Men Dancing Athletically

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CHOREOGRAPHERS in the U.S. have repeatedly drawn men and metaphors from the world of sports to give their work a sense of authenticity on the concert dance stage. What’s more, the presence of male athletes and athleticism has worked to counter long-held anxieties about the supposed effeminacy of male dancers. To illustrate what I think is a heretofore unexamined use of male athletes in dance, I wish to discuss four dances: Nijinsky’s Jeux (1913); Ted Shawn’s Olympiad from 1936; Gene Kelly’s 1958 TV dance documentary called Dancing: A Man’s Game; and Twyla Tharp’s 1980 work, Dancing is a Man’s Sport, Too.

In 1913, Vaslav Nijinsky choreographed a dance called Jeux, which translates from the French as “games” or “play.” Nijinsky, the Russian dancer and choreographer perhaps best known for his Afternoon of a Faun and Le Sacre du Printemps, abandoned Jeux after only eight performances.

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