Wendell is an early-twentysomething Atlanta-raised, New York City-made dancer who shows us what it really means to feel and be vulnerable.
A legitimate inspiration in more ways than one–even if he doesn’t want to admit it–Wendell takes the limiting stereotypes of what men are told they can and can’t do, and he turns them on their head.
As he explains, “Even as a dancer you are trained to display masculinity, but more barriers are being broken down about how men can express themselves through dance because it isn’t something someone can own. It is for everyone to have and use as they wish.”
As you’ll soon learn, Wendell is really on to something. Dance, in so many ways, has the very ability to change lives and liberate us all from who we’re told we must be and reunites us with our childlike, limitless possibilities of who we can be.
And that’s exactly why he feels men shouldn’t run from but should run to dance. He continues, “If [dance] challenges your masculinity, I think that just says more about the person or what you’re scared of. It doesn’t say enough about what you’re willing to do or where you’re willing to go. Or how far you’re willing to just be without letting other people’s thoughts and expectations get in your way.”
On so many levels, Wendell teaches us the power of expression, revealing that “Art cracks the falseness of masculinity. Those human constructs that blind us from our best selves. [But] if we take the toxic masculine energy out of all things, everyone will be able to do what they want without judgment.”
Wendell reveals that #WhenMenDance they teach us the definition of true freedom. What it really means to breathe. To be and to do. And that vulnerability isn’t a flaw but a gift that changes lives.
Wendell’s Full Story
I went to a performing arts elementary school when I was about six years old. That’s when we first moved to Atlanta. My mom had gotten a new job at the school as a drama teacher. And when she got that job, she brought me along. So, from age seven, I was learning dance, drama, music, and art–all forms of expression. And then when I turned 13 years old, I made the decision that I really wanted to dance because I was so inspired by people who were just able to live their lives and didn’t have to walk around so shielded.
I was inspired mostly by the beautiful and talented black womyn I grew up watching dance. There was a sense of freedom they embodied that I wanted. I wanted to be a moving sculpture and be as free as they looked. Male-dominated subjects held a lot of resistance to emotion and individual thought, which made me feel small. I wanted to feel limitless.
History has informed my mind and body in unconscious ways. So, when I dance, I honestly want people to just feel free. I want them to feel like they don’t have to come to the table with any barriers or huge guards that are going to block them from experiencing something. I want them to feel vulnerable. And maybe not in an emotional sense but in a way where you can just soften your skin and you let everything go, [and ask yourself], “How do you feel really in this moment and how can you not judge that? How is it not feminine or masculine?” It’s just how you feel? That’s the point I want them to get to.
I feel like I’m dancing for/as those who couldn’t express physical freedom. I use dance to find true freedom. Past just black and white, freedom of being and existing. It helps me decipher when I’m being held back by the system, and when I’m holding myself back.
Even as a dancer you are trained to display masculinity, but more barriers are being broken down about how men can express themselves through dance, because it isn’t something someone can own. It is for everyone to have and use as they wish. I feel empowered by being vulnerable to my emotions. Improvisation has helped me learn to be in the present moment. Not judging myself for softening my skin to feel and experience. Also, having a strong mother who is a natural leader has shown me that power is not gendered and judged by emotion.
I think in the way that I hear a lot of guys talk about masculinity, it’s such in a closed way. It’s “I’m not going to do this because it shows something about me that I don’t want somebody else to see. And with dance, you basically put yourself on the table. From a young age, we’re in these tights; we’re not wearing like football guard ready for battle. We’re pretty bare and everything is pretty honest.
That alone–just getting more in touch with my emotions–and learning from a lot of women, honestly, about how they are so expressive and free, has freed me up to be the best man that I can be. You can be as much of a man as you want, and that’s not dependent on how you shape your body or how you express yourself. It’s taught me so much (smiles).
It’s taught me that I really need to work hard to get what I want. One thing about dance is that it has never been easy. From a technical element, you’re always being judged, always being told how to fit into these molds, the perfect positions. But I take all of that in and I try to let it out in a new way. I take all of these limitations and turn them into something else.
During my early years of dancing, I struggled with not having the natural features dancers are praised for; I had stiff ankles, wasn’t ever very flexible. I was constantly teased even by those I looked up to. But I didn’t let those words discourage me, because I wasn’t dancing for them. I always felt like this is what I was meant to do. My love for movement and trials with technique have sparked imagination which influences much of my choreography.
Dance has superseded the constructs of life itself. It is the reminder that we are all larger than the space we occupy in our bodies. I want other young men to know that dance is something you possess in your soul. Experience and technique sharpen the details on that, but it is not something that can be taken from you.
I feel like I’ve been really lucky and really blessed just to live a life through the arts. I feel like it’s given me such a sense of freedom and really hasn’t closed me in as a person but opened me up and made me think of all the ways I could use art to say a bigger picture or use art to express myself or help others express themselves.
I feel like you just lose so much more when you close yourself off to something like dance [because of negative stereotypes]. If it challenges your masculinity, I think that just says more about the person or what you’re scared of. It doesn’t say enough about what you’re willing to do or where you’re willing to go. Or how far you’re willing to just be without letting other people’s thoughts and expectations get in your way.
I hope this campaign just opens people’s perceptions. Art cracks the falseness of masculinity. Those human constructs blind us from our best selves. If we take the toxic masculine energy out of all things, everyone will be able to do what they want without judgment. Only then can art exist in all aspects of life.
That’s why I want this campaign to expand the definition of masculinity so everyone can breathe, even those who might not choose to dance, even after hearing what I’ve said.
I have one wish: that all men know what it feels like to breathe. What it feels like to do and be. When that happens, I think masculinity–the very idea of it–will really change for the better.