Men of the dance

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Photo from Men in Motion

“Men in Motion: the Art and Passion of the Male Dancer,” photographed by Francois Rousseau

The cover of “Men in Motion”

The cover of “Men in Motion”

“Men in Motion” displays the lithe, muscled bodies of about 50 male dancers, demonstrating that they are as athletic as sports figures. There is not an ounce of body fat anywhere in this oversized volume, which includes 130 muted-color photographs of the dancers performing various movements.

Both ballet and modern dance require great control over the body. Dancers must stretch to assume and sustain difficult, often unnatural, positions. Their training doesn’t develop large muscles, but rather muscles that are instantly responsive to the dancer’s demands. A few of the photos, for example, show the pliancy of dancers’ feet, which have flexibility far beyond the normal range.

Perhaps half the men depicted in the book are nude, while most of the others wear dance belts. When the Dutch National Ballet toured several years ago with some nude dances, one critic remarked that they had not solved the “flop flop” problem. Dance belts do just that, while doing nothing to disguise the presence of genitals. Paradoxically, they seem to emphasize them.

The men in almost equal portion are black and white, drawn mostly from the Paris Opera, New York City Ballet, Alvin Alley American Dance Theater and the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane dance troupe. A smaller number are drawn from Broadway, hip hop and break dancing.

Although most of the men, as the title promises, are “in motion,” a few are sitting or just staring moodily at the camera. Advance publicity for the book included some excellent photos of men “in motion” that could have been used instead of these, which add nothing to the book.

Ballet has – and has always had – a strong erotic component. The Paris Opera, for example, long refused to perform any opera that did not contain a ballet episode, which allowed the female dancers to display themselves and then later mingle with the men in the audience to make “dates.” And so, to have their operas performed in Paris, composers like Wagner and Verdi composed music to go with largely unrelated ballet episodes inserted into their operas.

Nowadays, with more male-centered troupes, the erotic appeal of men’s bodies too can be openly acknowledged and welcomed.