Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Dancer from the Dance: Ted Shawn Pioneered a Homoerotic Style of Modern Dance, a Hunky All-Male Company, and the Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival, Which Turns 70 This Summer. (Dance)

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Dancer from the Dance: Ted Shawn Pioneered a Homoerotic Style of Modern Dance, a Hunky All-Male Company, and the Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival, Which Turns 70 This Summer. (Dance)

Article excerpt

Picture brawny, ripped men, scantily costumed as Indian warriors, Greek gods, and Olympic athletes. No, we're not talking about the hired entertainment at a gay circuit party but about Ted Shawn and his Men Dancers, circa 1933. Shawn and his all-male troupe revolutionized the way people saw male dancers when they performed all over the United States in the 1930s. The Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival, founded by Shawn--one of the great pioneers of modern dance--is celebrating its 70th anniversary this summer from June 15 to August 25.

In an autobiography published in 1986 (and reprinted in 2000), Barton Mumaw, who was both Shawn's leading dancer and his lover for many years, wrote candidly about their passionate partnership. Shawn, who had been married to choreographer Ruth St. Denis (together they had formed the legendary Denishawn Dance Company), decided to go his own way in 1932 to show America that men could choose modern dance as a legitimate, masculine profession. Shawn hired and trained men, many of whom had been star college athletes, to dance his choreography with his new company, which was based at his farmhouse, called Jacob's Pillow, in Becket, Mass. The company endured from 1933 to 1940. The dancers were chosen for their athleticism and their looks, as can be seen from snapshots from the period.

"These photographs work incredibly well as homoerotic images in the year 2002," says David Gere, a professor of dance history and queer studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, who wrote the foreword to the 2000 edition of Mumaw's book.

Because it would have been impossible during the Depression to obtain professional credibility as gay men, Shawn and Mumaw kept their relationship closeted. Shawn also overcompensated for the sissy element by rejecting any softness in his choreography. "For better or worse," says Gere, "Shawn decided he was going to portray a kind of hypermasculine image. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.