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LGBTQ Spotlights Dance and Dancers

Ballets Russes (1909-1962)
Ballets Russes (1909-1962)

The Ballets Russes made dance history. As one of the earliest gay-identified multinational enterprises, it was also important in gay history.


Although "ballet russes" might sound like a generic term, meaning simply Russian ballets, it actually refers to the hallmark of twentieth-century theatrical dance. However, the Ballet Russes not only represents a crucial turning point in dance history, but it is a milestone in gay history as well.

The brainchild of impressario Serge Diaghilev (1872-1929), a gay Russian nobleman who fell in love with the nineteen-year-old Vaslav Nijinksy, a rising star in the Imperial Russian Ballet, the Ballets Russes might be seen as one of the earliest gay-identified multinational enterprises.

Although the first Ballets Russes company was not officially organized until 1911, it dates from 1909, when Diaghilev assembled a group of dancers from the Imperial theaters and charged a brilliant young choreographer, Michel Fokine, to create a repertoire to spotlight Nijinsky's great talent.

Under the patronage of Tsar Nicholas II, Diaghilev brought his Ballets Russes to Paris in May 1909. Its success was immediate and sensational. The brilliant artistry of the dancers, including Tamara Karsavina as well as Nijinsky, combined with erotic choreography, startlingly modern music, and strikingly original scene designs, altered the course of dance history, making the Ballets Russes the vanguard of distinctly twentieth-century art.

For the next twenty years, Diaghilev never failed to discover fresh genius, featuring the work of then uncelebrated composers and artists such as Igor Stravinsky, Jean Cocteau, and Pablo Picasso. His company specialized in ballets of "total theater" in which all aspects of the productions were important, although the Ballets Russes was especially noted for its superb male dancers.

After he fired Nijinsky in 1913 (when the dancer married a Hungarian admirer, Romola Pulszky), Diaghilev took as his lover the eighteen-year-old Léonide Massine, who was to serve as the company's principal dancer and choreographer for the next seven years. In 1924 Diaghilev met the last of his protégés and lovers, seventeen-year-old Serge Lifar, who became the company's premier danseur and later became director of the Paris Opera Ballet.

After the Russian Revolution, the Ballets Russes, which had never performed in Russia, was permanently cut off from its homeland. Diaghilev featured many Russian émigré dancers, but turned increasingly to French composers and painters as collaborators for his choreographers.

In the Ballets Russes gay men, whatever their nationality, were highly visible and their influence extended outward from ballet into related art forms such as cinema, painting, music, and fashion.

At Diaghilev's untimely death in 1929, the original Ballets Russes, then based in Monte Carlo, dissolved. But in 1931 many of his dancers and choreographers were reunited in a company formed by Colonel V. de Basil, a former officer in the Russian army. The new company incorporated Diaghilev's repertoire, but also developed new stars--notably the celebrated "baby ballerinas," Irina Baronova, Tamara Toumanova, and Tatiana Riabouchinska--and new ballets.

Among the new works commissioned by de Basil's Ballets Russes was David Lichine's Cain and Abel (1946), perhaps the first overtly homoerotic ballet in history. The work features the two title dancers nearly nude in a sensual pas de deux.

Colonel de Basil's Ballets Russes toured extensively in South America and Australia and survived the terrible vicissitudes of World War II, but disbanded in 1952 after the Colonel's death.

In 1937, an artistic schism occurred within de Basil's company and dissenters, led by Léonide Massine, formed a rival company in Monaco. Financed with American money and directed by Serge Denham, a Russian banker, the new company was called the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Massine strove to continue the great tradition of the original Ballets Russes.

With the outbreak of World War II, the new company relocated to the United States where, by virtue of its transcontinental annual tours, it became the national ballet company of America. For more than twenty years, until its demise in 1962, it visited as many as 100 towns and cities in a season, astonishing audiences with its glamour and awakening in many isolated gay men the dazzling reality of a gay-friendly artistic milieu.

Some of these men first exposed to dance in this way searched out ballet studios and eventually had dance careers of their own.

Among the most important legacies of the Ballets Russes is its function as a nursery to other companies. Many dancers and others associated with the various Ballets Russes companies opened schools throughout the world. They produced dancers trained in the great tradition, as well as an audience prepared to support civic ballet companies.

Nearly all of the most prestigious international ballet companies descend directly or indirectly from the Ballets Russes. And without the Ballets Russes, we would not have their saucy offspring, Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, the all-male American troupe triumphantly touring the world, en pointe and en travesti.

Douglas Blair Turnbaugh

Paul Taylor (b. 1930)
Taylor, Paul (b. 1930)  

Dancer and choreographer Paul Taylor has been an important presence in American dance since the 1950s.

Paul Taylor in 1960.

One of the most influential dancers and choreographers of the twentieth century, Paul Taylor has been an important presence in American dance since the 1950s.

When he wrote his autobiography, at the age of 57, Taylor revealed his ambivalence about sex and gender in dance and life, remarking that to "pick partners of consistent gender would've run against an arbitrary streak" that he considers one of his strengths.

He was born Paul Belleville Taylor, Jr. on July 29, 1930 in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. After his parents divorced he was shuttled between various friends and relatives as his mother worked full-time in a restaurant.

Taylor attended Syracuse University on an athletic scholarship as a swimmer and majored in sculpture and painting. He left school during his junior year to study with Martha Graham, Anthony Tudor, and José Limón, among others.

He then danced with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company (1953-1954), Pearl Lang (1955), and then the Martha Graham Dance Company (1955-1962).

Taylor established his own company in 1964. After appearing at the Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, the company began to tour all over the world. Several of his company's tours have been sponsored by the United States State Department.

At 6'3" Taylor is a large man for a dancer, but he danced with a startlingly fluid movement. His lyrical approach gave barefoot modern dance a neo-classic style with a virtuosic edge.

When Taylor retired from dancing in 1974 at the age of 44, many felt that this very good choreographer was on his way to becoming a great one.

Many of his dances have been performed by major ballet and modern companies around the world, especially Aureole (1962), Esplanade (1975), Airs (1978), and Arden Court (1981). No other modern dance choreographer is so popular with ballet companies and their audiences: over fifty ballet troupes have performed his pieces.

Taylor's fertile imagination has created over 100 dances. Perhaps most impressive is the expressive range of his work, which extends from the despairing Last Look (1985) to the critical social commentary of Cloven Kingdom (1976) and Big Bertha (1971) to the exuberant comedy of Ab Ovo Usque Ad Mala (1986).

While Taylor has collaborated with such established visual artists as Robert Rauschenberg, Gene Moore, John Rawlings, and Alex Katz, another designer of his dances, "George Tacet," is Taylor himself. Since the 1960s, Jennifer Tipton has lit almost all of Taylor's dances.

From its beginning the Paul Taylor Dance Company was distinguished by the look of its male dancers. Typically, they are larger than men in other companies. Their size gives Taylor's choreography a muscular weight.

With rare exceptions, Taylor has treated his company as a true ensemble, equally distributing solo roles among them.

Several former members of the Paul Taylor Dance Company have gone on to establish their own companies, which is another indication of Taylor's influence on the shape of twentieth-century modern dance. Among these former members are Laura Dean, Pina Bausch, Daniel Ezralow, David Parsons, Twyla Tharp, and Dan Wagoner.

Dancer and budding choreographer Christopher Gillis (1951-1993) had been designated Taylor's heir apparent. However, he died of AIDS complications and the company's future leadership is now uncertain.

In 1987 the company's concerts began to include work by choreographers other than Taylor; and in 1992 Taylor established a junior company, Taylor 2.

In his chatty autobiography Private Domain (1987), Taylor mentions sexual encounters with both men and women, yet concludes that "As far as romance goes, I can forget it." He seems to find his responsibility for his "family" of dancers a satisfying substitute.

Same-sex partnering appears in works such as Esplanade (1975), Kith and Kin (1987), Company B (1991), and Piazzolla Caldera (1997). Still, these works may not indicate much about Taylor's private life. As he has warned many interviewers during his career, "I'm not trying to do autobiographical dances, that's not my thing."

Among Taylor's honors are a Guggenheim Fellowship (1961), Emmy Award (Speaking in Tongues, 1991), Kennedy Center Award (1992), and National Medal of Arts (1993).

Bud Coleman

Jerome Robbins (1918-1998)
Robbins, Jerome (1918-1998)  

Jerome Robbins (1918-1998) was a bisexual choreographer and director.  He was both a great choreographer of classical ballet and a Broadway innovator, but he was fearful that he might be outed.

A portrait of Jerome Robbins in Three Virgins and a Devil (1941) by Carl Van Vechten. 

Bisexual choreographer and director Jerome Robbins was both a great choreographer of classical ballet and a Broadway innovator, but he was fearful that he might be outed, and his reputation was tarnished when--during the height of McCarthyism--he "named names" during a meeting of the House Un-American Activities Committee.

According to critic Clive Barnes, Jerome Robbins "was an extremely demanding man, not always popular with his dancers, although always respected. He was a perfectionist who sometimes, very quietly, reached perfection."

From 1944 to 1997, Robbins choreographed 66 ballets and choreographed (and often also directed) fifteen Broadway musicals. During his extraordinarily prolific career he not only excelled in two different mediums, but he also worked with chameleon-like versatility, never seeming to repeat himself.

Born Jerome Rabinowitz to Harry and Lena Rabinowitz on October 11, 1918 in New York City, he and his family soon moved to Weehawken, New Jersey. His father's corset business allowed young Robbins to attend New York University for one year, where he majored in chemistry, before a slump in business forced him to withdraw.

Robbins had already started accompanying his sister to dance classes, which led to his professional debut in a Yiddish Art Theater production in 1937.

For five summers Robbins choreographed and performed at the famous Pocono resort Lake Tamiment, in between dancing in four Broadway musicals, one choreographed by George Balanchine.

Robbins was hired as a choreographer for the second season of Ballet Theatre (1940-1941). His meteoric career took off with his first ballet, Fancy Free (1944), to an original score by Leonard Bernstein.

The ballet was an instant hit; and the composer and choreographer, both twenty-five years old, joined forces with lyricists Betty Comden and Adolph Green to create a musical out of Robbins' comic ballet of three sailors on leave in New York City: On the Town. The success of On the Town made Robbins the boy genius of two worlds: musical theater and concert dance.

In the 1950s, Robbins began to direct as well as choreograph, creating such masterpieces as The King and I (1951), Bells Are Ringing (1956), Gypsy (1959), Fiddler on the Roof (1964), and, most notably, West Side Story (1957).

Robbins' darkest hour occurred at the height of McCarthyism. In 1953 he named eight colleagues as members of the Communist Party during a House Un-American Activities Committee hearing.

Robbins never explained or defended his motives for naming names. He may have testified to avoid being blacklisted on Broadway or out of fear of being outed as a homosexual. Many colleagues and others considered his behavior a betrayal and never forgave him for it.

Unlike other directors of musicals, Robbins demanded that his actors dance as well as sing. His high expectations of the cast of West Side Story, for example, created the triple-threat performer. This landmark production in the history of musical theater was also the beginning of a new genre: musical tragedy.

While librettist Arthur Laurents felt that the shared Jewishness of the collaborators was the greatest influence on the creation of West Side Story, surely the show was also influenced by the fact that seven members of the creative team were gay: Robbins, Laurents, composer Leonard Bernstein, lyricist Stephen Sondheim, set designer Oliver Smith, lighting designer Jean Rosenthal, and costume designer Irene Scharaff, in addition to the first actor to play Tony, Larry Kert.

