Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Faculty of Education


In this thesis I present the findings of an interview-based, qualitative study of male theatrical dancers. Specifically, my central research question asked: what resources are mobilised in constructing the subjectivities of male theatrical dancers? The primary means for addressing this question was a series of interviews with Australian men who are or have been employed as professional ballet or contemporary dancers. By way of background to these data, I considered the different ways in which male theatrical dancers have been discursively produced over the last 300 years or so in both scholarly and popular literature. In addition, 1 present a case study of Robert Helpmann, Australia's first international ballet star. By examining recorded interviews with Helpmann and the considerable newspaper, magazine and biographical literature which accompanied his life,I argue that existing discursive 'explanations' of the male dancer scarcely begin to reflect the complex interplay of aesthetics, gender and sexuality which seem to have constituted Helpmann the man and Helpmann the artist. This complexity is also a distinguishing feature of the analysis of the interview data that I present. In particular, I suggest that while there is clearly no male dancer 'type', the ways in which male dancers constitute themselves and the reasons they give for being dancers can be understood as part of what Foucault called the 'art of the self. That is, their subjectivities are constellations of particular discursive resources and bodily memories which come together to form context specific personal styles. However, these styles are not simply a matter of 'taste'; they reflect the dividends of social power which accrue to particular kinds of men within Australian society, as well as, in some cases, indicating sites of resistance towards dominant notions of masculinity.