Dance and the Red and Lavender Scares

Anthony Shay

Of all of the topics about Igor Moiseyev that I’ve recently explored (Shay 2002, 2016, 2018), the era of the Cold War has been the most difficult, and in many ways most rewarding, to write. This is because I lived through the Cold War and experienced a childhood of diving under our school desks to protect ourselves from the immanent Soviet atomic bomb attack (as if); being a gay teen when my very existence was illegal; and life in young adulthood as a choreographer and dancer during which I endured frequent visits from the FBI inquiring why, as a supposedly loyal American, I was conducting research into the dances of the Soviet Union, Bulgaria, and Yugoslavia—and receiving books and letters from people thereas I looked for dances for my two dance companies, the Aman Folk Ensemble and the AVAZ International Dance Theatre, to perform.  Weren’t American folk dances good enough? (Well, actually, no.) So as a Citizen Dancer this was the beginning of a lifelong dilemma of protecting my freedom of choice and resisting persecutionthe right of an American and the very duty of a citizen. (D’Emilio 1998, Halberstam 1993, Morris 2006)

            My study of Igor Moiseyev (1906-2007), the artistic director, founder, and choreographer of the Moiseyev Dance Company (known in the former Soviet Union as the State Academic Ensemble of Folk Dances of the Peoples of the Soviet Union) came about because that work inspired my own career. The Moiseyev Dance Company made the first appearance of a Soviet dance company in the United States in 1958 as the opening act of the Cultural Cold War. (Chudnovski 1959, Kisselgoff 1991, 2007, Moiseyev 1996, 2016) The appearance of over one hundred fresh-faced, athletic young Slavic dancers completely destroyed the image of the evil Soviet Empire that the U.S. State Department, military complex, and Hollywood had wrought for the fifteen years following World War II. (Caute 2003, Hallinan 2013, Morris 2006, Prevots 1998) In a word, their dancing made America’s jaw drop. Americans had never seen such dancing. There was a media frenzy, in which television, newspaper, and magazine reporters breathlessly reported on the Moiseyev dancers’ impressions of America, from Disneyland to department stores, clothes to kitchen appliances.

I successfully—at least theoretically—located myself at various distances from the three lenses of spectacle, Russian nationalism, and the Cultural Cold War, that I chose for examining the creative works of Igor Moiseyev. While I created spectacle through some of my own choreographic works and frequently viewed spectacle in dance performances like those of the Moiseyev Dance Company, I was able to look at Russian nationalism through a long-distance lens that provides ample scholarly distance, because I do not hold strong nationalistic feelings toward the United States, especially in this dystopian period.

But the Cold War and its chilling effects touched me personally, as I am sure it did countless other Americans of my generation, on a number of levels. In my case it was as an artist and as a gay man, which always carried the threat of arrest for no reason. The first, as an artist, as I will later relate, was mildly amusing, especially in retrospect; but as to the latter, for a very young gay man the experience was so painful that I had not permitted myself to think for many years about the incident  that changed the direction of my life because it was so shattering and painful. It was buried like a festering splinter in my mind for many long decades and I still recall the loss, the pain, and the shame that caused me to bury the incident so deeply in my psyche to escape the wound it caused. Writing about the incident has brought some solace.

In the period of the 1950s and 1960s, if you were a person of color, a homosexual, or even of a liberal cast of mind, you were suspect of treason at worst or ignored at best. At a very early age I realized that being different meant you were outside of society. If you were different in any way, except perhaps in the San Francisco Bay Area and New York City, life was not that simple or bland. The period was rife with hysteria. “Cold War fears rose to the center of American society, politics and foreign policy in 1949 and early 1950, generating a Red scare that soured a little the otherwise optimistic, ‘can-do’ mood of American life until 1954”, the year that Joseph McCarthy overreached and was destroyed by his many enemies (Patterson 1996, 165).  In actuality, that period lasted longer and damaged those of us who were not rigidly conforming to the squeaky clean Disneyesque image of America.