One result of the homosexuality of most of the creative team is that, despite the heterosexual plot line, West Side Story is nevertheless intensely homoerotic . The male characters are eroticized as much as the female characters, if not more so; and Riff seems to love Tony as much as Tony loves Maria.

At the invitation of Balanchine, Robbins joined New York City Ballet as a dancer, choreographer, and Associate Director from 1949 through 1959. He returned to New York City Ballet as Ballet Master in 1969.

For the next twenty years, the former king of Broadway choreographed numerous masterpieces of ballet, including Dances at a Gathering (1969), The Goldberg Variations (1971), Glass Pieces (1983), Ives, Songs (1988), and 2 & 3 Part Inventions (1994). There is little doubt that his ballets would have been more highly regarded, then and now, had they not been created in Balanchine's shadow.

Robbins' classicism was not as dedicated to a strictly codified idiom as Balanchine's; rather, it was infused with theatricality and emotional expressiveness. Many of Robbins' ballets have a naturalness, a democratic air, because they translate (and transform) European (especially Russian) ballet conventions into a more familiar vernacular. Robbins' ballets are not about Americana, yet they are very American.

Shortly before the death of Balanchine in 1983, Robbins and Peter Martins were named co-directors of New York City Ballet, a post Robbins held until 1990.

Robbins took a leave from New York City Ballet in 1988 to stage Jerome Robbins' Broadway (1989), an anthology of dances and scenes from eleven of his Broadway shows. It won the Tony Award for Best Musical and ran 624 performances.

Robbins the perfectionist was often his own worst enemy. He was savagely demanding of his performers and unrelenting in his demands on himself. High expectations ruled his personal life as well, as Robbins pursued both men and women, but formed no permanent relationship.

Robbins' ballet Facsimile (1946) reflects his bisexuality, as two men and one woman vie for one another's affections.

Ballet dancer Nora Kaye told reporters that she and Robbins were to be wed in 1951; at the same time, Broadway dancer Buzz Miller and Robbins were in the midst of their five-year live-in relationship (1950-1955). Robbins' other romantic affairs included those with actor Montgomery Clift, writer Christine Conrad, photographer Jesse Gerstein, and filmmaker Warren Sonbert.

On 29 July 1998, Robbins died of a stroke at the age of 79. His numerous awards include one Emmy (Peter Pan), two Oscars (West Side Story), four Tony Awards, the Kennedy Center Honors (1981), and a National Medal of the Arts (1988).

The greatest classical choreographer born in this country and a Broadway innovator, Robbins took millions of people to a new place, as he once said, a world "where things are not named."

Bud Coleman

Rudolf Nureyev (1938-1993)
Nureyev, Rudolf (1938-1993)  

Rudolf Nureyev (1938-1993) was the greatest dancer of his time.  He also gave the world a new and glamorous image of a sexually active gay man.

A portrait of Rudolph Nureyev by Richard Avedon.

Enfant terrible, monstre sacré, and dieu de la danse are just some of the terms that describe the incomparable dancer, choreographer, and ballet director Rudolf Nureyev.

Rudolf Hametovich Nureyev was born on a train somewhere in Siberia, about 1900 miles from Vladivostock, on March 17, 1938. The son of Muslim peasants, he was a small, malnourished, and highly sensitive child, bullied and tormented by other children.

The young Rudolf's proficiency at folk-dancing brought him to the attention of two exiled ballerinas living in Ufa. They gave him classes and introduced him to the opera ballet company there.

When Rudolf's father returned from service in World War II, he regularly beat his son for studying dance. The child dreamt "of a savior who would come, take me by the hand and rescue me from that mediocre life." However, he was rescued not by some prince, but by his own protean talent supported by unyielding will power.

What seemed an impossible dream of studying ballet at the fabled Kirov school in Leningrad came true. At age 17, he enrolled in the Leningrad Ballet School, where he was an outstanding dancer but a rebellious student. He refused to join the Communist youth league, and he studied English privately. After graduation in 1958 he became a soloist with the Kirov Ballet.

Three years later, while on tour with the Kirov Ballet in Paris, he learned that he was to be sent back to the USSR for flouting Soviet security regulations. As a consequence, he sought political asylum in France, making what came to be known as the great "leap to freedom."

He was subsequently convicted of treason in absentia by a secret Soviet trial. He lived most of the rest of his life at risk of being kidnapped or assassinated.

Nureyev's defection made headlines throughout the world. Overnight, he became a superstar. His physical beauty and sexual magnetism, coupled with his athletic ability, excited men and women alike. His seductive personality made him the darling of international society.

Moreover, his bravura dancing, especially his stupendous jumps with multiple turns in the air, and his great risk-taking, changed the way male ballet dancers danced. His fame and charisma attracted new audiences to the ballet.

Nureyev made his American debut in 1962, appearing to great acclaim on television and with Ruth Page's Chicago Opera Ballet. Later in 1962 he joined London's Royal Ballet as permanent guest artist. In so doing, he revitalized the company. Partnered with Margot Fonteyn, he gave new life to such classics as Giselle and Swan Lake and introduced such contemporary ballets such as Sir Frederick Ashton's Marguerite and Armand (1963).

As artistic director, he formed his own touring companies and transformed the national ballet companies of Australia and Canada from provincial to world class.

In 1983, he found the artistic base for which he longed when he became artistic director of the Paris Ballet. He remained in this position until 1989, when he resigned. However, he served as premier choreographer of the Paris Ballet until his death.

Among his most successful works of choreography are his stagings of Romeo and Juliet, Manfred, and The Nutcracker.

Nureyev also choreographed (and co-directed) a lavish film ballet of Don Quixote (1973). This work has recently been restored and presented as part of PBS's "Great Performances" series.

An indefatigable performer, Nureyev for many years danced almost every day, sometimes with performances back-to-back. He appeared in cities throughout the world and attracted a large and diverse audience. As a result, he amassed a fortune, which he invested shrewdly, but also spent lavishly on houses and works of art.

One of Nureyev's great contributions to ballet had to do with his sexual openness. Completely comfortable with his own sexuality, Nureyev expended no effort in presenting a heterosexual image on stage or off. Hence, he was able to concentrate on expressing music and choreography as it seemed appropriate to him. His openness helped liberate other male dancers from the obsession with maintaining a heterosexual image.

Nureyev's sex life was as legendary--and frenetic--as his dancing. His sexual partners ranged from hustlers to the rich and famous. The large size of his penis was not only the subject of gossip, but it was also confirmed by photographs taken by Richard Avedon.

Nureyev's most intense affair was with the Danish dancer Erik Bruhn (1928-1986). Bruhn possessed an elegant, refined, classical style, quite different from Nureyev's feral qualities. Yet in 1961 Nureyev felt that Bruhn was the only living dancer who had anything to teach him.

He sought out the older dancer and fell in love with him. Although the dour Bruhn responded physically to Nureyev, the intense and turbulent relationship that ensued was not a happy one, perhaps because Bruhn suffered from professional jealousy and anxiety. As Nureyev's star rose, Bruhn became reclusive and alcoholic.

The dancers' physical relationship ended in the mid-1960s, but Nureyev never ceased loving Bruhn.

Nureyev also had a long-term relationship with director and archivist Wallace Potts in the 1970s. In 1978, Nureyev was briefly infatuated with a young dancer, Robert Tracy. Tracy moved into Nureyev's New York apartment, where he stayed until evicted thirteen years later, treated, as he said, "like a lackey."

Nureyev and Tracy were both diagnosed with the AIDS virus in 1983. When he learned that the dancer had left him nothing in his will, Tracy filed a palimony suit against Nureyev's estate and received a settlement of about $600,000.

Nureyev died in Paris of AIDS-related complications on January 6, 1993. He left the bulk of his fortune to establish foundations to promote dance and medical research.

The greatest dancer of his time, Nureyev thrilled millions of people with his artistry. He also gave the world a new and glamorous image of a sexually active gay man.

Douglas Blair Turnbaugh

Vaslav Nijinsky (1889-1950)
Nijinsky, Vaslav (1889-1950)

Vaslav Nijinsky (1889-1950) was one of the greatest dancers and most innovative choreographers in the history of ballet.

Vaslav Nijinsky with his daughter in 1916.

One of the greatest dancers in the history of ballet, Vaslav Fomich Nijinsky almost single-handedly reasserted the primacy of male dancers in ballet after a long period of decline. A radically innovative choreographer, the full extent of whose genius is only now being recognized, he embodied the sensuality and sexual ambiguity associated with the distinctive new art of the twentieth-century.

Nijinsky was born on March 12, 1888 in the Russian city of Kiev, the son of Polish dancers who toured Russia as guest artists. He had already performed on stage with his parents when, at the age of ten, he was admitted to the St. Petersburg Imperial School of Ballet. There, as a ward of the Tsar, he also received an excellent academic education.

Sexually precocious, he was reprimanded for masturbating, thus presaging his amazing autoerotic performance on stage in his ballet L'Après-midi d'un faune (1912).

Nijinsky was a brilliant ballet student; and in 1907, after his graduation, he joined the Imperial ballet as a soloist, a rare achievement. He also fell in love with Prince Pavel Dimitrievitch Lvov, a wealthy nobleman in his early forties and himself an athlete.

The prince provided Nijinsky with an apartment, a splendid wardrobe, and a magnificent diamond ring; and he also assisted Nijinsky's mother, who had been living in marginal poverty.

When the Prince cooled toward him, Nijinsky had a brief liaison with another nobleman, Count Tishkievitch, but, he wrote, "I loved the prince, not the count."

Nijinsky then met his match in the dynamic, thirty-five-year-old Sergei Diaghilev and joined the ballet company Diaghilev was preparing to take to Paris in 1909, the Ballets Russes. Nijinsky was the star attraction of their sensational success and was soon dubbed Le Dieu de la Danse.

Nijinsky and Diaghilev became lovers, and Diaghilev used all his resources to create ballets designed to highlight Nijinsky's phenomenal artistry and sexual magnetism. For example, his roles as the Golden Slave in Scheherazade (1910) and as the androgynous scent of the rose in Le Spectre de la rose (1911) display the dancer's talent and charisma.

Diaghilev also encouraged Nijinsky to choreograph ballets, giving him the finest dancers to work with and unprecedented amounts of rehearsal time. The four ballets that Nijinsky created, L'Après-midi d'un faune (1912), Le Sacre du printemps (1913), Jeux (1913), and Till Eulenspiegel (1916), were box-office failures but they are now considered, by virtue of their technical innovations, to be the foundation of modern dance.

Nijinsky's ballets and the roles he danced are especially notable for their exploration of sexuality. Indeed, they were as scandalous for their sexual themes as for their radical balletic experimentations. Voyeurism, sexual primitivism, bisexuality, autoeroticism, and sexual ambiguity are all features of his work. Moreover, Nijinsky's own sexual charisma, and poetic acting, contributed powerfully to the erotic resonances of his performances.

In 1913, while on a tour to South America, Nijinsky impulsively married a young Hungarian woman, Romola Pulsky, who had pursued him throughout Europe. The marriage ended his relationship with Diaghilev, who was outraged by the betrayal.

At that time, there were no companies remotely comparable to Diaghilev's, so the split with his former lover left the dancer, soon encumbered by a child as well as a wife, with no way to pursue his career. The stress was intensified by the outbreak of World War I, which found him in Budapest. As a Russian citizen in Hungary, and therefore an enemy alien and prisoner of war, Nijinsky was unable to dance at all.

