Dancing Through Life in a Stiletto is more than just the title of this project, it is the way that myself, and many women, have found the confidence to succeed in life. This documentary-style film brings the audience into the world of the heels dance community in Toronto, with a focus on the experience of this dance genre and how it has become one of the, if not the most, empowering forms of self-expression and self-love in women. With dance being a visual art, I decided to combine my love of dance and videography, and stepping into the many roles of director, producer, editor, writer, interviewer, and fellow dancer within the film, to portray the beauty that emanates from all of the women who enter in to heels world. The heels genre has been praised for its level of technique, as well as its ability to adapt to any other dance style. But, it has also been criticized for being a form of exploitation of women because it is seen . The purpose of the project is to show the true nature behind this dance style, and that it holds so much more than what is portrayed on social media.
The process to create this documentary involved spending the time within the intimate spaces of the classrooms during Kaela Faloon’s Sensual Heeling company rehearsal and workshops, Jonna Abram’s Soulizm workshop and drop-in class at The Underground Dance Centre, as well as the Army of Sass beginner level rehearsal for Army of Sass’s production titled High Heel Revolution. Also, I had the amazing opportunity to film the tech rehearsals and the full show of both Army of Sass’s show High Heel Revolution and the Badass Babes’ show #7-day Mood. I also had the pleasure of sitting down with each of the amazing women who run these companies and workshops and inquiring about how they feel about this dance genre. The concept of a documentary for this topic presents an opportunity for many voices to be heard in the dance community, not just my own. Engaging in an interview process with the prominent heels teachers in Toronto gives the audience a deeper insight into why they teach this style, and how the feel dancing in this style. Most of these teacher have been dancing in heels for 8+ years.
This project comes as a defense of the heels community for those who look down upon it because they consider it to be too sexual or inappropriate. There are some women who choose to hide their love for dance away from the workplace for fear of looking inappropriate, and other women simply do not tell certain people that they take heels classes because they are worried that they may looked down upon or have their choice being questioned. The use of film allows the audience to view the beauty of this dance genre through my eyes, as someone who has experienced its positive effects first hand. The images are captured in a way that sets the audience up as an audience member in the shows, and as a fellow dancer within the studio space.
The high heel, the type of clothing we may wear during class or a performance, or some of the routines that are performed are criticized. In the article Stop glamourizing the pain of high heels for a website called Feminist Current, author Lori Day goes on to describe the pain her grandmother went through for wearing heels most of her life, and continues to criticize women’s views on heels, bras, waxing and empowerment in an explicitly sarcastic tone. She closes her article with the statement “Better yet: How do you liberate women? One step at a time, in shoes that can go the distance.” (2017) What this article does is mock those who choose to perform acts or tasks that are considered traditionally more feminine, and in this case, the type of tasks or acts that are oppressive because they aid in the circulation of patriarchal culture. This is where a huge divide between first and second wave feminists, and third wave, or “post-feminists” rears its ugly head. A large debate surrounds empowerment within feminism because some feminists believe that women who participate in these liberal feminist values and behaviours fail “to confront the interlocking systems that oppress women, criticizing the creative tricks third wave and liberal feminists use to make oppression more comfortable.” (Mehat 2015) They believe that women choose to go against the progress made by their foremothers and continue the fight for empowerment, and instead choose to engage in their own sexual exploitation. The belief is still rooted in that this is done for the pleasure of men in exchange for acceptance and attention. (Oppliger 205)
On the macro-level of society, women are subjected to criticisms regardless if they follow societal standards of female behaviour. Women are considered to be “sluts” or “showing off” if they decide to openly express their sexuality or decide to dress a little less modestly compared to other women. On the other end, women who are dressed to modestly and oppose any sort of conversation about sex, femininity or beauty are “prudes” and “uptight”. The heels community allows a woman to safely and openly embrace the parts that society may point to as ugly, uncomfortable, inappropriate, and gives her the power and the confidence to go against those criticisms and feel comfortable in her own skin.
Within the past 4-5 years, the Heels dance genre in Toronto has sky-rocketed into popularity because women, and men, are participating in these classes to gain a new form of confidence they may have never experienced in their lives. The heels dance genre highlights the shape and lines of the female body through its technical movement and “those dancers and women who have recognized the potential for rejecting restrictions and finding self-determined expression, are proving that they body can be a means to assert one’s power.” (Adair 40) The environment that they enter is one of acceptance, empowerment, and safety to be whomever they want to be in that moment. What people do not realize is that within the classrooms and rehearsal spaces, it is not all about filming the choreography or being dressed in fishnet tights and a body suit. This dance style subverts the criticism that it is for the approval of men by the women in this community taking their power back through putting on this type of shoe that is typically seen as a shoe to enhance sexual desire, to just simply being a type of shoe to dance in. The time spent in the studio is time spent with close friends, a time for a therapeutic dance session, and a time for physical and mental exercise. It is a space to completely let go of the stresses that an individual may be dealing with. These women choose to be in the studio to take that class. Emphasis on choice. These women choose to come to a classroom knowing that they are going to learn how to dance in a high heel, and to dance any style in that heel. For some women, even in the one hour beginner heels classes, they leave with an added feeling of confidence to themselves just from exploring a side of their femininity they may not have embraced prior to taking the class. Dancing in a heel gives a woman the opportunity to embrace every single aspect of her being.
With this film, the aim is to show that the misconceptions about this dance style are uninformed and only support the negative criticisms of women who choose to dance in heels. Our simple response to the misconceptions is to invite those individuals to come and experience a class, to see for themselves.
By: Alannah Moniz
Adair, Christy. Women and Dance: Sylphs and Sirens. New York University Press. 1992.
Day, Lori. “Stop Glamourizing the pain of High Heels.” Feminist Current. 2017. http://www.feministcurrent.com/2017/12/28/stop-glamourizing-pain-high-heels/
Mehat, Jindi. “Shit Liberal Feminists Say: Choice.” Feminist Current. 2015. http://www.feministcurrent.com/2015/12/14/shit-liberal-feminists-say-choice/
Oppliger, Patrice A. Girls Gone Skank: The Sexualization of Girls in American Culture. McFarland & Company, Inc, 2008.