipped and fell hard moving in a way I had previously had no second thoughts doing. I wasn’t hurt but I was rattled. We were in hoods for our costume. Another adjustment. The floor of the shed was high pressure hosed to get rid of the slippery clay. We were rehearsing under lights. Suddenly it was dress rehearsals. Suddenly – there was no more time. Suddenly, I was going to find out a lot more about my comfort zone.
Our Tech Rehearsal night, from my own perspective, had been a debacle. I was late, or early, or just out of time. My body was not right. My back felt sore and I felt heavy and unstable. I went home in what at best could be described as a funk. At worst – abject terror. Had I not been driving a couple of fellow community dancers home that night – I would’ve burst in to tears. Had my windscreen not been so difficult to see out of, I would’ve still done in in front of them. Dress rehearsal came about and I was stressed. We had a handful of VIPs in to watch and this was a full run through. The stakes were much higher than ever before, even higher than Mandurah.
Dress rehearsal went ok. We weren’t great. We weren’t bad. I was ok. I felt the nerves that had rocked me the day before became slightly placated. Things were going to be different on opening night in front of 140 people – but at least I wasn’t about to burst in to tears. Hopefully. As a group we were happy with how it had gone – the mistakes that are inevitable in a performance weren’t big enough to cause trouble in the run – and the manner in which we either recovered from them, or covered them was a tribute to our preparation. I went home ready to take on the real thing the next night and ready to let the world see what we’d been playing around with for months.
Our first two nights of the season were fantastic. There was a buzz amongst us and a buzz in the crowd. People had come with a forgiving mindset and a careful curiosity – I mean, seriously, how well could a bunch of blokes from the community really dance? It was good of us for having a go. What no one had counted on was our desire to be more than a curiosity. We went for it both nights and put on solid performances. The buzz around town was fantastic. People were clamouring for extra tickets to the sold out Saturday night show. People willing to stand. People who had heard that we were actually pretty good. Even some of the art snobs who didn’t want to watch men plod around stage.
Suddenly the final night was here. The night were this post began. We’d had our now traditional warm up to the Game of Thrones intro. We’d a brief sing-along of the Lion Sleeps Tonight. We mucked around in the dressing room together. We’d told a few more dodgy jokes, done our warm up games and had our hugs. There was a feeling that tonight was going to be a big one. I was feeling good. The aches and pains weren’t too bad. The energy in the group was great. Our unity was forged.
We hit that final night with another level of focus and intensity. Standing in front of my family, my friends and my community. Some of my family had travelled from Perth to come and watch. As I gazed out towards the moon, peaking out from behind the trees; just over the heads of the audience; I readied myself to go as hard as I could one last night for them. You have to meet commitment with commitment. I stood and enjoyed sensation, audited my body in my mind and relaxed.
That was the most amazing thing about this process – that moment of relaxation, of enjoyment, of comfort. At key moments in the show I had the chance to take in the audience, enjoy their gaze and attention. Make myself to take up more space and feel larger than I truly was. We were performing in an old saw mill – a huge industrial space, a place of masculinity, blood and sweat; where trees came to die. There was no fear of overwhelming the stage with presence. We had to fight for the audience’s attention over our setting – it challenged us to be bigger and demand more respect as our confidence grew in each show.
After the second show, Annette asked me what I was going to do on the final night – what was going to come out in my performance. I think the both of us had been pretty shocked how far I’d come along in the process. I’d trusted her fully in preparing us to perform; and had unlocked part of myself along the way. That final night, as I challenged myself to go harder and harder through the show to take up more space, stretch further, embody the work more than the night before. I wanted to move with more air, more grace, more intensity, more purpose. I felt fantastic. I felt alive. I felt comfortable.
Sure, my dancing still has its moments; I’m very much untrained – but this project was about getting out of my comfort zone and trying something new. About putting my trust in others and seeing where it would lead. About giving part of myself to the creative process. About forcing myself to take in the gaze of an audience and enjoy it. I’d talked about taking a running leap from my comfort zone, away from running and football and taking the piss out of myself.
I had never expected to so comfortable on-stage (well, on-concrete). To feel so comfortable performing, especially in front of my community. To find a new comfort zone. One I never new existed. One I am so grateful to Annette, the crew and the ManPack for unearthing. One that I’m not keen to lose track of again. Now, I’m not packing my bags for WAAPA – but what I have done, is added dancer to my identity.
Our Incredible Community Performers: Don Anderson, Adrian Baer, Brad Black, Dennis Buffart, Alexander Grace, Carl Heslop, Alex Pyke, Todd Anderson, Rick Bentink, Emil Davey, The Mountain Nigel Levinson, Phillip G Light, Martin Sulkowski Professional Performers: The incredibly gracious and supportive Scott Elstermann, the capoeira king Zak Launay, the quiet intensity of Sam Le Breton, and Peter Fares (research phase)
Epic sound designer: James Gentle
Design gurus: Kevin Draper and Indra Geidans
Costume designer, stage manager and general support legend: Symantha Parr
The Beauty Index is supported by Denmark Arts; the WA Government through Departments of Cultural Industries and Regional Development; Country Arts WA; the Australian Government through the Australia Council for the Arts and the Regional Arts Fund; Lotterywest.