Despite the war, Diaghilev arranged a tour of the Ballets Russes to the United States. He was also able to effect Nijinsky's release from Hungary to rejoin the company. Diaghilev met the dancer, his wife and baby daughter upon their arrival in New York City.

The two men kissed and Nijinsky thrust his baby daughter into Diaghilev's arms, an action that infuriated his wife, who proceeded to make life unbearable for both men. As a result, Diaghilev returned to Europe, leaving the company to struggle across North America under Nijinsky's reluctant and inept management.

Later in Spain, Diaghilev again invited Nijinsky to rejoin the company, but again Romola thwarted any reconciliation. The strain on Nijinsky was intense. His career in ruins, he recognized that his marriage had been a grave error. He was also depressed by the war and began to sympathize with revolutionaries in their loathing of materialism.

Nijinsky may at this time have receded into delusion. Romola committed him to a mental institution, where drugs and experimental shock treatments (perhaps administered in an attempt to "cure" his homosexuality as well as his depression) effectively destroyed him.

He lived, like a melancholy ghost, shuttled between private homes and institutions, until April 8, 1950, when he died of renal failure in London.

Douglas Blair Turnbaugh

Molina, Miguel de (1908-1993)
Molina, Miguel de (1908-1993)

Miguel de Molina (1908-1993) reinvented the Spanish flamenco performance, but his career was plagued by hostility toward his open gayness.


Miguel de Molina rose from poverty to become one of his country's most celebrated flamenco singers. His wildly popular performances reinvented a dance and music tradition that had grown stale for lack of innovation and originality. Despite his success, however, Molina's open gayness and gender-bending stage persona provoked hostile reactions that plagued his career.

The naturally effeminate Molina was forced from the stage on numerous occasions and eventually found himself expelled from two countries. Yet, despite this homophobic persecution, Molina never retreated into the closet and refused to alter his feminine stage persona.

Molina's life was as melodramatic as his music. Born Miguel Frías in a small Spanish town near Málaga in 1908, he came from a background of dire poverty.

Expelled from school when a vengeful and sexually abusive priest accused him of "unnatural acts" with other boys, little Miguel ran away to Algeciras where he found employment cleaning a brothel. Because he was only thirteen at the time, the prostitutes cared for him as mothers and even arranged for a school teacher client to tutor him.

Moving on at the age of seventeen, Molina found employment on the ship of a Moroccan prince, serving in what was essentially the prince's male harem. The prince soon fell out of political favor, however, and Molina returned to Spain where he began organizing Tablas Flamencas, or flamenco parties, for Granada's Gypsies.

This experience constituted Molina's first full exposure to a musical and dance tradition he already loved. By 1930, Molina arrived in Madrid where he made increasingly good money organizing Tablas in the capital. One year later, he decided the time had come for him to take to the stage rather than to manage it. He appeared in a production of Manuel de Falla's ballet El amor brujo, but soon developed his own act, which combined flamenco and cabaret.

Molina's notion was to reinvent flamenco performance by feminizing the usual macho role taken by men. He sewed enormous two-meter-long sleeves, which he called blouses, onto the traditional costume and even sang the type of coplas, or popular songs, normally reserved for women.

Although he danced with a female colleague, he nonetheless acquired the name "La Miguela" and immediately met with enormous success. In 1933, he gave himself the name "de Molina."

With the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, Molina fled to Valencia and from there entertained Republican troops. Because he and his dance partner Amalia Isaura became near mascots for the Levantine Republicans, both found themselves vulnerable after the Fascist victory in 1939.

Initially, a promoter closely connected to Franco's regime contracted them to tour the country. This arrangement protected the dancers from retribution, but in return they were paid a pitiful wage despite their popularity.

Tired of his status as war booty, Molina decided not to renew this contract once it expired in 1942. Soon thereafter, government thugs kidnapped him from the theater where he was then performing and tortured him, pulling his hair out and beating him with their guns.

Molina survived this abuse but then suffered sequestration in remote Spanish towns. Unofficially banned from employment in Spain, Molina finally fled to Argentina where he again met with great success. One year later, however, the machinations of Franco's government forced his expulsion from Argentina. Molina once again found himself in Spain without work.

In 1946, Molina fled to Mexico and soon thereafter settled in Buenos Aires, allegedly under the personal protection of Argentina's most powerful woman, Eva Perón. His customary success soon followed. Although he claimed not to have been political, his identification with Perónism caused many Argentinians to despise him. In 1960, he withdrew from the entertainment world with some bitterness.

By the time he died in 1993, Molina had regained some of the esteem in which he had been held earlier, especially in Spain. He had, after all, produced numerous theater reviews, starred in many films, and established two significant signature songs that most Spaniards know by heart, "Ojos Verdes" (Green Eyes) and "La bien Pagá" (The Woman Well Paid).

According to Molina's not always reliable autobiography, the persecution he experienced at the hands of the Franco government had less to do with hostility from Franco's officials (with whom he enjoyed great popularity) than with the hatred and jealousy of a self-loathing, closeted gay functionary serving under the powerful minister of foreign affairs. Molina concluded that his nemesis begrudged him his openly gay, yet professionally successful life.

Serving Molina best through these tremendous setbacks was his unceasing creativity. By reinventing the role of the male flamenco dancer, feminizing his appearance and sound without rendering either "mannered," Molina attracted audiences well beyond the genre's traditionalists. Clothed in what seemed inverted dresses and singing songs normally reserved for women, he attracted even the roughest of soldiers to his flashy stage and movie persona.

Unfortunately, Molina never returned to live in Spain even after its transition to democracy.

Andres Mario Zervigon

Robert Joffrey (1928-1988)

Robert Joffrey (1928-1988) created a major dance company and promoted gender parity in ballet.


The great contributions of Robert Joffrey to American dance are his creation of a major dance company and his distinguished work as teacher and trainer of dancers. Dedicated to gender parity in ballet, he helped elevate the status of the male dancer, making male virtuosity a priority in his repertoire and in his classroom.

Joffrey was born Anver Bey Abdullah Jaffa Khan Joffrey on December 24, 1928 in Seattle, the only child of a loveless marriage between a Pakhtun Afghani father and an Italian mother. His parents owned a restaurant.

As a small, sickly child, with bowed legs and turned in feet, Joffrey had to wear casts on his feet and began studying ballet to strengthen his frame. Fortunately, Seattle was blessed with exceptional ballet teachers. He was introduced to the grand tradition of the Ballets Russes by Ivan Novikoff. Later, he studied with Mary Ann Well, famous for producing professional dancers of note.

When he was sixteen, Joffrey met twenty-two-year-old Gerald Arpino, then serving in the Coast Guard. "It was love at first sight," Aprino later recalled.

They became lovers. Arpino moved into the Joffrey family home. Soon the young men became artistic collaborators as well when Arpino began studying ballet with Novikoff.

Although their sexual intimacy ended soon after 1949, Joffrey and Arpino shared a domestic relationship for forty-three years, one that ended only upon Joffrey's death.

Joffrey later studied at the High School of Performing Arts in New York, and in 1949 and 1950 he danced with Roland Petit's Ballets de Paris. But at 5 feet 4 inches tall, Joffrey realized that his height limited his potential for a career as a dancer. He began to think of choreography and teaching as ways to contribute to dance.

Joffrey began to choreograph his own ballets. He scored an early success with Persephone (1952). He also staged dances for musicals, operas, and London's Ballet Rambert.

In 1954 Joffrey formed his own small ensemble troupe, dedicated to presenting work by himself and Arpino. This ensemble gradually grew into a major national company that revolutionized American dance history.

Based in New York City, the Joffrey Ballet distinguished itself in a number of ways. It commissioned the work of modern choreographers (for example, Twyla Tharp's Deuce Coupe in 1973), and it revived great ballets of the international repertoire that were neglected by other American companies (for example, work by Tudor, Massine, Nijinsky, and Nijinska, as well as ten ballets by Frederick Ashton and evenings devoted to Diaghilev masterpieces).

Other milestones in the history of the company include Joffrey's multi-media psychedelic ballet Astarte (music by Crome Syrcus, 1967) and Arpino's rock ballet Trinity (1970).

Joffrey was an unusually gifted teacher. From the beginning, his school, the American Ballet Center, trained many important dancers. Joffrey dancers became known for their youthful sexual vitality and brilliant physical technique.

Joffrey's emphasis on male virtuousity was an attempt to redress the gender imbalance that had developed in ballet, in part as a result of Balanchine's famous dictum that "Ballet is woman." Joffrey's commitment to improving the status of male dancers influenced both his teaching and his and Arpino's choreography.

The Joffrey Ballet Company became popular throughout the United States and abroad. Sometimes criticized for its commercialism, the company made ballet accessible to a large and diverse audience, including people who were not already devotees of the form.

The Joffrey's repertoire contained no overt homosexuality, but there was a great deal of covert homoeroticism as a retinue of gorgeous, bare-chested, late adolescent dancers unfailingly delighted the gay male audience.

Although Arpino has repeatedly denied the presence of homoeroticism in his work, his 1966 all-male ballet, Olympics, a tribute to athletics, featured a suggestive pas de deux.

During one curious phase, the men's costumes featured a distracting athletic cup, shaped rather like half a large grapefruit. The cup effectively covered the natural shape of the genitals--previously clearly seen, especially under white or light colored tights--but gave the impression of a giant tumor.

Joffrey produced less choreography as he devoted himself to shaping his company. Arpino became the house choreographer, while Joffrey synthesized his own creative aesthetic with the Diaghilev legacy of nurturing the talents of others.

Joffrey was sexually promiscuous but discreet. His pattern was to have Arpino at home for domestic stability, one principal romantic attachment, and numerous one-night stands.

In 1973, Joffrey fell in love with A. Aladar Marberger, a twenty-six-year-old gay activist and manager of the Fischbach Gallery in Manhattan. In the 1980s both men contracted AIDS.

While Marberger was outspoken about his illness, Joffrey remained silent. He was ashamed and wanted his obituary to say that he died of liver disease and asthma. Arpino agreed to his pleas, but the secret could not be maintained as AIDS took a staggering toll on the dance world in general and on Joffrey's company in particular.

Robert Joffrey died on March 25, 1988. Aladar Marberger died on November 1, 1988.

The Joffrey Ballet, now based in Chicago, survives under the direction of Gerald Arpino.

Douglas Blair Turnbaugh

Isadora Duncan (1878-1927)

Isadora Duncan (1878-1927), the mother of modern dance, brought her feminist consciousness to the stage. In her bohemian private life, she constantly challenged society's rules.


Free thinking, free spirited, free moving Isadora Duncan brought her bohemian feminist consciousness to the dance stage and changed the art of dance forever. Although some critics ridiculed her flowing, expressive movements and her leftist politics, Duncan brought flexibility and self-expression to the hidebound world of classical dance.

Duncan is known as the "mother of modern dance," but even ballet was influenced by the radical élan of her ideas. In many ways her life was tragic, but she left behind, not a sense of despair and loss, but the dynamic imagination of a true original.

Duncan was the child of the radically transformative era at the end of the nineteenth century. Born to freethinking parents in San Francisco on May 26, 1877, she was mostly raised by her mother, a lover of music, literature, and the arts. Her mother earned money teaching piano lessons, and it was not long before Isadora, who learned to dance following the movements of the waves on the beaches near her home, was earning extra cash too, teaching dance to younger children in the neighborhood.