The Lavender Scare: The War Against America’s Gay and Lesbian Community

In the United States during the Cold War, especially in the 1950s and 1960s, Communist = Gay; Gay = Traitor. This equation was documented by the speeches of politicians, and the tenor of the media during that period. (See Corber 1997; Cuordileone 2005; Johnson 2007; Morris 2006) Historian Robert J. Corber states,

The politicization of homosexuality was crucial to the consolidation of the Cold War consensus” (1997, 3). The reason for this was very simple: there simply were not enough committed communists to create a real threat to American security, and because McCarthy and others had created the Red Scare, they needed victims. This unleashed a war of terror against the gay and lesbian community into which the federal, state, and local governments poured millions of dollars to hunt down, shame, and arrest gay men and lesbians in response to the anxiety that was sparked by the recently released Kinsey Report on Men (1948) and the accompanying notion that gay men could pass as straight men and “infect” them. No longer were gay men a small cohort of limp-wristed, lisping, visually easily identifiable individuals, but instead they formed a secret cabal of men who could pass as heterosexual. I suggest that the hunt for political subversives became a war, instead, on the gay and lesbian community.
— (Corber 1993, 1997, 2003; Cuordileone 2005; D’Emilio 1998; Johnson 2007; Morris 2006)

In this way the United States did not differ from the Soviet Union, which ferociously punished homosexuals, as the Russian Federation does today. And among the most visible gay men were dancers. (Morris 2006)

In this both the Soviet and American medical establishments, even more than religion, aided and abetted the state in justifying its behavior. As novelist Steve Neil Johnson pointed out in his novel The Blue Parrot, set in Los Angeles in 1975:

. . . the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual cited homosexuality as a mental disorder. The listing had devastating consequences for the community. . . :forced commitment to mental hospitals. . . And that was not even considering the psychiatric profession’s nightmare history going back nearly a century of lobotomy, chemical and physical castration, electroshock treatment and aversion therapy. . . Gay activists had come to the conclusion that, even more that the church and the government, the mental health establishment’s homophobia was the chief obstacle to gaining equality. . .
— (2016, 131)

They were right. Through diligent protests and shock treatment of their own over the course of nearly two decades from the mid-1950ss to the 1979s, gay activists successfully forced the APA to revisit and rescind that definition, which became one of the most important victories in the Gay rights movement—although it is important to note that this issue has not gone away.  In 2018 Michael Pence still supports so-called “conversion” efforts that continue through various so-called American Family Values churches. (John Oliver. You Tube. Wednesday, March 28, 2018)

From the 1950s into the 1960s there existed a masculinity crisis that fueled a hatred of gay men, especially, and reinforced the link that had existed between homosexuality and effeminacy in the popular mind. Sociologist Michael Kimmel observes, “. . . being a man means ‘not being like women,’ This notion of anti-femininity lies at the heart of contemporary and historical conceptions of manhood, so that masculinity is defined more by what one is not rather than who one is” (1994, 126). It is this difficulty in defining and articulating what constitutes masculinity that creates the anxieties that define manhood, and the threat of its loss in different historical periods. (See also Shay 2014, 2018a) Kimmel concludes, “This, then, is the great secret of American manhood: We are afraid of other men. Homophobia is more than the irrational fear of gay men, more than the fear that we might be perceived as gay” (1994, 131). That deep-seated fear and anxiety means that many men constantly monitor their behavior so that they exhibit no feminine or effeminate behavioral traits.

The 1950s into the 1960s was a period in which manhood was perceived by many as under threat, yet another era of anxiety about masculinity: you were either, as historian K. A. Cuordileone notes, “hard” or “soft,” and if you were “hard” you were a true patriotic American man (for the American government, women hardly counted in the 1950s), and if you were “soft” you were a Commie or a Queer, and most likely both, since in the minds of probably the majority of the American population at that time, they were inextricably linked. (2005,vii) Masculinity anxieties fueled the attack on homosexuals, as “soft” and security risks. This was a theme that Joseph McCarthy constantly hurled at his victims in America’s own version of Soviet show trials, the House of Un-American Activities Committee. The sad fact is, “ . . . many Americans accepted without question the necessity of suspending traditional constitutional rights and safeguards in the war against Communism at home. Thus did America begin to resemble its enemy in the name of combating it” (Cuordileone 2005, xii). In HUAC hearings, America used Soviet-style show trials, vicious accusations, and humiliation to destroy those perceived as “soft” on Communism.

