Rachyl Pines and Howard Giles
Dance is a visual, socially organized form of communication. There are countless forms and styles of dance, each with its own criteria of excellence, with varying degrees of technical training ranging from classical ballet to krumping. This could, at times, lend itself to intergroup antagonism with the various genres of dance as subgroups. However, all types of dancers have the potential to identify with one another as sharing in the superordinate identity, dancer. Dance may be consumed as an artistic performance, or one can engage it as a participant—dancing as a professional, as a form of recreation, or as a form of self-expression. The processes of producing, consuming, and participating in dance as a spectator, choreographer, or performer are all intergroup phenomena. For example, a spectator of a performance learns something about the culture that produced this dance. With this there is potential for intergroup contact and vicarious observation with dancers and the various audiences. This can be powerful for changing attitudes and conceptions of different dance groups. The attitude change may occur as people are exposed to a culture presented as art instead of exposure to information via factual accounts such as textbooks or museums. Also, a spectator or consumer’s perception of the performance is informed by group membership. For example, some religious groups discourage dance because they believe it is a sin or evil. These groups, if exposed to a dance performance, will experience it much differently than members of other groups that encourage dancing and actively seek its viewing.
In sum, dance is a vehicle through which group membership and social identity can be expressed. As dancers perform they can, for instance, express gender and sexuality. As choreographers direct movements, they express their conceptions of gender through the dancers. And as spectators view the performance, they are shown something about gender expression. When it is used as a form of protest, as a cultural expression, or as a form of social innovation, dance can express social group membership.
Sexual orientation is a private matter that individuals can decide to disclose or conceal. Nevertheless, when interacting with others, people look for cues of sexual orientation. Hence, the person’s face, voice, or non-verbal behavior is taken as a cue revealing sexual orientation. As research on “gaydar” has shown, this detecting ability can sometimes be accurate or stereotype-based. Sometimes gay, lesbian, and bisexual people themselves intentionally communicate their sexual identity explicitly or through more subtle cues. Intentional or not, several cues are taken as communicating sexual orientation with the consequences of shaping interpersonal interactions.
Identifying someone as gay or lesbian has several implications. On the one hand, it leads straight men and women to non-verbally behave differently than when interacting with other straight individuals (e.g., more physical distance, more self-touching). On the other hand, it also affects verbal communication (e.g., topics of conversation, questions, and statements). The harshest consequence is hate speech and homophobic language. Research has shown that being labeled as “faggot” or “dyke” not only negatively affects those who are the target of such verbal derogation but also negatively impacts on straight bystanders. Indeed, gay and lesbian targets of homophobic language report a lower level of well-being and self-acceptance, while being exposed to such language increases prejudice toward gay men and lesbians among straight people. In the case of straight men, the use of homophobic language is often associated with identity self-affirmation and self-presentation. Interestingly, a recent trend among gay people has been noticed: they use homophobic labels among them as a form of “reclaimed language,” meaning that these derogatory terms are used with a different intent and reframed in a more positive way.
Moreover, communicating sexual orientation can increase self-acceptance, social support, and positive social comparison among gay men and lesbians and can also increase positive attitudes toward gay people, especially when it happens with friends and family members.