Michael is an early-twentysomething from Amsterdam, Netherlands, and he’s discovering all that dance has to offer.
A movement-leader, even if he doesn’t quite realize it, Michael is pushing us to think differently about masculinity. As he explains, “We always have these specific ideas about what a man and a woman is, and that there’s a certain way they should be. But I believe none of it is real–it is all made up. We’ve been influenced by everything around us. I believe we should be more open, though. And you can do that through dance.”
For Michael, he’s always had a passion for dance. And it was something his family recognized at a very young age. “My family always knew I had a passion for just dancing and being happy, even though I didn’t talk a lot,” he says. “Eventually, I went to a community dance college that was more street dance and improvisational based. That’s where I was encouraged to find my own style. That’s also where I learned the importance of movement and being in the moment.”
Michael has accomplished a lot, and he’s just getting started. But everything he has now has required Michael to step out of his comfort zone, including leaving the Netherlands to study in Paris, and then in New York City at the Ailey School. But perhaps the most important risk he’s taking now is bravely sharing his story with the world in hopes of inspiring others.
“Three years ago, I might not have said yes [to joining this campaign],” Michael says. “But I did because I’ve been more exposed to things and realize how freeing NYC is and how important it is to be yourself. This is all a learning process for me, and I wanted to be able to speak about it instead of always holding back.”
Michael proves that #WhenMenDance they inspire us to step out of our comfort zone and express parts of ourselves we’re most afraid of. And when we do, we change ourselves and the world for the better.
Michael’s Full Story
I was born and raised in Amsterdam. My dad is native Dutch (white) and my mom is from Aruba (Caribbean). My mom and dad have always encouraged me and my siblings to be musical. We went to different music schools and they also forced us to do at least one sport and one instrument until high school.
Around 10/11, my mom put me in dance. She said, “[Do} you want to dance at this school?” And she put me in it. I wanted to be a backup dancer for Janet Jackson, Beyonce–that was my dream as a young kid. She did that because my family always knew I had a passion for just dancing and being happy, even though I didn’t talk a lot.
I did that until I was 16. And then I went to a high school with a healthcare and cosmetics (hair and beauty) focus. At that time, it was hard for me to only study with books, so I went to a school that would let me work with my hands and do dance. Eventually, I went to a community dance college that was more street dance and improvisational based.
That’s where I was encouraged to find my own style. That’s also where I learned the importance of movement and being in the moment. After three years, I got a scholarship to a modern jazz school in Paris to get more ballet training. There, I met a principal dancer from Ailey, and that’s when I knew I wanted to study there at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in New York City. And I’ve been doing that the past couple of years.
Since training professionally, my understanding of dance has changed a lot. I find myself constantly asking myself, “What is a dancer?” I’ve really thought a lot about what that is and the many forms it can take. Everybody has their own definition of what dance is to them. But I’m learning their definition may not be my definition and that it is okay.
At Ailey, I’ve been introduced to a lot of different techniques and ways of moving, such as Horton, Graham, etc. These are very Western ways of moving and a lot of the styles originate from white men and women choreographers. But I’ve also learned that doing African and other aboriginal dance styles make me feel more free. And through everything I’ve been exposed to, I’ve been able to accept and love dancing my own movement. For me, dance is just natural, and that’s why I love doing it. It doesn’t have to be a special title.
I dance because it is really fun. For me, I started dance because it was fun, it’s in my family–my mother is from the Caribbean–and it’s always been in my blood. I continue dancing because I have something to say, I can tell a story with movement.
Photograph by Linneah Anders
I feel like every man has their own story. Every man also has their own definition of what men are in general and in dance. I believe it’s important to hear that from people from different cultures, backgrounds, and even countries. And that’s why I wanted to share my story.
For example, I’ve noticed as a black man it is hard to be gay here in America, even though I’ve never had a problem being so in Europe. The ideas around masculinity and how it is represented are a lot different from my own upbringing.
I’ve noticed that everyone keeps trying to use words try to describe masculinity, but no one really know what it is or really means what they say. That’s why I think we have to keep asking questions and creating what it is for each of us.
We always have these specific ideas about what a man and a woman is, and that there’s a certain way they should be. But I believe none of it is real–it is all made up. We’ve been influenced by everything around us. I believe we should be more open, though. And you can do that through dance.
For example, in my circle, people respect me more for embracing different dance styles, such as voguing, wacking, hip hop, and any other style of moment that allow me to be more comfortable with me. So, something I’ve really learned about being in New York City, is that through dance and movement–that natural and spiritual connection–I can talk and say whatever I want. And if it wasn’t for me moving here, I probably wouldn’t feel as comfortable being who I am and freestyling.
I also wanted to be a part of this campaign because, especially this year having moved to New York City, I’ve been searching for what’s me. I’ve been playing around with my femininity and masculinity.
Photograph by Linneah Anders
I think this came at a great time in my dance journey. Three years ago, I might not have said yes. But I did because I’ve been more exposed to things and realize how freeing NYC is and how important it is to be yourself. This is all a learning process for me, and I wanted to be able to speak about it instead of always holding back.
[When I dance] I like to give [people] something that they cannot really reach. That’s why I continue dancing and I call myself an artist. I always try to give somebody something–even if it’s positive or negative, something that they can think about or feel.
Sometimes I have to separate industry and dance. I’m an artist, and sometimes the industry [negatively and positively] affects my artistry. I moved to New York two years ago, and I really learned here that dance is an industry.
Everywhere in the world, it’s so different; dance is so big. You can be from Australia and dance from a different way. America is so different from Europe. I feel like New York is the capital dance.
For me, [dance] is really expression. And I feel like men aren’t used to expressing themselves because it taught [by] society that men should be this and women should be this. But you have to do what you gotta to do, what you want to do.
I feel like a lot of men want to dance but they are scared, even in the club. When you see men dance, they’re like, “Oh, I want to groove with them,” but they don’t know how to express themselves.