Further fueling the anxiety over masculinity was men’s new attachment to the home and domesticity. Historian Robert J. Corber states, 

I locate their work [Tennessee Williams, Gore Vidal, and James Baldwin] in the postwar crisis of masculinity precipitated by the emergence and consolidation of a Fordist organization of production and consumption. Cultural historians have shown that in the 1950s a model of masculinity that stressed domesticity and cooperation gradually became hegemonic. Men were no longer encouraged to show initiative or to exert their independence from the domestic sphere. Rather, they were to define themselves through their identities as consumers.
— (1997, 6)

This drive toward domesticity derived from the perception that women were to fault for creating a generation of “sissy boys” and queers. “Medical experts issued dire warnings about the potentially pernicious influence women exerted over the domestic sphere and urged men to counteract it” (ibid). Sociologist Michael Kimmel notes that in the 1950s society and government warned: “Strong mothers could be blamed for both gay sons and delinquent sons” (2006, 150). This was clearly an era in which Freud was taken entirely too seriously. A drumbeat arose after World War II: women were to be forced back to the home, but the father had to insure that boys were masculine.

“On October 16, 1964, a correspondent for the Times of London made the following observation about the intertwining of sexuality and nationalistic ideology in the United States: ‘In the post war political primer for beginners perversion is synonymous with treason. A surviving McCarthyism is that homosexuality and other sexual aberrations are both dangerous to the national security and rife in Washington’” (Edelman 1993, 553). This observation followed the arrest of President Johnson’s top advisor Walter Jenkins having sex with another man in a public restroom, through police spying. This top story raised enormous anxieties, and President Johnson in response declared that, “. . . he was a good family man. . .and that he was not ‘biologically’ a homosexual’” (1993, 554). Of course, Jenkins had been arrested for the same transgression five years early and this somehow escaped the attention of the news cycle. This anxiety of straight-appearing married men indulging in gay sex reminded the public of the Kinsey Report that indicated most gay men could pass as heterosexuals, which prompted Life Magazine to publish a pair of large articles on how to recognize and identify gay men (but not lesbians),.  Lee Edelman (1993) describes and analyzes it thus: “The prurience with which the accompanying photographs produce the spectacle of the gay male body for consumption by an audience presumed to be heterosexual finds its warrant in the editors’ claim that nine out of ten homosexuals are ‘nearly impossible to detect’” (1993, 556). This played into the anxieties of heterosexual men, many of whom think that gay men wish to engage in sex with them at all costs.

Within the United States, the domestic Cold War needed new victims. “. . . underlying the excesses and inanities of the anti-Communist imagination—of which the image of the subversive-as-homosexual was the most lurid—was an anxiety about troubling trends at home as well as abroad, not least among them sexual disorder” (Cuordileone 2005, xx Emphasis [in the original]). It was quickly realized that few communists actually existed in the American government, or even outside of it, as the demagogic Senator Joe McCarthy and the baying pitchfork carriers who followed him knew because their witch hunts turned up only a pittance of what they had hoped to find as they trumpeted that evil Communists were to be found everywhere, especially within the halls of government.  They soon turned on the gay and lesbian community as surrogate victims. “For months during the Senate committee investigation into McCarthy’s charges, a team of Republican leaders attempted to shift the focus from Communists to homosexuals, but such efforts are mostly overlooked in the extensive literature on McCarthy and his tactics “ (Johnson 2004, 4). Gay men and lesbians served as the new prey in the rapidly spreading witch hunts since they were widely perceived as “security risks,” as dangerous as actual communists, and they were accused of being communists. “And, they were hidden. After the publication of the Kinsey reports, homosexuals and lesbians were thought to threaten national security not only because they were emotionally unstable and susceptible to blackmail but also because they might convert heterosexuals to their ‘perverted’ practices by seducing them” (1993, 9). However, as David K. Johnson notes, “ . . . no gay American was ever blackmailed into revealing state secrets” (2004, 9-10).

During this domestic “war” senators, the FBI, and policemen pursued and destroyed thousands of lives.  And yet most historians have not commented on this aspect of the Cold War, focusing instead on communists. “In a time of postwar prosperity with a benignant grandfather [Dwight Eisenhower] in charge, the country acted like everything was jim-dandy. Never mind that there were witch-hunts afoot, treating many with the grace and generosity of the Reign of Terror” (Barrios 2003, 213). The gay and lesbian community were in for a bumpy ride.

