Many weeks ago I was chatting with another editor, whom I greatly respect, about what’s expected of heroes to meet romance trends and get published. Regarding an author’s manuscript, she thought it weird for the hero to be a dancer. That it didn’t quite fit with being a manly/attractive enough career.
I didn’t read the manuscript. Maybe she was right for that particular story. But the other part of me wondered, why can’t he be a dancer?
Although not a novel, but a romantic story nonetheless, I have two words:
The moment Patrick Swayze does his first hip thrust, I want to die a good death.
And have you ever seen a male ballet dancer up close? All that muscled grace...holy hell.
Or a Broadway star giving it his all? See specimen Number 3: Hugh Jackman.
Dancers and performers seem to work as hard as any other athlete. They practice, they sweat, they push themselves to incredible physical limits that would make me cry and give up after all the chest wheezing that makes me think this is it, this is how it ends.
Bottom line: I’d celebrate a dancing hero in a romance novel.
All of this got me thinking about what we expect from heroes. We love the high-powered bossman in a slim suit. We love the rugged rancher with calloused hands. We love the in-charge, undercover operative who leads a mission. We love the prince who commands an army but secretly wishes for a normal life.
High-powered...rugged...in-charge...commanding. I’m noticing a theme here. These overused, beloved traits pair often with those roles.
Maybe we're giving the people what they want.
But are we being unfair to heroes?
In real life, I’ve known men who cry, who feel unsure, who don’t like to lead at all, who feel shy, who get lost in trying to find the right career. And who become hairdressers, assistants, waiters, and fashion designers, whether it's temporary or they feel passionate doing what they do. These guys are all man.
Yet more often than not, it's usually side characters and heroines who seem to fill these roles in novels.
Sometimes we create these stereotypes for ourselves, when we don’t have to.
If you write the best hero you can, motivated, sympathetic, and believable (even with traits like commanding or shy) then it shouldn't matter if he has a “less manly” career—whatever that actually is.
We say all the time that heroines can do or be anything, from CEO to airplane pilot. That means heroes can do or be anything too. Even be a dancer. Yum.