Yanis Marshall

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24 year old, Yanis Marshall became a sensation after a video titled “Spice Girls” went viral on Youtube on June 30th of 2013. But it was not the nature of the song that made him famous; it was his dance moves in several pairs of nine-inch heels. The video features the now famous Parisian choreographer, Yanis Marshall, fiercely dancing all over parts of Paris.

Yanis is originally from Vallauris, near Cannes. He is currently a choreaographer, teacher and dancer and has been dancing since an early age. At the age of eleven, with the help of his mother who was a director of a dance association, he passed the auditions for the Dance School called Rosella Hightower. It is here that Yanis began to train in Ballet, Contemporary, and Jazz.

Despite his artistic ability and love for dance, in an interview with Great Rhys Alexander, Yanis claimed to leave for Paris France in search of independence from modern contemporary dance.

At the age of 19, he left to New York City where he experienced his first class of a style of dance called Street Jazz, with Sheryl Murakami. She is an artist that he claims “gave him a wake up call” and continues to inspire him till the day. After years of unhappiness in many different styles of dance, Yanis found a home in the style of Street Jazz.

Much like Voguing, Street Jazz roots from stricter dance styles. It evolved from informal settings like nightclubs, schools and on the street. Street jazz dance was inspired by traditional dance performed outside of professional studios.Jazz dance, modern hip hop and funk make up this style of dance. Elements of the rigid robotic movements, the marked spins often found in breakdancing and the fluid movements of hip hop, like in Sheryl Murakami’s music video below, are key components of the Street Jazz dance.

As for the heels. Whenever Yanis is asked why he dances in heels his response is famously always “why not?” Despite the humor in his response, one thing is certain, men dancing in heels or simply wearing heels is not a first.

Men originally wore high- heeled shoes. As early as the 10th century, men wearing high heels became a trend amongst the upper class. At the time, high-heeled shoes were not a signifier of gender. It was not until the 18th century that men discontinued the trend and the high-heeled shoe was soon after established as a ladies shoe. Ever since then, high heels on men have not made a comeback.

The long standing societal acceptance that high heels are only for women are what have made seeing dancers like Yanis Marshall famous. He is an excellent advocate of the “social evolution” we speak of today. He can “werk” those heels better than most women can walk in them but unfortunately the world has long been a witness to the slow but sure consistency of gender binding norms.

Yanis says heels are his speciality. Since a young age he loved to wear his mothers heels. Dancing in heels for Yanis makes him different, and he admits to not being shy one bit about his heels nor the fact he is gay.

“Just be you and if people don’t like it, well F*ck Them”

But despite the use of heels whenever he dances, Yanis is not transgender nor seeks to become a women.The use of heels for men to dance in is simply sexy and artistic to Yanis and he encourages both men and women, straight or gay to dance in heels whenever he teaches a class.  He also has no plans to label men dancing in heels any sort of style of dancing because he hates labels or boxes.

Little Game

Ben J. Pierce is a 16 year old Youtube star, who runs the Youtube channel “KidPOV” (Kid Point of View) which he started on August 28, 2011.  Pierce also runs a second channel for his music called “BENNY”, which is where he released his debut single “Little Game”. This music video focuses on how harmful gender roles can be to kids. Pierce has also released two other videos questioning gender roles on KidPOV, “Why Boys Can’t Wear Pink” and “Why Double Standards Are Great”. In the first video, Pierce relays to his audience the three negative reactions he got for going trick or treating as a pink loofah; in the second, he discusses the double standards in the reactions between a photo shoot Nick Jonas did and Miley Cyrus did. Pierce released “Little Game” on October 25, 2014, which soon went viral and currently has a million and a half views.

The music video uses color and gendered toys and clothes to visually contrast the two gender roles society forces children into from a young age. The video revolves around two main characters, a boy and a girl, who question the roles they are forced into. The boy tries to pick up and play with a pink doll while the girl opens a book instead of balancing it on her head like the other 3 girls, at 0:37 and 1:21 respectively. As the video progresses, we see how both children’s peers react threateningly to these displays of independence. The boy and the girl then get thrown into a room for “broken toys” where it seems that other children who have also broken from their gender roles were sent. The other kids in this room are still trying to conform to the gender norms despite already being ostracized from the group. Our two main kids find some blue and pink powder and shake hands after touching it at 3:02. This mixes the colors that represent the two genders and breaks the other kids from the “game” of gender, allowing everyone to be themselves. More colored powder is added to visually represent the mixing of the two “genders” and the children end up putting the opposite gender’s color on their faces to show that everyone is done playing the “little game” of gender.