Duncan's influences were the movements she found in nature and the passion of classical Greek drama. She hated the rigid structures of ballet. She determined to create not only a new form of dance, but also a new outlook on dance, where expressive movement would be an integral part of every child's education, along with the usual academic subjects.

When Duncan was a teenager, she and her mother traveled to Chicago and New York, where she performed in theaters and vaudeville houses to less than enthusiastic audiences. It was not until 1900 when she went to Europe that she began to be taken seriously as a dancer. Although she began by performing at private parties, soon she was touring the major stages of Europe, galvanizing audiences with her "modern" dance.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, ballet had become a voyeuristic art, appealing largely to men who attended to watch women performing in skimpy (for the day) tutus. Isadora Duncan introduced the solo performance to dance audiences. Decrying restrictive women's clothing, she shed her corset and petticoats and danced barefoot in simple, flowing, Grecian-style tunics adorned with long, colorful scarves. Her dances concerned such subjects as motherhood, love, and grief, and her audiences were filled with women.

Almost as titillating as her radical approach to dance was Duncan's bohemian personal life. She was an outspoken socialist and advocate of women's rights who constantly challenged society's rules. Claiming she did not believe in marriage or monogamy, she had two children with two of her many male lovers. (Both children were drowned in an accident in 1913.)

She also attended Natalie Barney's Paris salons and had female lovers, among them writer Mercedes de Acosta, about whom she wrote, "My kisses like a swarm of bees / Would find their way between thy knees / And suck the honey from thy lips / Embracing thy too slender hips."

Duncan achieved her dream of creating a new, well-rounded form of education. She established schools of the Duncan method in Berlin, Paris, London, and Moscow. But her life was tragically cut short, when, at the age of 49, one of her flamboyant long scarves caught in the wheel of the sports car she was driving and strangled her.

Tina Gianoulis

Erik Bruhn (1928-1986)
Bruhn, Erik (1928-1986)

Erik Bruhn (1928-1986) was the premier male dancer of the 1950s and epitomized the handsome prince and cavalier on the international ballet stage of the decade.

Erik Bruhn (second from left) visiting backstage at the New York City Ballet. The group included (left to right) Diana Adams, Bruhn, Violette Verdy, Sonia Arova, and Rudolph Nureyev.

Erik Bruhn was the premier male dancer of the 1950s and epitomized the ethereally handsome prince and cavalier on the international ballet stage of the decade. Combining flawless technique with an understanding of modern conflicted psychology, he set the standard by which the next generation of dancers, including Rudolf Nureyev, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Peter Schaufuss, and Peter Martins, measured their success.

Born on October 3, 1928 in Copenhagen, Bruhn was the fourth child of Ellen Evers Bruhn, the owner of a successful hair salon. After the departure of his father when Erik was five years old, he was the sole male in a household with six women, five of them his seniors.

An introspective child who was his mother's favorite, Erik was enrolled in dance classes at the age of six in part to counter signs of social withdrawal. He took to dance like a duck to water; three years later he auditioned for the Royal Danish Ballet School where he studied from 1937 to 1947.

With his classic Nordic good looks, agility, and musicality, Bruhn seemed made for the August Bournonville technique taught at the school. He worked obsessively to master the technique's purity of line, lightness of jump, and clean footwork.

Although Bruhn performed the works of the Royal Danish Ballet to perfection without any apparent effort, he yearned to reach beyond mere technique. In 1947, he accepted an invitation to perform with London's Metropolitan Ballet. This experience would be the first step in his lifelong quest for growth as a dancer.

For the next decade, his career would be divided between starring with the Royal Danish Ballet and dancing as a guest artist with such leading companies as American Ballet Theater, the Australian Ballet, and the Stuttgart Ballet.

On May 1, 1955, Bruhn partnered British ballerina Alicia Markova at the old Metropolitan Opera House in New York in his stunning debut as Albrecht in the Ballet Theater production of Giselle (1884, choreographed by Marius Petipa after Coralli and Perrot, with a score by Adolphe-Charles Adam).

A landmark ballet experience for audience members such as William Como of Dance Magazine and dance critic John Martin of The New York Times, this one performance elevated Bruhn to superstardom. From then on, he was the reigning prince in the world of ballet and was instrumental in changing the role of men in classical dance.

Bruhn's self-critical and brooding personality, however, kept him from enjoying his triumphs. Everyone may have loved him, but he loved no one--including himself. His reserve and tendency to over-analyze had been his burden and limitation as a child and shadowed his adulthood and maturity as well.

In May 1961, Bruhn was celebrated in a major article in Time and acclaimed for recent performances as different as Jean the Valet in Birgit Cullberg's Miss Julie (1950, with a score by Ture Rangström) and Don José in Roland Petit's Carmen (1949, with a score by Georges Bizet).

He also virtually owned the roles of Albrecht in Giselle, James in La Sylphide (1836, choreographed by August Bournonville, with a score by Herman Severin von Løvenskjold), and Prince Siegfried in Swan Lake (1895, choreographed by Lev Ivanov and Marius Petipa, with a score by Pyotr Ilich Tchaikovsky).

At age 32, Bruhn was at the peak of his career, yet he felt stalled personally and artistically. He was desperate for renewal of some kind. This renewal came in the form of Rudolf Nureyev, a twenty-three-year-old Russian, who on June 17, 1961 announced his presence on the international dance scene by defecting from the Soviet Union in a headline-grabbing leap to freedom in Paris. Nureyev, all ambition and animal charisma, had said that of all the dancers in the world only Bruhn had something to teach him.

In a few short weeks, Nureyev found his way to Copenhagen to learn whatever Bruhn could teach him; ironically, Maria Tallchief, with whom Bruhn had had a brief affair and dancing partnership, engineered the introduction that would bring her own claim on Bruhn to an abrupt end.

As fate would have it, Bruhn and Nureyev, as different as Apollo and Dionysus, were fiercely attracted to one another. Although neither had any previous serious romantic attachments to men (Bruhn had been engaged to Bulgarian ballerina Sonia Arova for about five years before his affair with Tallchief), they formed an intense, turbulent, and profoundly transformative relationship that Bruhn later referred to as "pure Strindberg."

Until their dying days, each regarded the other as the love of his life despite the collapse of the sexual dimensions of their relationship by the mid-1960s.

In 1963, Bruhn began to experience severe stomach pain that repeated medical examinations failed to explain. Attributing the problem to psychosomatic causes, he decided to retire in late 1971 to reduce the stress in his life. Even after retirement, however, the pains continued and grew so critical that in 1973 he underwent emergency surgery that revealed a perforated ulcer.

In 1974, restored to health at age 46, Bruhn returned to dancing, but not as a regal Prince. In a production of Giselle featuring ex-lover Nureyev in his former signature role of Albrecht, Bruhn scored an astounding success as Madge, the evil witch.

This triumph signaled the start of the second phase of Bruhn's dancing career. His versatility and acting skill enabled him to make a graceful transition from dancing Prince Ideal to performing vividly realized character parts such as Dr. Coppelius in Coppelia (1975, choreographed by Bruhn after the 1884 Petipa original, with a score by Leo Delibes), The Moor in The Moor's Pavane (1949, choreographed by José Limon, with a score by Henry Purcell), and the title role in Rasputin--The Holy Devil (1978, choreographed by James Clouser, with a score by St. Elmo's Fire Band).

The dancer's later triumphs brought renewed recognition of his uniqueness in ballet: his ability to combine flawless technique, intense character study, and total commitment to create stage performances that remained indelible to audiences.

Bruhn was appointed Artistic Director of the National Ballet of Canada in 1983, a position that he fulfilled admirably. By this time he had cemented a stable and fulfilling relationship with dancer and choreographer Constantin Patsalas, while Nureyev, his great but impossible love, remained a close friend.

Bruhn died of lung cancer in Toronto on April 1, 1986.

John McFarland

Maud Allan (1873-1956)
Allan, Maud (1873-1956)

Maud Allan (1873-1956) achieved fame as a "Salome Dancer," but she is best remembered for a libel suit she brought against a newspaper publisher for alleging that she was a lesbian.

In the early years of the twentieth century Maud Allan achieved worldwide renown as the "Salome Dancer" for her stunning performances of the best-known piece in her repertoire, The Vision of Salome. She is also remembered for a lawsuit that she brought against a newspaper publisher for alleging that she was a lesbian. Although it was Allan who charged libel, in court her opponent tried to put both her and Oscar Wilde's play Salome on trial.

Early Life and Education

Born Beulah Maud Durrant in 1873 in Toronto, Allan was the daughter of William Allan Durrant, a shoemaker, and Isa (also known as Isabella) Matilda Hutchinson Durrant. Three years later William Durrant moved to San Francisco, where he bounced from job to job, mainly in the shoe manufacturing industry. In 1879 Isabella Durrant followed with their two children, Maud and her brother William Henry Theodore (usually known as Theo).

As a youngster Allan excelled at arts and crafts--carving, clay modeling, sketching and sewing. She also showed talent for music and studied to be a concert pianist. It may be that the dream of a career for Allan on the concert stage was at least as much her mother's as her own, but the young woman showed sufficient promise that her teacher, Eugene Bonelli of the San Francisco Grand Academy of Music, advised her to go to Germany to complete her musical studies.

In February 1895 Allan set off for Berlin, where she was admitted to the Hochschule für Musik. Hardly had she begun her studies, however, when she received the shocking news that her brother had been arrested for murder.

In April the bodies of two young women were discovered in San Francisco's Emmanuel Baptist Church, where Theo Durrant was the assistant Sunday School superintendent. The grisly murders, which were compared to the crimes of Jack the Ripper, received sensational and sometimes speculative coverage in the California press. Over 3,600 potential jurors needed to be examined before twelve could be chosen to hear the case.

On November 1, the jury found Durrant guilty of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to be put to death on February 21, 1896, but appeals of the case caused the execution to be put off three times. Durrant was finally hanged for murder on January 7, 1898.

Throughout this entire period Maud Allan, at her brother's request, remained in Europe. The siblings, who had always been extremely close, kept in frequent contact by letter. Allan held out hope for a reprieve until the very end, and she never stopped asserting her belief in her brother's innocence.

With little money coming from her family in America, Allan needed to work while pursuing her studies. She sometimes gave English lessons but earned little in this way. She had greater success when she joined with several other people in a corset-making business. (Allan designed, sewed and even modeled the product.) On one occasion she put her drawing skills to use, illustrating a sex manual for women, Illustriertes Konversations-Lexikon der Frau (1900).

Dancing Career

Although Allan continued her piano studies as her mother wished, she had become intrigued with the idea of "dancing as an art of poetical and musical expression." A pivotal point in her career came when she met Belgian musician and critic Marcel Rémy, who encouraged her to explore and develop her thoughts on dance and who wrote the music for The Vision of Salome, the performance piece for which Allan would be famous.

Allan would always emphasize that she had never taken a dancing lesson and insist that her style of dancing was entirely her own creation. What rankled her especially was to be compared to Isadora Duncan, whom she strongly disliked. While Allan's claims were overstated, she did show great imagination and creativity. These, combined with her unconventional costumes (which she designed and sometimes sewed herself), lent originality to her art. Her musicality and natural grace allowed her to suit her movements to music most effectively. As one reviewer put it, "she simply alchemized a piece of music for you."

