As well as being the first openly gay flamenco dancer, Manuel Linan is breaking down gendered roles in dance by performing both the male and the female parts.
Chances are, when you hear the word ‘flamenco’, you conjure a very distinct image in your head: some dark-haired woman with flowers in her hair, swishing her skirt with passion and slamming her heels into the ground with fury. It’s a classic portrayal. But here to smash all those stereotypes is dancer Manuel Linan.
Linan is the first openly gay Flamenco dancer. In a dance form associated with machismo, Linan has already pushed the boundaries. However, he doesn’t stop there. In his latest production Reversible, now at Sadler’s Wells as part of their world-renowned Flamenco Festival, the male dancer adopts the traditional feminine accessories of the manton and bata de cola, and plays both the female and male role in one dance. In doing so, Linan is challenging gender roles and questioning binaries in an art form that is still divided by male and female roles.
“I started to wear the bata de cola (the flamenco skirt) professionally around the age of 27,” says the dancer. “It opened up a new world that allowed me to approach my dancing in a new way. It was not easy at the beginning, as your body needs to get used to the new techniques, but once you’re used to it, the bata de cola becomes a part of your body.”
Some may question why Linan must adopt women’s articles of clothing to accessorise the dance. Why not dance the female parts while still dressed in men’s clothing? But for Linan, these garments are not so gender specific. “As a child, I felt attracted to those accessories but society and its rules didn’t agree with that at the time,” reflects Linan. “There was and still is a lot of homophobia, but now I express myself as I really want to. These pieces of costume do not always give me a feminine language – sometimes I can feel more or less feminine with or without the bata de cola. I like this ambiguity.”
In his latest production, Linan ruminates on themes of childhood and the way it shapes who we are, as well as our approach to gender and its fluidity. For a young gay man and young dancer, he found himself unable to express himself as he truly wanted to because of social norms. “In my early years, I tried to express myself as I felt but I couldn’t because of society’s nonsensical standards. I was unable to because of the fear of social rejection. Later, I needed to return to this way of thinking from my earlier years and get rid of all the absurd social charges I’d collected. I wanted to revive that freedom of expression.”
Reversible is that freedom of expression. It’s an exploration of the innocence, playfulness and irreverence of childhood, and allows Linan to dance in the way he wants to dance, rather than how he is told to dance. “More and more artists are expressing themselves without any determining repression, but there is still a lot of work to do in society. As dance progresses, it must reach a place with freedom and no boundaries of self-expression – that goes for life as well as art.”
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