Challenging the stigma of men’s mental health through dance | Living North

Challenging the stigma of men’s mental health through dance

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MACHO
For Mental Health Awareness Week, a new dance film hopes to challenge the stigma around men’s mental health. We find out more about MACHO…

Choreographed and directed by Michael Heatley, Artistic Director at Hit the Ground Running Dance Theatre Company, MACHO is a new dance film being created to challenge stereotypes around masculinity and men’s mental health.

The film (the first in a trilogy of projects) explores why and how society fails to adequately address men’s mental health problems and the stigma surrounding men’s vulnerabilities and emotional wellbeing.

The performance is a digital journey into 21st century masculinity, performed by two male dancers and filmed at Easington Social Welfare Club. It’s a development of a full-length dance theatre piece created by the company and first performed live in 2016. The team has worked in close collaboration with men who attended the Cree Group at the Waddington Centre in Durham, who inspired the original performance through their stories, and some of these participants will be involved in the film as supporting artists.

The 2016 project, the 2018 North East tour and the film have been funded by Arts Council England as part of the company’s research, development and performance work, and there are plans to tour extensively when conditions allow.

With almost 20 years’ teaching experience, working with professionals and beginners of all ages, Michael is also working on part two of the trilogy, a performance piece entitled Suitcases that’s a collaboration with US artist Jon Crispin.

‘There’s this idea in society that “man should be brave” – but what does being brave actually mean?,’ Michael asks. ‘All too often, being “strong” or “brave” is interpreted in a way that rewards the stiff-upper-lip, brush-it-under-the-carpet approach. But surely, being brave is about actually facing mental health problems and acknowledging our vulnerabilities? When it comes to mental health, we know that these outdated and ill-informed attitudes can be incredibly dangerous – something that’s especially prevalent here in the North East where we’ve seen some of the highest rates of male suicide in the country. We all experience good mental health and bad mental health, but men still face the added challenge of toxic masculinity and, in my view, there’s no better art form than dance to challenge this.’

Michael is now challenging anyone who thinks men shouldn’t cry, show vulnerability or dance to see the show. ‘It’s about time some of these myths and stigmas are kicked into touch – and I’m delighted to give our dancers the opportunity to do just that,’ he says. ‘Creating a film version of Macho was to enable us to reach a wider audience and engage people from all backgrounds (not only theatre goers) to watch it and discuss the film’s sensitive topic of men’s mental health issues and see how they relate and respond to the message of the work told through dance. I’m hoping the film will encourage audiences to talk to each other.’

Look out for the show on the company’s YouTube channel, which will be available to watch for free from Monday 10th May.

Published in: May 2021

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