Although Allan's repertoire consisted of a wide variety of pieces including Mendelssohn's Spring Song, Schubert's Ave Maria, and Chopin's Marche funèbre, it was Rémy's The Vision of Salome that made her reputation and earned her the nickname "the Salome Dancer." Her interpretation of the piece was all the more powerful because Rémy had caused her to associate the execution of John the Baptist with that of her own brother, thus evoking an especially passionate performance of this work.

In 1908 Allan went to London and took the city by storm, giving more than 250 performances that year. As a result of her fame, she received the patronage of members of royalty, as well as Prime Minister Herbert Asquith and his wife Margot. Allan developed a close friendship with Margot Asquith, who for many years paid the rent for Allan's luxurious living quarters in the west wing of Holford House, a villa overlooking Regent's Park.

In 1910 Allan left Europe and toured extensively for several years, performing in America, Africa, Asia, and Australia. In 1915 she went to California to spend time with her parents. During that sojourn she played the title role in a silent film called The Rugmaker's Daughter. It featured excerpts of three of her dances, including The Vision of Salome. No copies of this film are known to survive.

"The Cult of the Clitoris" Libel Case

In 1916 Allan returned to England in hopes of reviving her faltering career. In 1918 she became involved in a bizarre court case in connection with her performance in a production of Oscar Wilde's Salome. The case was a tangled thicket of personal and political animosity, as well as homophobia , anti-Semitism, and war-time hysteria.

Allan sued for libel against an Independent Member of Parliament, Noel Pemberton Billing. In addition to his political career he ran a newspaper called the Imperialist, later renamed the Vigilante, which he used to promulgate his views that Germany was a thoroughly degenerate country owing to the power of Jews and homosexuals there and that German agents were attempting to weaken the moral fabric of Britain by luring its citizens into vice.

In the January 26, 1918 issue of the Imperialist, Billing claimed that the Germans had a "Black Book" containing the names of 47,000 British men and women who were vulnerable to blackmail or had betrayed state secrets because of their "sexual peculiarities." His source for this claim was Captain Harold Spencer, who had been invalided out of the British Army and British Secret Service for "delusional insanity."

Billing invited a lawsuit from Allan by printing an item in the February 16, 1918 issue of the Vigilante headlined "The Cult of the Clitoris." In the brief article he suggested that subscribers to Allan's upcoming private performance of Wilde's Salome were likely to be among the 47,000 listed in the "Black Book."

The use of the word clitoris was a calculated one by Billing and Spencer. The latter testified that, in the course of searching for a headline "that would only be understood by those whom it should be understood by," he had elicited the word from a village doctor, who had informed him that the clitoris was an "organ that, when unduly excited . . . possessed the most dreadful influence on any woman...." Allan's acknowledgment of knowing the word was presented as evidence of sexual perversion.

Billing further used innuendo by introducing the fact that Allan was the sister of a convicted murderer. His argument was that murder showed evidence of sadism (defined, in the testimony of Spencer, as "the lust for dead bodies"), which Billing alleged was hereditary. He discussed various perversions that he claimed to find in Wilde's Salome, implying that a performer willing to depict these might well have them herself. He also tried to insinuate that Allan had an unusually close friendship with Margot Asquith.

Another witness, Eileen Villiers-Stuart, who claimed to have seen the "Black Book," testified that the names of both Herbert and Margot Asquith were in it (along with that of Charles Darling, the judge presiding in the case).

On the final day of the trial, Billing suddenly claimed that he had never suggested that Allan was a lesbian, only that "she was pandering to those who practised unnatural vice by [her] performance."

Following long and rather confusing instructions from the judge, the jury deliberated for less than an hour and a half before returning a verdict in Billing's favor.

Later Years

After the trial Allan resumed her career, but her popularity soon waned.

For at least ten years, from the late 1920s to 1938, Allan shared the west wing of Holford House with Verna Aldrich, her secretary who became her lover.

Allan lived out her final years in California. A film loosely based on her life, Salome, Where She Danced, was directed by Charles Lamont and produced by Walter Wanger in 1951.

Allan died October 7, 1956 at the age of eighty-four.

Linda Rapp

Alvin Ailey (1931-1989)
Ailey, Alvin (1931-1989)

Alvin Ailey (1931-1989), an African-American dancer and choreographer, celebrated his heritage and translated his pain into art.

Alvin Ailey in 1955

As a dancer, Alvin Ailey was noted for his sexual charisma. Lena Horne famously described him as "like a young lion and yet like an earth man." But he achieved international acclaim as a choreographer. His company has performed before an estimated 15,000,000 people in 48 states and 45 countries.

Ailey was born on January 5, 1931 in direst poverty in the Brazos Valley of Texas. His father abandoned him and his mother three months later.

At various stages of his life Ailey had to contend with racism, homophobia , issues of political correctness, exploitative sexual partners, and venal management. In the face of all these obstacles, he triumphed as a creative genius. But homophobia, especially that of his mother, undermined his sense of worth as a man and helped make his personal life a tragedy.

When Ailey was a child, he moved with his mother to Los Angeles, where she secured work in an aircraft factory. School was a haven for him. He spent long hours in the library, reading and writing poetry. The large, solidly built boy who looked like fullback material managed to avoid contact sports--and avoid being stigmatized as a sissy--by taking up gymnastics.

At the age of 18, Ailey caught the eye of Lester Horton, a white dancer, teacher, and choreographer who had created in Los Angeles the first multi-racial dance company in the United States. With Horton, Ailey found an emotional home and quickly learned dance styles and techniques from classical ballet to Native American dance. He performed in Horton's company and found work in Hollywood films and eventually succeeded Horton as director upon the latter's death in 1953.

For the first two years that Ailey danced with the Lester Horton company, he kept his life in dance a secret from his mother. When she first came to his dressing room and saw him in stage makeup, she slapped his face.

Ailey moved to New York in 1954 to dance on Broadway. He appeared in House of Flowers (1954), with Harry Belafonte in Sing Man Sing (1956), and with Lena Horne in Jamaica (1957). He also studied with teachers such as Martha Graham, Hanya Holm, and Karel Shook, while beginning to choreograph pieces of his own.

In 1957, Ailey formed his own group, which presented its inaugural concert on March 30, 1958. Among the dances premiered in the inaugural concert was his Blues Suite, a work deriving from blues songs that expresses the pain and anger of African Americans. With its combination of ballet, modern dance, jazz and black dance techniques, plus flamboyant theatricality and intense emotional appeal, Blues Suite was an instant success and defined Ailey's particular genius.

In 1960, for his company's third season Ailey created his masterpiece, Revelations. Based on African-American spirituals and gospel music, it is perhaps the most popular ballet created in the twentieth century.

While Ailey continued to choreograph for his own company, he created dances for other companies as well. For example, in 1973 he created Ariadne for the Harkness Ballet, with Maria Tallchief in the title role; and in 1983 he devised Precipice for the Paris Opera.

Ailey was proud that his company was multi-racial. On the one hand, he wanted to give black dancers, who had often been discriminated against by other dance companies, an opportunity to dance; but he also wanted to transcend the "negritude" issue. His company employed dancers, composers, and choreographers of all hues based entirely on their artistic talent.

While Ailey was pleased that the State Department sponsored his company's first overseas tour in 1962, he suspected that the sponsors' motives were propagandistic rather than altruistic as they wanted to demonstrate that "a modern Negro dance group" could flourish in the United States.

Ailey was profoundly honored when the American Ballet Theater commissioned The River (1970), to music of Duke Ellington. He looked upon the commission as an opportunity to work with some of the best ballet dancers in the world, particularly with the great dramatic ballerina Sally Wilson. However, he was deeply disappointed when ABT insisted that the leading male role be danced by the only black man in the company, who was a conspicuously mediocre dancer.

Although his company was sometimes described as patriarchal, with male dancers the center of attention, Ailey was also known for fostering the careers of several important female dancers, most notably Judith Jameson, who debuted with the company in 1965 and who spoke of Ailey as a great teacher. One of Ailey's great successes was Cry (1971), which he dedicated to his mother and black women everywhere and which became a signature piece for Jameson.

Ailey was a loving man, who was adored by many devoted friends and who functioned as a father figure to his dancers. However, his personal and professional lives were dogged with problems. Abused by lovers, he seemed in later life to enjoy the company of street hustlers. Similarly, he entrusted management and money matters to people who victimized him.

The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre did not secure a permanent home and stable management until 1979, when the company and school moved into splendid facilities in the Broadway theater district of Manhattan. But by this time, Ailey had become erratic. He was addicted to cocaine, increasingly crippled by arthritis, and dependent on lithium.

Like many men of his generation, including Jerome Robbins, for example, Ailey was deeply ashamed of his homosexuality. For years, he refused to consider an autobiography because "my mother wouldn't like it." When he finally did collaborate on an autobiography, it was sexually sanitized, notwithstanding the fact that it was to be published posthumously. To spare his mother the social stigma of his death of AIDS in 1989, Ailey asked his doctor to announce that he had died of terminal blood dyscrasia.

Although the choreographer could sincerely dance "I've been 'buked and I've been scorned," he nevertheless managed to celebrate the beauty of his heritage and translate his pain into art. His ballets embody his aspirations for all-encompassing love and compassion. They still rock the soul of a worldwide audience.

Douglas Blair Turnbaugh


Artistic dance has proven to be a haven for glbtq people, who have made significant contributions in almost every area, including choreography, performance, and teaching.

While prostitution may be the oldest profession, dance is almost certainly the oldest art. Worshipping and attempting to communicate with the unknown also seem to have been around forever. Over the years, these primal forces--sex, art, and spirituality--have intersected and sometimes happily merged, as when ancient temple dancers fornicated with devotees, guiding them via religious ritual toward divine resurrection of the flesh, while simultaneously raising funds to repair the altar.

During France's glittering Belle Epoque at the end of the nineteenth century, the foyer de la danse at L'Opéra was an exclusive show room of danseuses available for hire. Similarly, troops of boy-dancer prostitutes were active in the Muslim world for centuries and as late as the 1960s. Even today, Japanese geishas may be considered among the most sophisticated of dancer-prostitutes.

The connection between sexuality and dance is apparent as well in contemporary venues such as discos and clubs, where music and recreational drugs animate dancers to lustful frenzy. Less obviously, even conventional theatrical dance strives to provide its more passive audiences a vicarious erotic encounter with exquisite nubile bodies.

In the twentieth century, artistic dance has proven to be a haven for glbtq people, who have made significant contributions in almost every area, including as choreographers, performers, and teachers. A number of gay choreographers have also included, with varying degrees of explicitness, homoerotic content in their dances.

Dance as Art

Dance is ephemeral. It generally leaves no artifacts for archaeologists. But it is clear that even pre-historic human beings danced from many of the same impulses and for similar ends that motivate human beings today: to release adrenalin, to celebrate or to mourn, to attract sexual partners, to express exuberance or despair, and to participate in religious rituals.

As a bonding agent, dance has been a factor in the creation of great civilizations as different as those of ancient Egypt and Greece and the Aztecs and the Incas. In contrast, Christianity, perhaps fearful of the sexual energy expressed in dance, excised it from its rituals.

Dance is at once a communal expression and a theatrical spectacle. The evolution of dance from communal ritual and individual self-expression to observed spectacle and choreographed movement is complex, but as dance developed into an art form requiring professional dancers who performed for spectators it became highly codified.

The rules that govern Indian dance, for example, were set out in the fifth century C.E. in the Natya Sastra of Bharata and the Abhinaya Darpana of Nandikesvara. The Western art of ballet was formally established in 1588, when a textbook of ballet steps was published by dancing master Thoinet Arbeau.

