La Trobe
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Dancing like a Man: Sexuality, Gender and the Body among Contemporary Male Dancers in Australia

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posted on 2023-01-19, 11:47 authored by Andrew Westle
Submission note: A thesis submitted in total fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy to the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, School of Psychology and Public Health, College of Science, Health and Engineering, La Trobe University, Victoria, Australia.

Research on men who dance has generally focused on the idea and experience of marginalisation. Such men and boys have been regarded as “gay” or not “real” men by virtue of their dancing. Rather than focusing on marginalisation, this study explores more diverse experiences of professional male dancers who work in three Australian contemporary dance companies, and the interconnection of gender, sexuality and dance. The institutional cultures and traditions in contemporary dance companies and the agency of these professional male dancers are examined, particularly in relation to gender (masculinity) and sexuality. The research examines the experiences of men participating in an activity beyond the commonly researched arenas in which men and masculinity are explored. The study seeks to capture the complex and nuanced ways that male dancers consider themselves as “men who dance” at a time of broad social shifts in gender expectations, which include increased acceptance of sexual diversity and non-homophobic models of “doing” masculinity. This qualitative study used ethnographic observations and interviews with 14 professional male dancers and nine key informants in three dance companies. Drawing on sociological ideas about gender, masculinity and the body, the study explores how male dancers negotiate dominant gender and sexuality discourses that have historically framed dance as problematic for men. Differences between the companies reveal that the dancers they employ must simultaneously manage professional expectations of themselves as male performers, as well as operationalise prevailing ideas of gender and sexuality as part of their daily work as dancers. Dance is a unique space where bodies, sex, sexuality and gender are less stable than other professional settings. Professional standards, company pressures, social expectations and the objectification of bodies contribute to the sexual and gender identities of these male dancers. Contemporary dance becomes a site in which masculinities are institutionally produced, enacted, performed and deployed. Male dancers also perform gender and sexuality in a very special way through the practice of dance as, and in, their daily work. These dancers are not simply dealing with gender and sexuality at an individual level or solely as a personal issue, but deal with these issues in groups, when interacting with colleagues and in the institutional cultures in which they worked. For male dancers, their masculinities are informed by both ideas and practices inherent in dance itself and their interaction with dominant assumptions about gender and sexuality.


Center or Department

College of Science, Health and Engineering. School of Psychology and Public Health. Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society.

Thesis type

  • Ph. D.

Awarding institution

La Trobe University

Year Awarded


Rights Statement

This thesis contains third party copyright material which has been reproduced here with permission. Any further use requires permission of the copyright owner. The thesis author retains all proprietary rights (such as copyright and patent rights) over all other content of this thesis, and has granted La Trobe University permission to reproduce and communicate this version of the thesis. The author has declared that any third party copyright material contained within the thesis made available here is reproduced and communicated with permission. If you believe that any material has been made available without permission of the copyright owner please contact us with the details.

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