Historian Charles Kaiser notes, “When World War II began, gay people in America had no legal rights, no organizations, a handful of private thinkers, and no public advocates. As recently as 1970, Joseph Epstein could write in Harper’s, ‘if I had the power to do so, I would wish homosexuality off the face of the earth’—and only gay activists thought that statement was outrageous” (2007, ix). John D’Emilio makes the point throughout his fine study, Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities (1998), that this adversity, soon to be augmented by anti-gay persecution of the early Cold War period, caused gay men and lesbians to organize and fight, and create communities and neighborhoods in many urban settings. Beginning with the first firings, the FBI leaking records, vice squad officers releasing records—all abetted by the media—attempted to drive gay citizens to the ground, expose them, have them fired, unleashing police departments to hound people in public spaces and even in their homes. (See D’Emilio 1998, 41-53, Kaiser 2007, Part II)

“By early 1950, the sexualized Cold War discourse linking subversion and perversion became much more than a rhetorical ploy. Gender and the politics of sexuality and ‘deviance’ were not peripheral issues; they were central to the operations of power within the state” (Dean 2001, 70). Gay men and lesbians received the official imprimatur of “national security risks.” “On the basis of testimony from psychiatrists and other medical ‘experts’ who testified that they were susceptible to blackmail by Soviet agents because they were emotionally unstable, homosexuals and lesbians were officially identified as national-security risks” (Corber 1993, 8). This permitted an already hostile society to further marginalize and hunt down and shame a despised group of human beings and deprive them of livelihoods, professional careers, and the peaceful pursuit of their lives. During that period many gay men that I knew were frightened that we would be rounded up and placed in concentration camps as the Japanese Americans were in World War II, as gay men were in Cuba.

Dance and the Red and Lavender Scares

Given the link between dance and homosexuality in the popular mind in America, described by Gay Morris in her award-winning book A Game for Dancers (2006), it is surprising that dance became such a central vehicle to represent American culture, especially during the homophobic hysteria of the Cold War. “Considering this political and social climate, the last thing that the dance field needed was close scrutiny from government agencies and institutions that linked social protest with communism, communism with homosexuality, and homosexuality with perversion and treason” (Morris 2006, 26). However, it is vital to remember that dance was reluctantly employed by the American government because it was the Soviet Union’s most potent weapon, and the Moiseyev Company had thrown down the choreographic gauntlet as the first Soviet presentation in the United States in 1958. Given the climate of the times, it is odd that no one hinted, stated, or claimed that the Moiseyev dancers were other than the heteronormative individuals they played on the stage. Perhaps these perceptions came from the very masculine personas and physical virtuosity and athleticism that the Moiseyev dancers displayed in Moiseyev’s choreographies highlighting those qualities.

The persecution of the gay and lesbian community must be contextualized within the overall question of anxiety over masculinity in America, especially in the early years of the Cold War. Robert Corber observes, “As I try to show, the politicization of same-sex eroticism in the postwar period called into question the stability of male heterosexual identities and precipitated a crisis in the dominant system of representation” (Corber 1993, 228 n, 9).  The gay man occupied the position of a scare figure to police contemporary ideals of masculinity: “ . . . the McCarthy era found expression in a state-mandated sexual inquisition designed to certify respectable and masculinity and sexual orthodoxy as the basis for political legitimacy. . . “ (Dean 2001, 164).

The excuse for this persecution was that gay men, especially, were perceived to be susceptible to blackmail, in spite of the fact that not one case of blackmail turned up. (See Edelman 1993) In order to avoid scrutiny, many gay men and lesbians took menial secretarial jobs, but still, “the security division, full of ex-FBI agents and policemen, zealously pursued the purges against lower-level employees” (Dean 2001, 84). The McCarthy crew, and it was huge, relied on hearsay, on innuendo, on lies, and ran suspects into the ground. “While communists remained the primary object of detection, the Cold War Consensus, as [James] Baldwin’s FBI files [all 1700 pages of them] testify, it was also motivated and maintained by the twin domestic fears of racial integration and sexual deviance, which in turn was quickly linked to communist activity” (Field 2005a, 90). 