Ballet became Europe's international theatrical artistic dance, but by the late nineteenth century it had become a vitiated form of divertissement in opera, except in Russia. There, under the bountiful patronage of the Czars, ballet remained a vital cultural force.

In 1909, the nobleman Sergei Diaghilev brought a company of Russian dancers, with choreographers, artists, theatrical designers, and composers, from the Imperial Theaters to Paris. Soon thereafter he formed an international touring company, the Ballets Russes, which dramatically influenced all areas of art in the twentieth century.

The gay presence in classical ballet in the twentieth century has been remarkable. Ballet may even be said to be the first multinational "gay industry," encompassing patrons as well as choreographers, dancers, designers, composers, and audience.

Even a small list of the most important gay contributors to twentieth-century ballet would have to include the following names: Diaghilev and his dancer lovers Vaslav Nijinsky, Léonide Massine, Boris Kochno, Anton Dolin, and Serge Lifar; Frederic Franklin and Léonide Danielan of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo; Oliver Smith and Antony Tudor of Ballet Theatre; Edward M. M. Warburn and Lincoln Kirstein of the New York City Ballet, along with their coterie of gay artists such as Paul Cadmus and George Platt Lynes.

In addition, there are such figures as Marquis George de Cuevas and Roberto Ossorio, who supported their own ballet companies; Sir Frederick Ashton of the Royal Ballet; Maurice Béjart, choreographer of great homoerotic works such as Nijinsky: Clown of God (1971) and Song of a Wayfarer (1971), created for Paolo Bortoluzzi and the greatest and gayest superstar of them all, Rudolph Nureyev; Robert Joffrey and Gerald Arpino; Rudi Van Dantzig; Lar Lubovitch; David Bintley, who created the homoerotic Edward II (1995) for the Stuttgart Ballet; Matthew Bourne, who created a Swan Lake (1995) with all male swans; and sublime actor/dancer Erik Bruhn.

Modern Dance

If the Ballets Russes revitalized ballet as an artistic form early in the twentieth century, another important development in dance at the turn of the twentieth century was the emergence of "modern dance." Among the most influential pioneers of modern dance--a loose term basically meaning non-balletic artistic dance--were three American women, Ruth St. Denis, Isadora Duncan, and Martha Graham, as well as a German woman, Mary Wigman.

It was in the field of modern dance, pioneered by sexually uninhibited straight or bisexual women, who--like St. Denis, Duncan, and Graham--loved gay men, that gay creativity found its most accepting space. The fact that modern dance, unlike some other theatrical dance forms, was not "big business" allowed it to disregard many of the discriminatory practices of stage and screen, where "morals" clauses often caused performers, including dancers, to remain deeply closeted.

St. Denis, Shawn, and Mumaw

Ruth St. Denis (1879-1968), who had worked as an actress and dancer in commercial theater, experienced a revelation in 1904 when she saw an exotic poster advertising Egyptian cigarettes. The art nouveau poster combined the erotic and the exotic (features also exploited by the Ballets Russes), and St. Denis seized on these to create a vibrant stage persona and repertoire for herself and the immensely popular touring company she formed.

In 1914, St. Denis married a twenty-two-year-old gay man, the ambitious and sexually charismatic Ted Shawn (1891-1972), who became her dance partner. Shawn appeared at any opportunity in the scantiest of costumes. In 1915, they founded the Denishawn Dance School in Los Angeles, which became a significant artistic center from which many creative dancers emerged, most notably Martha Graham.

Burton Mumaw (b. 1912), a student of Shawn's, first danced with the Denishawn company in 1931. Mumaw and Shawn soon became lovers and life companions. Shawn separated from St. Denis in 1933 and formed his Company of Male Dancers. Mumaw and Shawn were the leading soloists of the new company.

The repertoire allowed for maximum display of flesh, as, for example, with Indian warrior dances, and the company sometimes performed in the nude. Shawn claimed that his intention was to re-establish in the minds of Americans the right of men to dance. It is hard to imagine that the audience did not see the Company of Male Dancers as a gay group. It was disbanded with the coming of World War II.

After the war, at his farm near Lee, Massachusetts, Shawn established the Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival. It became a dance center of international renown.

Isadora Duncan

Isadora Duncan (1877-1927) studied ballet as a child in San Francisco, and it was in rebellion against its strictures that she discovered her own form of moving to music, which she vaguely described as the expression of an inner urge or impulse. Her inspiration was the art of ancient Greece, which she claimed was antithetical to the decadence of the ballet.

Hence, she danced in loose "Greek" gowns, without a corset and without a body stocking, making her bouncing breasts a conspicuous feature of her performance. She also danced in bare feet, which caused great scandal at the time.

Duncan achieved tremendous success in Europe, but received a frigid reception in the United States, not least because of her scandalous private life and leftist political beliefs. Not only did she have children out of wedlock, but she was known for sexual affairs with both men and women.

She also avidly endorsed the Soviet Union and communism, and late in her life she married the young Russian gay poet, Sergei Esenin. Her death in a freak automobile accident--she was strangled when her long scarf became entangled in the spokes of a wheel--ended what had become in many ways a tragic life, especially after the loss of her children in a drowning accident.

Martha Graham

Martha Graham (1894-1991) may be described as the Shakespeare of dance. Like her predecessors, she found a way for herself to dance theatrically, but she went beyond them to create a new art form, a movement language with its own unique grammar and vocabulary, a language as formal and sophisticated as that of the classic ballet. Moreover, she created in that language choreographies that are now a major contribution to the world's cultural dance heritage.

Graham's technique is now integral to all theatrical dance and is also employed in contemporary ballet choreography. A student and member of the Denishawn company, Graham made her debut as a choreographer in 1926. She performed as a soloist and developed a company of women who were fiercely devoted to her.

The titles of her early works--Lamentation (1930) and Primitive Mysteries (1931), for example--reveal Freudian concerns. Letter to the World (1940), based on the life of Emily Dickinson, is often called the first modern dance ballet.

Graham was fearless in dealing with sexuality. Some of her greatest work, for example Clytemnestra (1958) and Phedra (1962), was inspired by Greek myth and drama, but it is most significant for its frank expression of women's lust for men. This primal subject found expression in Graham's own life when she fell in love with Erick Hawkins, an intellectual, bisexual dancer and sexual athlete famous for his stamina and for the size of his penis.

Graham and Hawkins were briefly married. Many members of her convent-like troupe of women were disgusted by the new dynamic in Graham's choreography, its adoration of male virility. When asked how she, among all choreographers of either sex, so well understood and appreciated the male sex, Graham replied, "Well, dear, I like men."

Theatrical Dance

The movie industry and stage musicals during the twentieth century utilized the talents of uncounted gay male and lesbian dancers and choreographers, but fear of homophobic reaction caused most of them to hide their sexuality. The two great dancing stars of the Hollywood musicals--Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly--were self-consciously heterosexual.

Astaire (1899-1987) was a most unlikely masculine icon, with his reed slim, white-tie-and-tails elegance and effete appearance; but his witty songs, wise-cracks, and nimble tap-dancing won the public. In collaboration with gay dance director Hermes Pan, Astaire created innovative choreography for the cinema.

Gene Kelly (1912-1996), a hoofer imported from Broadway almost as an antidote to Astaire, came to fame in the post-World War II years. Kelly had a short body and a limited dance vocabulary, but he compensated for these limitations by dancing with great physical vigor. His persona was the wise-cracking, blue-collar, all-American man.

His worst effort was when he unwisely attempted to show himself the equal of ballet dancers in the film Invitation to the Dance (1956). His greatest performance was his virtuoso solo in Singing in the Rain (1952). Some of Kelly's films are marred by an element of homophobia, an ingredient no doubt added to reassure the public that not all male dancers were queer.

Even though the term "chorus boy" (like "hair dresser") was almost synonymous with "gay male," the New York stage also attempted to deny or minimize the gay presence in its ranks. Such was also the case with the many television shows that employed their own companies of dancers during the heyday of the musical. Indeed, homophobia was often overtly expressed by dance professionals such as choreographers Agnes de Mille and Jerome Robbins, the latter himself bisexual.

Robbins was particularly unusual for his ability to shift gears from musical theater to concert dance and back again. Although he pursued sexual relationships with men and women alike, he was deeply closeted about his bisexuality, yet in The Goldberg Variations (1971), he choreographed a stunning male-male duet.

Among other gay and bisexual choreographers who have made original contributions to the dance element in Broadway musicals are Michael Bennett and Tommy Tune, both of whom were dancers and directors as well.

Limón, Hawkins, Nikolais, Louis

Many of the most significant dancers and choreographers of modern dance are aesthetic descendants of Martha Graham.

José Limón (1908-1972), for example, was a handsome Mexican-American with an heroic presence. He danced with great masculine force, but without macho brutality. He first danced with the Humphrey-Weidman Company, and then after serving in World War II formed his own company, for which he created his most famous ballet, The Moor's Pavane (1949), based on Shakespeare's Othello. The ballet is a masterpiece, whose theme is homosexual jealousy. Another work with deep moral sensibility and homoerotic subtext is The Traitor (1954), based on Judas's betrayal of Christ.

Erick Hawkins (1909-1994), Martha Graham's lover and catalyst, formed his own company after the end of his marriage to Graham, but he never escaped her shadow. He developed an abstract style influenced by Greek and Asian art. He created a repertoire in close collaboration with composer Lucia Dlugoszewski, whom he also married. However, despite his marriage, he continued an active, though discreet, gay sex-life until his death.

Alwin Nikolais (1910-1993) studied with Graham and Doris Humphrey, among others, and after service in World War II became director of the Henry Street Playhouse in Manhattan, a center for experimental theater where he developed his own company. At this time, Murray Louis (b. 1926), also just out of the service, became his student, his lover, his colleague, and life partner.

Nikolais's innovation was to choreograph movement for dancers who were encased in flexible costumes that completely obscured their human form. He was also a great lighting designer. Thus, Nikolais created the first truly "abstract" choreography, movement shaped with no connection to reality, which seemed to float in colored space.

Louis formed his own company and choreographed work noted for its comic timing and humorous style. Later the Louis and Nikolais companies merged. Murray Louis continues to create new work.

Cunningham, Taylor, Ailey, and Falco

Merce Cunningham (b. 1919) was a leading dancer for Martha Graham, for whom she created many roles, most notably the self-flagellating hero of El Penitente (1940). In 1942, Cunningham began an enduring relationship with composer John Cage (1912-1992), who began to write scores for Cunningham's ballets.

Forming his own company in 1953, Cunningham became a leading light in the avant-garde. Cunningham says that his choreography depends on neither music nor design for inspiration, but "on chance." Still, his later work appears tightly composed to music and uses many elements of classical ballet.

Paul Taylor (b. 1930), one of the giants of American dance, trained as a swimmer and so was in great shape when he came to New York in 1952 to study modern dance with Graham, Limón, Cunningham, and Humphrey, and ballet with Antony Tudor and Margaret Craske. Taylor first danced in Cunningham's company and then as a leading dancer in Graham's. He founded his own company in 1954, working closely with artist Robert Rauschenberg, who designed all of Taylor's ballets of the 1950s.

Taylor's work is quite varied, but always well calculated for the effects it would create. In an early piece, typical of the avant-garde of the era, Duet (1957), literally nothing happens. Taylor and his pianist did not move to Cage's "non-score." This nothing event, of course, gained him and his company much publicity and comment.

