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The Salome Dancers: 

The Salome Dancers An Eastern Dance Takes Western Roots


From 1895-1920’s, Salome’s stories was danced thousands of times on Western stages. The Salome dancers, together with the hoochie-coochie dancers of the dime museums and midways, contributed immensely to the American phenomenon of belly dance. We are still affected by them today. The Salome Dancers Lydia Borelli in Wilde’s Salome, 1910’s


The Salome Dancers Dancing the East as escaping society’s limitations Dancing the East as personally fulfilling Dancing the East as spiritual – as integrating body and soul The femme fatale in dancing the East Veil dancing – as revelation Bedlah


Fontana Maggiore, Perugia, 1277 - 1278. The Biblical Salome The dance of Herodias’ daughter is described in 2 of the gospels: Matthew and Mark?? But on Herod’s birthday, the daughter of Herodias danced before them and pleased Herod, so much that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. Instructed by her mother, she said, “Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.” Although it grieved the king, because of his oath and the dinner guests he commanded it to be given. So he sent and had John beheaded in the prison. His head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. (Matthew 14.6-11)


The Biblical Salome When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests. The king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you want and I will give it to you.” He swore to her, “Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.” So she went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” Her mother said, “The head of John the baptizer.” Immediately she hurried back to the king and made her request: “I want the head of John the Baptist on a platter immediately.” Although it grieved the king deeply, he did not want to reject her request because of his oath and his guests. So the king sent an executioner at once to bring John’s head, and he went and beheaded John in prison. He brought his head on a platter and gave it to the girl, and the girl gave it to her mother. (Mark 6.22-28)


Salome’s dance is not portrayed as “Eastern” or foreign in early representations. On a panel of the Rouen Cathedral (1063), it is acrobatic. The Biblical Salome The name Salome occurs in the historian Josephus (37-100 CE). Scholars made the connection very early in Christian history.


In Benozzo Gozzoli’s The Dance of Salome (1461-62), it is portrayed as nondescript Western dancing, and Salome wears Western clothes. The Biblical Salome


Salome appeared on stage in morality plays from the medieval period on, as a model of sinful behavior. Some early moralists use her dance as a “talking point” in their condemnations of all dancing. But she is not portrayed as an Easterner – just as a harlot. The Biblical Salome


19th Century Salome In the 19th century, two things happen hand in hand: The motif of Salome explodes in popularity, and Salome begins to be portrayed as an exotic, Eastern woman. This coincides with French and English political involvement in “colonizing” the East


Salome 1874 19th Century Salome Gustave Moreau’s Salome paintings were very influential, sparking the imagination of many other artists and writers. They drew on the descriptions of the Orient in Gustave Flaubert’s Salambo and other Orientalist writings. They are part of a tradition of Orientalist painters and writers.


Orientalism Edward Said describes orientalism as a strategy for political domination of the East. In the West, the “exotic East” is interpreted as the opposite of Western reason. It is portrayed as: Timeless and unchanging A place of great degeneracy and also great repression Full of irrational violence Full of ancient wisdom but also foolishly improvident


Salome was a popular theme in literature and in art. She was portrayed as: A femme fatale – a woman whose seductive power was inherently destructive A cold-hearted, ignorant child An innocent girl caught up in a terrible situation And many other variations Salome had become a figure whose versions encapsulated her culture’s tensions about key issues: women’s changing role, sexuality, women’s self-determination, religion … 19th Century Salome


Oscar Wilde wrote his Salome in 1891 in an all-night creative frenzy. He had been thinking about it for years – including speculating how Salome’s dance would be performed. In his stage directions he simply wrote, “Salome dances the dance of the seven veils.” Although there are many mystical references to veils and sevens in 19th century thought, the dance of the seven veils was apparently invented by Wilde. Wilde’s Salome


