“This Dancing Business is More Hazardous Than Any ‘He-Man’ Sport”: Ted Shawn and His Men Dancers

in Sociology of Sport Journal
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Selecting Springfield College, founding home of the International YMCA as a training ground for male dancers was an inspired choice by American modern dancer Ted Shawn given the founding credo of the College to ‘build builders of men.’ I would like to see men dancing in gymnasiums and stadiums, he claimed, so that the dance could reach again the position it held among the Greeks as the most perfect athletic accomplishment and the finest means of physical training and development. They were earnest and interesting efforts to foster an aura of ‘authentic rugged American masculinity’ for the era, given that Shawn himself was a closeted homosexual and the troupe’s lead dancer was his long term muse and lover Barton Mumaw. Scholars have shown how Shawn’s ideas about gender and sexuality became increasingly complex once he acknowledged his own homosexuality and engaged with ideas about sexual difference. His appropriation of various facets of the physical culture movement, however, and his reliance on the work and ideas of female modern dance pioneers and the physical education profession have been less noted. In this sense, Shawn was lucky, for he fell in love with dance when the art was mature enough to need a man.

Vertinsky is with the School of Kinesiology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada.

Address author correspondence to Patricia Vertinsky at patricia.vertinsky@ubc.ca.
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