Although openly gay, Taylor evinces no particularly gay sensibility in his choreography. Indeed, at the opposite pole from Graham's, there is very little sexual passion in his work. Although he has explored psychological darkness, his work can be joyous and humorous. It sometimes expresses great tenderness for human frailty. Like Graham, Taylor reshaped the parameters of dance and attracted a new audience for a new art form.

Alvin Ailey (1931-1989) also studied with Martha Graham, among other teachers. After dancing on Broadway, Ailey formed his own company in 1957. Blues Suite (1958), one of his earliest works, defines the choreographer's particular genius. Deriving from blues songs and expressing the pain and anger of African Americans, the work combines ballet, modern dance, jazz and black dance techniques, plus flamboyant theatricality and intense emotional appeal. Ailey's masterpiece is Revelations (1960), which is based on African-American spirituals and gospel music. It may be the most popular ballet created in the twentieth century.

A student of Graham and a protégé of Limón, Louis Falco (1942-1993) danced with Limón's company. Ravishingly beautiful, with a great frizz of hair in the flower-child mode, he began to choreograph when he formed his own company in 1967. His early work was abstract, but he increasingly used decors and props designed by avant-garde artists. Eventually, he moved from modern dance to ballet, creating works for the Netherlands Dance Theatre, the Ballet Rambert, and La Scala Ballet. He was the choreographer for the film Fame (1980).

Contemporary Choreographers

A number of contemporary choreographers are openly gay and often quite explicit in their depiction of homoeroticism and in presenting homosexual themes. There are also a smaller number of lesbian choreographers, although they have not yet won the kind of national and international recognition that the gay male and bisexual choreographers have achieved. Among the rising stars in lesbian dance are such figures as Anne Blumenthal, Jill Togawa, and Krissy Keefer. Togawa is associated with the Purple Moon Dance Project and Keefer is artistic director of the Bay Area's Dance Brigade.

In the vanguard of openly gay male choreographers are Bill T. Jones, Mark Morris, Joe Goode, Stephen Petronio, and Peter Pucci, all of whom came to prominence in the 1980s and established their own companies.


Bill T. Jones, Mark Morris, and Joe Goode

African-American choreographer Bill T. Jones (b. 1952) discovered dance while on a sports scholarship at the State University of New York at Binghamton, where he met photographer Arnie Zane, who became his lover and collaborator. In 1973, they formed American Dance Asylum and then in 1982 the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company. Their first big success was Secret Pastures (1984), which featured settings by gay artist Keith Haring. Zane died of AIDS in 1988 and Jones is HIV-positive; hence, disease and aging (as well as homosexuality and racism) have been important themes in Jones' works.

Jones has become a dominant figure on the contemporary dance scene and continues to work with major collaborators. His compassionate ballet about terminal illness, Still/Here (1994), became the center of controversy when homophobic dance critic Arlene Croce branded it "victim art" without even having seen it. The controversy served only to bring the work greater attention.

Another important figure in contemporary dance is Mark Morris (b. 1956), whose works typically mix elements of Eastern and Western cultures and the traditional and the avant-garde. They are set to a wide range of musical styles, from classical baroque to rock, and frequently explore sexual ambiguities.

From 1988 to1991, Morris served as Director of Dance for the Belgian National Opera in Brussels. He brought European audiences dances with a distinctly American flair. In 2001, the Mark Morris Dance Center opened in Brooklyn, providing Morris and his company a permanent space in which to create, rehearse, and teach.

Joe Goode (b. 1951) often explores gay and gender issues in his work. Formed in 1986, the Joe Goode Performance Group quickly became a significant San Francisco cultural institution. Goode's work frequently challenges traditional assumptions about gender roles. Women often lift men and both sexes can appear strong and vulnerable. Goode also forthrightly approaches topics such as the plight of sex workers and the devastation wrought by AIDS.

Douglas Blair Turnbaugh


Ballet has an enduring connection with male homosexuality that may be related to the art's remarkably masculine provenance.

Men in tights on the football field battling each other with calculated brutality and jumping into each others' embrace with screams of orgiastic pleasure whenever a point is scored are presumed to be heterosexual models for American youth. On the other hand, men in tights on the stage romantically dancing with women, tenderly carrying them overhead in apparently effortless lifts, are presumed to be gay.

But the gauge for manliness has not always been brute force. In other times virility was idealized through grace achieved by control and refinement of physical strength. And by that measure, ballet dancers are virile indeed.

Although it has sometimes proved embarrassing to those who periodically attempt to construct a macho image for ballet dancers, the enduring and persistent connection between ballet and male homosexuality is undeniable. This connection is undoubtedly related to ballet's remarkably masculine provenance. Unlike dance in general, which early on celebrated the fecundity of the female, the ballet was initially designed to celebrate male power.

Origins and Early Development of Ballet

The first ballet star was Louis XIV of France (1638-1715), the sun king, who danced in extravagant fêtes with his court at Versailles. In 1661, Louis established the Académie Royale de la Danse, to teach his courtiers to dance, and to train ballet masters and choreographers, who then disseminated this form throughout Europe.

Until 1681, boys danced the female roles in professional ballets. Moreover, the physical technique unique to the ballet is directly based on the elegant but physically demanding martial art of fencing with the épée. An element of this discipline is grace under pressure. To show any sign of strain or physical effort would be beneath the dignity of a nobleman, as it is even today for a danseur noble.

Ballet's floor patterns were based on social dances of the French court, such as minuets and gavottes, while the dancers' movements were based on the very high style of the king's courtiers, who were accomplished swordsmen. Bows, flexibility of the wrists, épaulement (or carriage of the torso, in fencing a device to protect the chest from the opponent's épée) and "turn out" (or twisting the leg in the hip socket so that the foot is turned sideways, in fencing a device to improve balance), are examples of the martial arts techniques that became integral to ballet.

These basic techniques allowed for revolutionary developments later, as, for example, the addition of pirouettes and grand jetés, the multiple turns and big jumps always so appreciated by audiences.

By the 1720s, professional ballets were being given in opera houses all over Europe and women began to emerge as stars, notably Marie Camargo and her rival Marie Sallé. Their theatrical costumes became lighter than the heavy court costumes, and high-heeled shoes were supplanted by soft slippers, allowing freer movement. An undergarment, the forerunner of tights, became standard stage wear as skirts were shortened to expose the legs. Over time, skirts went as high as they could go, ultimately culminating in the tutu.

Jean-Georges Noverre (1727-1810), a celebrated French choreographer, advanced the art of ballet through his ideas for the ballet d'action, or ballet with a plot and with mythological, heroic, and pastoral themes. Masks were discarded and spoken words were dispensed with, leaving the story to be told through movement, mime, and facial expression.

Noverre visited England, where he was dubbed "the Shakespeare of the dance." He became ballet master at the court of the Duke of Wuertemberg in Stuttgart and later worked in Vienna with the composer Gluck to create Iphigenie en Tauris (1779), and with Mozart, who wrote "Les Petits Riens" (1778) for him. He also taught ballet to Marie Antoinette; and when she became Queen of France, he was appointed ballet master at the Paris Opera.

Men of the Vestris family were stars of the ballet stage for three generations, notably Gaetan (1729-1808), his son Auguste (1760-1842), and his son Armand (1787-1825). Auguste had great physical technique; the height of his jumps was tremendous and his entrechats and pirouettes exhibited new virtuousity.

Carlo Blasis (1803-1878), ballet master of Teatro alla Scala in Milan, invented the ballet position attitude, based on the statue of Mercury by Giovanni de Bologna. This statue is almost as famous in gay iconography as Michelangelo's David. Blasis also published the first textbook for ballet dancers and teachers.

All over Europe, ballet developed from court entertainments to professional theater. In Sweden, King Gustav III (1746-1792), who liked to appear on stage himself, engaged a French ballet master and dancer, Antoine Bournonville (1760-1843), and twenty-four dancers to found the Swedish Royal Ballet.

In Denmark, where court dance spectacles had flourished from the time of Frederick II (1559-1588), ballet was well established at the Royal Theater by 1771. August Bournonville (1806-1879), son of Antoine, administered Danish ballet for nearly fifty years and developed a distinctive technique that is still influential today.

Women became the dancing stars in the Romantic period. Ballerinas Maria Taglioni (1804-1884), Fanny Elssler (1810-1884), and Carlotta Grisi (1819-1899) became internationally famous. Elssler is also notable for introducing national folk dances into ballet choreography.

The Romantic motif was tragic love and emphasized the fragility and ethereal spirit of maidens. The introduction of the "toe shoe," which gave support to the foot and toes, allowed the dancer to rise onto the tips of her toes, which helped to create the illusion of defying gravity.

In this period, male dancers became mere porteurs, hoisting the ladies into the air to give them the appearance of weightlessness. The epitome of the ballets of this period is Giselle (1841). In Act 1, Giselle, a peasant girl, dies after being seduced and abandoned by a nobleman; and in Act 2, she is initiated by other victims of men into a conspicuously lesbian spirit world. Giselle remains the defining work for ballerinas today.

As the art of ballet in Western Europe declined in the second half of the nineteenth century, men disappeared from the stage altogether. Men's roles were danced en travesti by women. As several paintings by Degas illustrate, the opera houses' green rooms became a sexual market place where wealthy gentlemen could select physically fit mistresses.

Russian Ballet

In Russia, then practically unknown to the West, men dominated the ballet, which was supported by the court until the Revolution of 1917. In 1734, Empress Anna had engaged the Frenchman Jean Baptiste Landet to teach dancing to cadets at the Military School of Nobles and then to create a School of Ballet. Tsar Paul I (1754-1801) studied ballet and danced in the Court Theatre.

In 1801, Charles Louis Didelot, a Swede who had been a pupil of Auguste Vestris in Paris, became ballet master at the Imperial Theatre. He was succeeded by two influential Frenchmen, Jules Perrot and Arthur Saint-Léon.

Another Frenchman, Marius Petipa, arrived in Russia in 1847. A choreographer as well as ballet master, he ruled over the St. Petersburg Imperial Theatre until 1903. Petipa established the "classic ballet," which is based on the tradition and the rules of composition and technique developed during the preceding two centuries. Petipa believed in the primacy of choreography over all other theatrical elements. Among his greatest and still popular ballets are La Bayadère, The Sleeping Beauty, and Swan Lake.

Choreographer Michel Fokine (1880-1942) challenged Petipa's insistence on the primacy of choreography and revolutionized ballet with his organic fusion of dance, music, and painting. Serge Diaghilev invited him to create ballets for the proposed season of Russian ballet in Paris in 1909. This launched Fokine's career and gave the Ballets Russes its initial repertoire, including such works as Cléopâtre, Schéhérazade, and Petrouchka.

Performing in these sensational and erotically charged ballets was the great dancer Vaslav Nijinsky. He re-established the primacy of the male dancer on the European ballet stage. Himself an innovative choreographer, Nijinsky created a completely new language of movement, one which abandoned classic ballet's courtly graces for a more primal, on-the-earth effect, as in his L'Après-midi d'un Faune (1912) and Le Sacre du Printemps (1913).

Following in Diaghilev's footsteps, Rolf de Maré, a Swedish millionaire, created Les Ballets Suédois (1920-1925), to feature his lover, Jean Borlin as premier danseur and choreographer. Borlin created many ballets in collaboration with leading composers and artists of the Parisian avant-garde.

Among the ways in which Diaghilev's Ballets Russes revolutionized ballet is the space it carved out for gay men, both as members of a cosmopolitan audience and as artists whose work was welcomed. Attracting a large audience of gay men in European capitals and in America, the Ballets Russes may be said to be among the earliest gay-identified multinational enterprises.