I would argue instead that homosexuals became the main victims because the Communists the government and HUAC netted were few, although that does not mean that Americans did not fear them. Americans at that time equally hated and feared homosexuals, and most importantly, most did not know that they knew anyone who was homosexual. I agree with historian David K. Johnson’s assessment: “. . . most of those fired as ‘security risks’ were not those named by Senator McCarthy as Communists. The typical case involved a homosexual confronted with circumstantial evidence that he had associated with ‘known homosexuals’ or been arrested in a known gay cruising area. Almost all of those accused quietly resigned rather than risk further publicity” (2004, 3).  Nevertheless every attempt was made to deny future employment to those who were fired or resigned—to deny them a livelihood, a means to earn a living. Those who were caught frequently found their names and addresses printed in newspapers. Police were regularly pressured to entrap homosexuals in highly publicized raids, and many policemen relished these opportunities to rough up their victims, some of whom they killed with impunity. All of this pressure drove many men and women to suicide. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s and beyond, this was one of the major topics in the gay and lesbian community. We warned one another of which places might be raided next, who had killed themselves, and what the police had done. It was very much like the scandal of today surrounding racial profiling and the constant drumbeat of men of color being tortured and killed. It was part of our lives.

In reaction to the development of a visible gay subculture in the 1920s and early 1930s, meticulously documented by historian George Chauncey, “Anti-gay policing intensified during the cold War, when Senator Joseph McCarthy warned that homosexuals in the state Department threatened the nation’s security, and the police warned that homosexuals in the streets threatened the nation’s children” (1994, 8). The ferocious attack on the gay and lesbian community soon spread from finding “security risks” in the State Department. Historian John D’Emilio states,

The hunt for homosexuals and lesbians extended far beyond a search for those in the military and the federal bureaucracy. The obsessive concern with national security spurred the growth of an immense system of tests and standards to determine the suitability of employees. More than 12,600,000 workers or slightly more than 20 percent of the labor force, faced loyalty security investigations. States and municipalities followed the lead of the federal government in demanding from their personnel not only loyalty but traditional moral probity as well.
— (1998, 46)

This anxiety over homosexuality was greatly increased with the appearance of Alfred Kinsey’s Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948), which burst American’s complacent image of the homosexual as a small group of flamboyant, lisping, limp-wristed fairies. With the largest study of sexuality in history, the Kinsey Report informed a shocked public that over 50% of white males, who made up the study’s very large cohort, had had homosexual contact to the point of ejaculation at least once in their adult life. “Although Kinsey had set out to show that punishment for homosexuality was irrational and illogical, his report in fact contributed to a national homosexual panic” (Field 2005, 99). To state that the American public loathed and feared us, and approved of the witch-hunts, would be a gross understatement. Kinsey disclosed in that uber puritanical period that, “over the course of a lifetime, the average man experienced about half of his orgasms in socially disapproved or illegal circumstances” (Gilbert 2005, 86) All of the hype surrounding the publication of this volume shocked America to its core.

Now for the unsuspecting general public the Kinsey Report meant that the vast majority in the secret world of homosexuals were hidden, and the majority of gays and lesbians successfully “passed” unnoticed and undetected in straight society. “The specter of the invisible homosexual, like that of the invisible communist, haunted Cold War America” (Chauncey 1994, 361). Thus, a host of policemen, security agents and political figures relentlessly hunted them down, unmasked them, and destroyed them if possible.  To prevent hiring homosexuals, various governmental departments hired “expert homosexual hunters . . .[who] interviewed all unmarried male applicants for positions in the State Department or foreign service” (Dean 2001, 85). “Hollywood joined in: “By invoking the homophobic categories of Cold War political discourse, in particular the construction of ‘the homosexual’ and ‘the lesbian’ as security risks, Hitchcock’s films virtually guaranteed that gender and nationality functioned as mutually reinforcing categories of identity” (Corber 1993, 6). The federal and local governments spent millions of dollars and man-hours in unmasking the hidden enemy.

My own experience within this hostile landscape: In 1962, I had successfully completed my course work in education at UCLA, and I was near the end of my practice teaching, which had been grueling since I had to work outside to support myself, in preparation to start teaching high school the following school year. I was called into the office of one of the administrators in the education department. She informed me that I was being immediately thrown out of the program, because someone suspected that I might be gay. I asked her if I could confront this person since I had never done anything intimate on campus, and she informed me that was not allowed and that I had no rights. It was enough to be suspect. She also told me, as kindly as possible, that I was to immediately move out of the dorm. She told me: “never, never, confess to anyone. I have a son who is gay and when I leave, I will destroy your records.” I was so ashamed about what had happened that for years I was unable to think about it. Three long years of my life destroyed! I was poor with no employment prospects, and thrown into the street. I am certain that others lived through even worse circumstances with their names in the newspapers.

