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In the cosmopolitan Greco-Roman world of the second and third centuries CE, the terms magodos, malakos, and kinaidos/cinaedus identified a category of performer usually described (inadequately) as the “effeminate dancer.” This paper investigates the nature of the “effeminate dancer's” performance and his function in the various societies in which such entertainment is attested, focusing on Roman Egypt. In a world where men typically played women's roles in mainstream drama and dance, the “effeminate dancer's” performance eluded these accepted conventions of theatrical illusion. Raising the specter of distorted masculinities such as the passive homosexual and the eunuch, and evoking the ecstatic cults that were a mainstay of feminine religious experience in the ancient Mediterranean, the “Effeminate dancer” stirred up anxieties about social and sexual transgression and simultaneously allayed them through elegant performance.
The changing economic and artistic milieu of Western professional entertainment from 1890 to 1930 provided a liminal space for performances of “Eastern dance” by women of both Middle Eastern and non–Middle Eastern descent. In denning their performance personas and in articulating their hybrid dance techniques and presentations, these artists engaged in a fluid process that reflects the ever-changing reinscription of the relationship between the consumers of the West and the East they envision. This paper explores the nuances of this complex interaction through the careers and performance experiences of both Eastern and Western dancers.
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