The video visually represents Judith Butler’s idea that when the minority in the population queers gender or sexuality, they pave the way for the majority of the population to have more freedom. The two main kids break from their gender performativity, and stop performing as their assigned gender even though they are shunned for it. By breaking this performativity, they end up showing their own peers that it is okay to be themselves. At the end of the video, the boys and girls are interacting and sharing their genders with each other, visually represented with blue and pink powder being blown around. There is also a visual representation of the breaking of the genders through the breaking of blue and pink objects, which then mix together at 3:05. The minority group (the boy and girl) queer gender and allow for the majority group (the other kids) to explore their genders farther.

The lyrics of the song further the idea of Judith Butler’s Gender Performativity. The song starts out saying that the people are played “like pawns” with “absent minds”; the kids are dolls who have to perform to the expectations of their society based on what they were assigned at birth. The song goes on to say, “You’re raising suicidal with your predetermined titles” and “Gender roles impose control and deceive progressive time”. These lyrics show how gender is predetermined without the person’s say and how it serves more to control those people. It also stressed that, despite the idea that society should be progressive, this is not actually the case. The song ends with a repeat of, “Play our little game” and a question, “Won’t you play with me?” Society wants everyone to play the game of gender and perform their gender correctly, but each person has the ability to say no and reject their gender roles or performance, thereby queering gender.

I Was Robbed of My Humanity – CocoRosie

CocoRosie, the duo of Bianca “Coco” and Sierra “Rosie” Casady, which started in Paris in 2003 has continually pushed queer agendas onto its listeners through abnormal visual and vocal stimuli in the release of their five albums and drag aesthetics.

CocoRosie is not shy to challenge the normative.

The duo is seen dressing semi-drag on various occasions, infusing masculine and feminine qualities in their aesthetics. But their message comes predominantly from their music.

To queer is to question and CocoRosie never fall short of asking the difficult questions. In order to grasp their differences and messages, we are going to look at one of their most popular songs, Werewolf, which was released in 2007, and dissect key points from it.

The song begins with Bianca subconsciously viewing herself as a werewolf – this is a woman turned into an animal.

The first verse is the loss her innocence in “fatherless showdowns” which is reflective of the CocoRosie duo’s childhood. The point is continued with, “River sweep away my memories of children’s things a young mother’s love.” The things that children hold dear are taken away, implying a loss of innocence in a transition from childhood to adulthood but also, imply the roles of a mother to rear her children.

In the chorus, the duo is trying to relieve themselves of the negative memories that they encountered.

“Ima shake you off though
Get up on that horse and
Ride into the sunset
Look back with no remorse”

But again in the second verse, they encounter “black magic” in the form of a man. In the third verse, after an introduction of a mysterious message in the bridge from the father, the band reveals the true pain of this song:

“You blew through me like bullet holes
Left stains on my sheets and stains on my soul
You left me broke down begging for change.”

And suddenly the song isn’t simply about childhood abandonment. It’s almost as if this father character was an accomplice in the rape of the song’s narrator because of his absence. The mysterious bridge talks about the father telling his daughter to keep “the secret” which is implied to mean the secret of the daughter’s rape.

In the metaphorical sense that father means government, CocoRosie is saying that in the eyes of the “Man,” the woman, who is seen as a beast, a werewolf, is inferior and is a tool for men. This relates to Judith Butler’s idea of “Gender Perfomativity” where women at birth, are given a set destiny of oppression because of their biological “inferiority.”

CocoRosie in

In the instance of this song, the guidelines for what it means to be a woman and what power is given to men are set. This song challenges the normative in the idea that the scenario that is set up is the normal, and by hyper-exposing the situation, it pushes change. The duo are trying to say, “this happens under our noses and people allow it continue to stay under our noses, but it has to change, now.”

The song is called Werewolf, but what it really means is, “I was robbed of my humanity.”

It’s queer. They are different. But they offer insight on a gender-struggle situation that is ignored too often.

CocoRosie continues to create music that sounds different, but also offers alternative messages that deal with challenging the norm.