I revisit this painful event because it underscores that this wide net that was cast did not only involve high-level career diplomats or politicians, but had taken on an irrational loathing and created a vitriolic and toxic environment. Just being who I was dangerous. I was an insignificant working-class student, struggling to complete college, and yet my example demonstrates that no one was unimportant enough not to be targeted and suspected, and condemned without evidence. Having lived through that experience, I agree with Robert Corber’s conclusion: “The politicization of homosexuality was crucial to the consolidation of the Cold War consensus” (1997, 3). As I look back, I realize that a great deal of manpower and money went into the surveillance and persecution of gay men and lesbians, to ensnare and punish insignificant people like me just for being what I was.

This hunt for the “hidden homosexual” continued until well into the late 1970s and beyond, and many individuals lost their employment and reputations as the FBI and local police departments provided their names and addresses to the media to publish to ensure that they could not find further employment. Several individuals committed suicide from the shame of the publicity. And one did not have to be a homosexual, or have committed a homosexual act to be accused and branded—one only had to be suspected of being gay. One did not have the right to face one’s accusers. I know.

Ironically, in fighting communism, the American politicians adopted the methods of the communists to prosecute domestic communists and the gay community. First, the HUAC hearings eerily replicated the Moscow Show Trials of the Stalin era, in its methods. Second, “The ‘purge of the perverts’ mirrored the form and methods of the anti-communist witch-hunt. There was no open court where defendants met their accusers with the protections of due process, leading to a final judgment. Instead the sexual inquisitors provided the cloak of anonymity to accusers often motivated by spite, resentment, professional rivalry, political opportunism, bureaucratic ambition . . .Even if one loyalty board dismissed ‘evidence’ as unreliable, the ‘derogatory material’ stayed in the files of the red- and lavender-hunting secret policemen” (Dean 2001, 96). I certainly never met my accuser.

Ironically, the two major figures in the persecution of gay men and lesbians, Senator Joseph McCarthy and J. Edgar Hoover, the F.B.I Director, who leaked information and files to McCarthy, were themselves, both unmarried, and were widely suspected to be homosexual. (See Summers 1993, Johnson 2004)  “Drew Pearson and Las Vegas newspaperman Hugh Greenspun, collaborated to spread assertions that McCarthy a ‘bachelor of 43 years. . . has often engaged in homosexual activities” (Dean 2001, 148). In the 1950s, newspapermen and gossip reporters could freely float such rumors without any evidence.

The author James Baldwin’s encounters with the FBI were not unusual: “Baldwin concludes that the FBI ‘frightened me, and they humiliated me—it was like being spat on, or pissed on, or gang raped’” (Field 2005, 91). Humiliation, as I noted in my case, was a weapon of choice. I would suggest that a motivating force behind the purge was to deflect suspicion away from themselves: Baldwin characterizes J. Edgar Hoover as “history’s most highly paid (and most utterly useless) voyeur’ (quoted in Field 2005, 91). J. Edgar Hoover defies negative characterization because he was so hideous on every level: “Consistently vindictive and opportunistic, Hoover used his privileged access to sexual secrets to settle scores and attempt to ingratiate himself with superiors in the administration” (Dean 2001, 157). It is difficult to imagine how such an individual could have been supported by public tax dollars; he operated like Josef Stalin. “Hoover never married. He lived with his mother until her death. Afterward his closest emotional bond seems to been with his lifelong inseparable companion Clyde Tolson, associate director of the FBI. Whether or not Hoover had a sexual relationship with Tolson remains unclear” (ibid, 158).

Even as the FBI leaked information about suspected homosexuals very widely, they also, “. . .often withheld information from other federal agencies . . . [if] the FBI discovered a closeted homosexual who ‘occupied a strategic position’ in the organization, agents would use the threat of exposure and dismissal to force the victim to spy for the bureau” (Dean 2001, 155).

As we will see, dance became one of the principal vehicles of the Cultural Cold War;  its association with homosexuality was above all other art forms. During the Cold War, “. . . the simple fact of being a male dancer was taken as prima facie evidence of homosexuality” (Kodat 2015, 111). Dance historian Catherine Kodat states, “By fully acknowledging the degree to which theatrical dance was and is viewed as an intensely feminized art form uniquely hospitable to the talents of gay men, we move toward an understanding this particular post-atomic cultural explosion as a consequence of cold war politics with a political consequence of its own” (2015, 58). She adds, “. . . gay liberation entered the American political stage, thanks in no small part to the megapolitics of dance in the cold war” (ibid). I find this an interesting finding, one worth pursuing by more scholars. I certainly think that the radical right also reacted against the embodied aspect of dance. Historically, as I have written elsewhere (2014), the public display of the human body has aroused anxiety, especially masculine anxiety throughout many historical periods and in many locations. The display of the human body in ancient Rome, for example, symbolized a feminized, servile status. (Shay 2014)