In the Ballets Russes gay men, whatever their nationality, were highly visible and their influence extended outward from ballet into related art forms such as cinema, painting, music, and fashion.

Diaghilev's Ballets Russes was an unrivalled font of creativity. Many members of the company went on to teach and found ballet companies throughout the world. Choreographers Léonide Massine and Bronislava Nijinska worked internationally, while George Balanchine, Serge Lifar, and Ninette de Valois established ballet theaters in, respectively, the United States, France, and Great Britain.

During the Soviet period, ballet remained a popular form of entertainment, but socialist realism dictated the subject matter (with workers in love with their tractors, for example). Moreover, the Soviet bureaucrats held a prurient view of men in tights--for classical ballets, for the sake of modesty, men were required to wear a kind of bloomers. Male dancers literally lived in fear for their lives should they be accused of being gay.

Ballet in America

Ballet has always been popular in America, which has long been known as a place for dancers to make their fortunes. Elssler's visit in 1840 was extended from three months to two years. In 1916, Diaghilev and his company risked being torpedoed at sea to get to the United States during World War I, and then they toured by special train from coast to coast.

Immensely popular ballerina Anna Pavlova (1881-1931) toured the country for years with her own ballet company. Rudolph Nureyev, to many balletomanes a reincarnation of Nijinsky, became the God of Dance in America in the 1960s and 1970s. "I have danced in Champaign, Illinois,'' he told Dick Cavett.

Although there were many opera houses with corps de ballets, there were until relatively recently few independent ballet companies in the United States. A notable exception is the San Francisco Ballet, which was founded by William Christian in 1937. It presented the first full length Swan Lake to be produced in the United States.

A short lived independent company was Ballet Caravan, for which Lew Christian, brother of William, choreographed Filling Station (1938), one of the first ballets with a distinctly American scenario. Christian's collaborators on Filling Station were prominent in the gay artistic world of the time: Virgil Thomson (music), Lincoln Kirstein (scenario), and Paul Cadmus (costumes).

Cadmus' daring costume for the filling station attendant Mac's overalls used completely transparent material. In performance, of course, the dancer's genitals were covered by his bikini-like "dance belt," but the photographer George Platt Lynes somehow persuaded self-proclaimed heterosexual dancer Jacques d'Amboise to pose nude in this costume. The show-all photograph is now in the collection of the Kinsey Institute.

The first large-scale, major American ballet companies were the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo (1937-1962), American Ballet Theatre (1940-current), and the New York City Ballet (1948-current).

Originally formed in Monte Carlo after the death of Diaghilev and led by choreographer Léonide Massine, the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo became the national ballet company of the United States by virtue of its transcontinental tours from 1940 until its demise in 1962.

Financed with American money and directed by Serge Denham, a Russian banker, the company strove to continue the great tradition of the original Ballets Russes. One of its distinctions is that it commissioned many ballets by a dozen women choreographers, most notably Agnes de Mille's Rodeo (1942).

The American Ballet Theatre, an outgrowth of Diaghilev star Mikhail Mordkin's Ballet, came into being in 1940, under the patronage and direction of Lucia Chase, herself a dancer. Incorporating classics and new work, great dancers and choreographers collaborated in creating perhaps the richest and most varied repertoire of any ballet company in the world.

Significant among the choreographers associated with the American Ballet Theatre are Antony Tudor (1909-1987) and Jerome Robbins (1918-1998). Of particular intellectual disctinction is the work of English choreographer Tudor. Father of the psychological ballet, Tudor created dances concerned with the anguish of frustrated love, as for examples Lilac Garden (1936), Undertow (1945), Pillar of Fire (1942), and Romeo and Juliet (1943), to music of Frederick Delius, all featuring his lover, dancer Hugh Laing.

Jerome Robbins, the most famous American choreographer both in the ballet and on Broadway, was one of the most ferociously in-the-closet personalities in the dance world. Fearful of exposure if he failed to cooperate, he named many colleagues as Communist party members for the House Un-American Activities Committee.

Robbins' first ballet for American Ballet Theatre, Fancy Free (1944), about three sailor buddies on leave in New York City, is still an audience favorite. Created for New York City Ballet, his masterpieces Afternoon of a Faun (1953), an ode to narcissism, and The Cage (1951), a fable about woman destroying man, are rarely revived, but his more humorous and less provocative work is still in the repertoire.

Despite its precarious position as a touring company with no home theater, American Ballet Theatre has survived for more than sixty years and currently has an unrivalled complement of male superstars, including José Manuel Carreno, Angel Corella, Julio Bocca, Ethan Stiefel, Vladimir Malakhov, and Maxim Belotserkovsky.

The New York City Ballet was created by an odd couple, Lincoln Kirstein (1907-1996), a rich, sometimes closeted gay man, and George Balanchine (1904-1983), the much married, ostentatiously heterosexual choreographer. With a home theater provided by the City of New York and, later, a huge grant from the Ford Foundation, this alliance produced the most politically powerful ballet organization in the United States.

Balanchine, after his initial success with Diaghilev, was a failure in Europe, but he spectacularly revived his faltering career in New York City and came to dominate the ballet scene for nearly thirty years. Like Petipa, he believed in the primacy of choreography and insisted his ballets were "pure'" movement.

Dancers' individuality was suppressed as they were meant to be simply machine parts in the structure of his choreography. Despite this famous credo, his best known ballets remain Apollo (1928) and Prodigal Son (1929), both specifically tailored to highlight the special talents of Diaghilev's lover, Serge Lifar. Typical of Balanchine's celebrated "abstract" ballets are Theme and Variations (1947) and Agon (1957).

Along with Fokine, Balanchine is one of the few major twentieth-century choreographers who are recognizably heterosexual. Uninterested in choreographing for male dancers, Balanchine's fixation on the female is remarkably misogynistic, conspicuously in his requirement that the poitrines of his danseuses be flat as a boy's. This dictum has made the anorexic look de rigueur for his women dancers, which creates a weird stage picture in contrast with the pumped up bodies of today's male dancers.

Kirstein's preference for hunky, working class, "straight" men (as personified in Filling Station) and his abhorrence of "effeminacy" resulted, for many years, in his male dancers' faces looking like those of bloodless corpses on stage, as in their make-up they dared not put any color on their lips or cheeks. Formerly a leading dancer and currently the company director, the heterosexual Peter Martins is now choreographing ballets that more comfortably feature men and make them look good.

The Harkness Ballet (1964-1974) was founded by Rebekah Harkness (1915-1982). The remarkably gay-friendly Mrs. Harkness possessed such vast wealth that, in the manner of European sovereigns, she was the single patron of her company. A distinction of the Harkness Ballet was the excellence of the male dancers--and their often semi-nude costuming.

Most Harkness ballets were extremely sexy and many were suffused in homoeroticism , as, for example, the works of John Butler (1918-1993)--A Season in Hell, the story of Verlaine and Rimbaud, and Sebastian (1963) to music of Gian-Carlo Menotti. Also noteworthy are Monument for a Dead Boy (1966) by Rudi Van Dantzig (b. 1933) and Gemini (1972) by Vincente Nebrada (b. 1932).

The company mostly toured abroad, in the great theaters of Europe, to great acclaim, giving its dancers and choreographers a cosmopolitan experience unknown to their American colleagues.

The Joffrey Ballet, founded by Robert Joffrey (1930-1988), began as a small group touring in a station wagon. Support from Mrs. Harkness allowed it to grow into a major institution in American dance. It was famous for the youth and vivacity of its dancers.

Joffrey gave up his promising career as a choreographer--his ballet Astarte (1967) was the subject of a Time magazine cover story--to focus on building his company's repertoire, which featured the hyper-kinetic ballets of his lover, Gerald Arpino (b. 1928), as well as reconstructions of masterpieces.

Among Arpino's ballets are Viva Vivaldi! (1965) and Olympics (1966); reconstructions from the Diaghilev repertoire included Nijinsky's L'Après-midi d'un Faune and Le Sacre du Printemps. Since Joffrey' s death from AIDS in 1988, the company, directed by Arpino, has gone through several transformations and is now based in Chicago.

Other Major Choreographers

Other major choreographers whose work has enriched the art of twentieth-century ballet are Sir Frederick Ashton (1906-1988), Maurice Béjart (born ca 1924), and Rudi Van Dantzig.

Celebrated for his gay wit and high style, Ashton first scored with the 1926 ballet Tragedy of Fashion. A pioneer in establishing British ballet as a notably gay workplace, Ashton was a member of the gay coterie of the late Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, whom he taught to tango. His relationships with men were not secret, particularly with dancer Michael Somes, whom he featured in many ballets, but homoeroticism was not an element in his work.

Ashton personally identified himself with women and delighted in creating roles for women, especially for his favorite ballerina, Margot Fonteyn. A virtuoso of his craft, Ashton worked in a wide range of styles.

Among his works are Gertrude Stein's Four Saints in Three Acts (1933-1934); abstract ballets such as Monotones (1965); and full-length works such as Cinderella (1948), in which he created a delightful role for himself as the Elder Ugly Sister; and La Fille mal gardée (1960), perhaps the wittiest ballet ever created. He was a founder and chief choreographer of London's Royal Ballet.

French-born Maurice Béjart studied classical ballet but early in his career established an individual style, which, new at the time, combined classic dance with modern jazz, and acrobatics with musique concrète, as in his Symphonie pour un homme seul (1955). European based, his own company, under various names, became one of the world's foremost troupes, with continuous international tours.

Often infused with mysticism and ritual, as in his ballet Bolero (1960), or with sexual drama, as in Nijinsky: Clown of God (1971), Béjart's total spectacle ballets attracted huge new and young audiences that filled sports arenas, including New York's Madison Square Garden, as rock concerts do now.

Béjart created an autobiographical ballet in which he was featured as the Princess in The Sleeping Beauty. In this scenario, the evil fairy's curse on the baby Maurice was "You will be short."

Amsterdam-born choreographer Rudi Van Dantzig is a founder of the Dutch National Ballet and has created ballets for major companies throughout the world. He uses his personal experiences and feelings as a gay man as a source for his work, as in Monument for a Dead Boy and The Ropes of Time (1970). His autobiographical novel For a Lost Soldier, the story of a twelve-year-old Dutch boy's love affair with one of the Canadian soldiers who liberated his village from the Germans, was made into a major motion picture in 1994.


Today almost every major city in America has a ballet company in its cultural center. But although the ballet industry has always been a gay-friendly work place, currently "don't ask, don't tell" is the prudent policy.

As ballet companies are now big business, financed by sexophobic government agencies, conservative foundations, and cautious businesses, and with a concern for "family entertainment" (the annual Nutcracker for children is the greatest money-maker in the New York City Ballet repertoire), there is great emphasis on gymnastics, with an eye to breaking records in the manner of sports, at the expense of creative explorations of life and sexuality.

In the generally sterile atmosphere of institutionalized ballet today, a few joyous exceptions have been sighted, notably from England, such as Matthew Bourne's (b. 1960) fabulous Swan Lake (1996), in which the Prince is still in love with an enchanted swan--who happens to be a man--and David Bintley's (b. 1957) Edward II (1995) for the Birmingham Royal Ballet, an explicit account of Edward's passionate love for Piers Gaveston. These are evidence that the ballet can still be a medium for gay expression and provocative, thrilling theatre.

Douglas Blair Turnbaugh

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