Journal of the History of Sexuality 11.4 (2002) 667-670
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Dancing Desires: Choreographing Sexualities on and off the Stage. Edited by Jane C. Desmond. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2001. Pp. 360. $55.00 (cloth); $24.95 (paper).
Much of the intellectual joy of reading editor Jane Desmond's anthology is reveling in the authors' "commitment to historically informed theoretical excursions and to theoretically self-reflexive historical work," empowered by the legendary modern dance choreographer Martha Graham's admonition that "movement never lies" (14). By focusing on dance (social and concert dance), the sixteen authors included in this volume grapple with the human body as an "instrument of social signification" (14) whose movements articulate sexual and social meanings through dance (24). While most of the performers and choreographers analyzed in this volume lived lives framed by same-sex desire, discussions of queer spectatorship (the queer gaze) and queer theory are also included. This collection of essays is an invaluable contribution to the history of sexuality's kinesthetics.
Confining itself to twentieth-century dance, the first section of the book looks into the work and lives of such seminal figures in the concert-dance field as Loie Fuller, Vaslav Nijinsky, Ted Shawn, Merce Cunningham, Bill T. Jones, Paul Taylor, Mark Morris, Joe Goode, Michael Clark, Stephen Petronio, and Matthew Bourne. The second part of the book investigates social dance by examining laws that prohibited same-sex dancing, an autobiographical account of a lesbian go-go dancer, and musings on the "queer kinesthesia" author Jonathan Bollen observed at gay and lesbian parties in Australia.
Classical ballet has always been ruled by men, and despite a triumvirate of women acknowledged as the founders of modern dance (Ruth St. Denis, Loie Fuller, and Isadora Duncan), contemporary concert modern dance is also dominated by male choreographers. Indeed, one of the paradoxes that the book gleefully implodes is that on the one hand, "given the large percentage of gay males in the professional dance world (as dancers, choreographers, critics)," there is good reason to suggest that dance history "is a gay history" (25) but a history that has eliminated its gayness, even [End Page 667] though, as Susan Foster brilliantly observes, dance has enjoyed "one of the most remarkably open closets of any profession" (199). While a few dance writers have acknowledged the sexual dynamics on stage(like Marcia B. Siegel, who complained in the 1970s that "so much dance these days is primarily a homosexual pitch"), most of the writers of twentieth-century dance have obscured in print (or completely ignored) the same-sex erotics they witnessed on stage. 1
Desmond writes in her introduction that "I did not want this to be a book just about men, but as proposals came rolling in, female choreographers, dancers, and spectators were nearly invisible. In addition to forming at least half (and probably more) of the audience for theatrical dance, women predominate in performance and are, overall, more involved in social dance than men. So where were the women?" (17). Of the sixteen essays included in Dancing Desires, only two long essays focus on women (Julie Townsend on modern dance pioneer Loie Fuller and Anne Cvetkovich on lesbian go-go dancing), although three brief entries by Jane Feurer, Susan Manning, and Peggy Phelan discuss lesbian erotics and the "lesbian gaze." Phelan points out that the lack of analysis of women's work in dance and the paucity of queer theory applied to female spectatorship/participation is a result of the paucity of woman-oriented writers, not a deficit of dance material. She admonishes writers of the future to embrace this challenge and continue the dance on "the page of the stage" so that "an important chapter in queer culture [does not] go unrecorded" (420). While I applaud this plea, I am perplexed why Desmond was not more proactive in seeking a gender balance in this volume, especially by including discussions of such choreographers/performers as Maud Allen, Johanna Boyce, the Dance Brigade, Krissy Keefer, Amy Pivar, Yvonne Rainer, Judith Smith, and...