The War against the gay and lesbian community continued into the 1980s and 1990s generally, and in the military until Bill Clinton’s infamous “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was repealed by the Obama administration. It certainly continues in less enlightened parts of the United States today. It was into this early environment of nearly hysterical anti-communism and rampant homophobia that the Moiseyev Dance Company danced onto the scene in 1958. They were most likely oblivious to both political and social movements, at least at first,--although I remember seeing some of the demonstrations and bomb threats from the radical right, like the John Birch Society as they paraded in front of the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles in early June, 1958, carrying their hate-filled signs at the first and subsequent live performances of the Moiseyev Dance Theatre. Knowing that their task was to “melt the ice between our sides” (Moiseyev 1996, 68), in spite of physical threats of violence they carried on like the Cold War soldiers for the Soviet Union that they were.

An ongoing subtext throughout these years is that of the resistance by archconservatives to funding dance—noting that leading artists in the field were homosexual. “Of all the art forms sustained by government programs during the cold war, none is more connected in the American imagination to women and homosexuals than the dance—and it was the dance that was the most frequent target of conservative opponents of federal funding for the arts” (Kodat 2015, 57).  Much of congressional resistance to funding, “. . .was articulated in misogynistic and homophobic language. . . “ (Kodat 2015, 56). Recent attempts to defund both of the National Endowments underscores Kodat’s findings.


In order to illustrate the notion in the mind of the general population and the link between effeminacy, homosexuality, I am going to quote from a brief scene from one of the Adrien English series of gay mystery novels by Josh Lanyon. In this scene, Adrien English, a bookstore owner and novelist, and Jake, a deeply-closeted Los Angeles Police detective, who has recently become romantically involved with Adrien and, in self-loathing, clearly believes in the linkage:

“Christ, you’re limber.”
I turned my head.
Jake leaned on the doorframe of the long front room observing me going through my bi-monthly exercise routine.
“Tai Chi,” I informed him, palms resting on the floor. Last night he’d had plenty of opportunity to evaluate my limberness firsthand.
“Looks a lot like ballet.”
“I took ballet. This is Tai Chi.”
“You took ballet?” Jake sounded horrified.
He stopped scratching his sun-browned belly. “Your mother is an example of who people should have to have a license to have kids.”
I straightened up. “Lay off my mother.”
“Ballet but not the Boy Scouts? It’s your mother’s fault you’re queer.”
— (Josh Lanyon. A Dangerous Thing. (2012. Chapter 12, 89% of Kindle Edition)

This scene, written in the past few years, demonstrates the linkage that I proposed above, because the author, writing for a largely gay audience, assumes that all gay men, and other readers, will recognize the connections in twenty-first century America. In 2009, Jennifer Fisher, associate professor of dance at UC Irvine and I spelled out, in great detail, how these linkages continue into the twenty-first century. Every entry in the book, which contains a collection of scholarly articles and personal interviews with male dancers, is redolent with these linkages and how they shape a male dancer’s life in dance, even today. We are still a part of those linkages.

I still don’t feel safe, especially in the present political environment of America, where all difference is persecuted.

Works Cited

Barrios, Richard. 2003. Screened Out: Playing Gay in Hollywood from Edison to Stonewall. New York and London: Routledge.

Caute, David. 2003. The Dancer Defects: The Struggle for Cultural Supremacy during the Cold War. Oxford and NY: Oxford University Press.

Chauncy, George. 1994. Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940. New York: Basic Books.

Chudnovsky, Mikhael  A. 1959. Folk dance Company of the U.S.S.R.: Igor Moiseyev, Art Director. Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House.

Corber, Robert J. 1993. In the Name of National Security: Hitchcock, Homophobia, and the Political Construction of Gender in Postwar America. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Corber, Robert J. 1997. Homosexuality in Cold War America. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Croft, Clare. 2015. Dancers as Diplomats: American Choreography in Cultural Exchange. NY: Oxford University Press.

Cuordileone, K. A. 2005. Manhood and American Political Culture in the Cold War. London and New York: Routledge.

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