Imagine If Letting Boys Be Boys Meant Letting Them Dance

Photo by M. Moloney

In case you hadn’t heard, Connor Smyth was the joint winner of SAS: Who Dares Wins. Why am I writing about it? Because he’s an Irish dancer.

And I’m not just writing about it because I’m also an Irish dancer (though I’m absolutely nowhere even remotely near his caliber). While I think it’s great that people are learning about how physically and mentally demanding the sport can be, I’m really writing this because of the fact that in an interview with The Mirror he talks about how he’s trying to prove something after a lifetime of being ridiculed for being a male Irish dancer. This is an elite athlete who has toured the world entertaining hundreds of thousands of people, but he doesn’t get the respect he deserves because he’s a male dancer.

I’d like to say I don’t get it. I’d love to feign ignorance and say “c’mon folks, it’s 2021, men can be whatever they want to be” but that’s still not the world we live in. The truth is that for every Connor Smyth we see on TV there are countless boys who quit dancing because of the bullying. You talk to me about Tommy Hilfiger and his designs, and I’ll point you to the obituaries of the teen boys who died by suicide after being harassed daily because they didn’t fit into the mold of what a man “should be.”

Trying to shove men into a tiny man box limits not only who they can be, but it also impacts their relationships with others. When we tell men they have to be tough, we shouldn’t be surprised when they don’t go to the doctor when they’re in pain, which causes them to die younger and suffer more. If we tell men that they shouldn’t show emotion, then we shouldn’t be surprised when they use alcohol and pills to self-medicate for their depression and anxiety. We as a society can’t mock men for being sensitive and then get frustrated when they don’t talk about how they’re feeling.

Here’s the thing — it is 2021 and while we started the year celebrating women for breaking through the glass ceiling (remember all those memes from January?), we haven’t done the same kind of encouraging and celebrating for men when they try and break out of their box, and we need to start doing that if we want there to be change.

Maybe it starts here. Maybe we recognize that it was dance that helped build the mental acuity, endurance, and strength that enabled Connor to be named co-champion.

Congratulations Connor! Know that you’re an inspiration to current and future Irish dancers around the world! Now excuse me while I get my hard shoes on and practice.

Not sure about this whole man box concept? Take 11 minutes and watch Tony Porter’s Ted Talk; you may find it eye opening.

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Susan Milstein

Susan Milstein

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Dr. Susan Milstein has a PhD in Human Sexuality Education and is the co-author of the 6th edition of "Human Sexuality: Making informed decisions."