Masculine Danseur?

Daumier DanseurEven before the French Revolution, there were concerns about the “manliness” of the ballet profession and these anxieties became more pronounced as the nineteenth century progressed. This often cited quote by Jules Janin (Garafola 1985), written in 1840, provides a clear idea of what was considered manly and what was not (and the male dancer was definitely not):

“… a man, a frightful man, as ugly as you and I, a wretched fellow who leaps about without knowing why, a creature specially made to carry a musket and a sword and to wear a uniform. That this fellow should dance as a woman does – impossible! That this bewhiskered individual who is a pillar of the community, an elector, a municipal councilor, a man whose business is to make and unmake laws, should come with a hat with a waving plume amorously caressing his cheek, a frightful danseuse of the male sex, come to pirouette in the best place while the pretty ballet girls stand respectfully at a distance – this is surely impossible and intolerable." (p. 37-38)

A lithograph by Honoré Daumier captures these sentiments in visual form, the “abnormality” of the danseur evoked by this figure’s awkward stance and scrawny physique. The ballet clearly was not the natural environment of a self-respecting “man.” The pomp and ceremony with which masculinity had displayed itself during the previous century was supplanted by the image of the modest, frugal and industriousself-made man in the nineteenth century (Kuchta 1996).