Masculinities in Motion: Investigating Males Dancers’ Power and Patriarchy

Presenter: Susan Gartell; MFA Candidate, University of Utah


Hegemonic masculinity, as theorized by R.W. Connell, proposes to explain how and why men maintain dominant social roles over women and other gender identities. In this paper, I apply Connell’s theory to the world of professional ballet companies, and argue that men who identify as gay, who are typically considered a subordinate group in theories of masculinity, occupy most of the dominant positions in companies, with access to opportunities and leadership roles rarely afforded to females. This inclusive appearance is merely an illusion, a performance of inclusive masculinity; while in practice, hegemonic masculinity is at work. My methodology is ethnographic and theoretical: by focusing on the firsthand experiences of three former professional dancers, Timothy O’Donnell, James Ady, and myself, I show that the replication of patriarchy through the practice of hegemonic masculinity is common to all our stories, regardless of our differences in age, gender, or geographical region. More specifically I focus on the transfer of power among men and assumptions about who has the capacity to lead, to coach, and to choreograph. My research brings attention to the importance of foregrounding integrity, not gender identity, in employment decisions, and challenges the pervasiveness of the heteronormative hierarchical model that places straight men in a dominant position and gay men as subordinate. Ultimately, my paper highlights the ubiquity of female subordination in professional ballet, and shows that the sexual preferences of men in ballet do not deter the pervasive and deleterious impact of patriarchal domination.  


Originally from Phoenix, Arizona, Susan Gartell enjoyed 16 years in the world of professional ballet, with 13 of those years spent at Milwaukee Ballet.  Her favorite roles included Ophelia in Stephen Mills’s production of Hamlet, Mina in Michael Pink’s Dracula, Wendy in Michael Pink’s Peter Pan, and Claudia, a role created for her in Michael Pink’s Mirror Mirror, and the Red Queen in Septime Webre’s Alice in Wonderland. In 2015, Susan was delighted to be invited to perform the role of Odette/Odile in Swan Lake as a guest artist with the Sacramento Ballet. As a dancer in Petr Zahradnicek’s award-winning choreography, she performed in Palm Desert at the McCallum Theatre for four years, and was a member of the Traverse City Dance Project for two years. She has also performed with Paradise Ballet Theatre in their production of The Nutcracker. In 2016, Susan graduated Summa Cum Laude from the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee with a degree in Political Science. She joined Wisconsin Conservation Voters, working to pass environmentally sound policy in Wisconsin before joining the graduate program at the University of Utah. Her research addresses the obstacles and barriers to inclusive cultures within professional ballet companies and offers ways to create more sustainable and supportive environments for female-identified dancers.