Wilde’s Salome was an innocent young girl whose passion for John the Baptist led her into perverse, frustrated longing. He envisioned the Dance of the Seven Veils as in part metaphysical, involving revelations of hidden truths. His friend Pierre Louys envisioned it in a more colorful way: Wilde’s Salome THE FLOWER DANCE Anthis, the Lydian dancer, has seven veils about her. She unrolls the yellow veil and her jet-black tresses spread upon the air. The rosy-veil slides from her mouth. The white veil falling shows her naked arms. She frees her little breasts from the opening scarlet veil. She drops the green one from her round and double croup. She draws the blue veil from her shoulders, but she still retains the last transparent one, pressing it upon her puberty. The young men plead with her; she shakes her head. Only at the music of the flutes she tears it off a bit, then altogether, and with the gestures of the dance she plucks the fresh young flowers of her body, Singing: "Where are my roses, where my perfumed violets! Where are my sprays of parsley! --Here are my roses, and I give them to you. There are my violets, do you care for any? There are my lovely curling parsley wisps."


Wilde’s Salome A production was planned which would feature the day’s leading actress, Sarah Bernhardt. But before it could be staged, it was banned by the British Censors. His play was published in French and later in English. Two years later Wilde was convicted of sodomy and in disgrace. The play languished.


Fuller’s Salome In 1895 Loie Fuller, whose technical innovations in lighting supported her impressionistic approach to dance, did her own version of Salome, perhaps influenced by Wilde. Her Salome was more innocent than Wilde’s. Like an earlier opera version of the story, Fuller presented a suite of dances rather than just the notorious one. She was the first solo dancer to present a Salome piece.


Wilde’s play was finally performed in Germany in 1896. From prison, Wilde wrote that he didn’t want the Dance of the Seven Veils to resemble Fuller’s dance! The German version was a controversial success. A few other productions followed. Wilde’s Salome


Wilde’s Salome Not long after, it was performed in Paris, despite concerns about Wilde’s legal (and “moral”) problems.


Strauss’s Salome Although Wilde’s play had been banned in London and was controversial elsewhere, composer Richard Strauss created his operatic Salome (1905) around Wilde’s play. Strauss’s opera took Salome, and the controversy surrounding her dance, into the mainstream.


Strauss’s Salome The opera diva Marie Wittig sang Salome in the title roll, but her dance was performed by a stand-in ballerina, causing some comments on the transformation of the zaftig soprano into the lithe dancer. The opera, like the play before it, was a controversial success.


Strauss’s Salome Strauss had written of the dance, that is should be done with great solemnity, “as if on a prayer mat.” But what people remembered was the veils, and the head.


Costuming the East Operatic Salomes explored “Eastern” motifs in their costuming


Stage costuming for Orientalizing plays like Sarah Bernhardt’s Cleopatra (1892) had already explored a range of Middle Eastern fabrics and jewelry. Costuming the East


For Cleopatra, Bernhardt’s costumers drew on Eastern dance costumes, but added jewelry in the vest and belt for a rich, exotic look Costuming the East Turkish dancer, 1890’s


Bernhardt as Iseyl (1903) continues the Oriental line of costuming Costuming the East


Costuming the East Moreau’s fantasy of bejeweled nakedness influenced their costume choices as well. Two trends in theatrical presentations of the East were emerging: Operatic and theatrical portrayals of fictionalized Eastern women like Cleopatra and Salome Performances of danse du ventre in popular venues like dime museums and midways


Eastern Dancers in the West “Dancing girls” at Cairo’s Eldorado perform for tourist audiences in Egypt in what had become a “standard costume” by the 1890’s


Performers from Algeria, Egypt, and other Middle Eastern countries performed at cultural exhibitions in the West, by 1878 in Paris and by 1876 in the United States. Their authentic costumes (and movements) were adapted to American tastes for further performances in the United States in midways and other popular venues. Eastern Dancers in the West


This dancer wears the costume of the Egyptians who danced at the Midway Plaissance at the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 …. Eastern Dancers in the West


… while this photo card of “Little Egypt” reveals the costume changes of a show adapted to perform “hoochie-coochie” for the American audiences of risqué or burlesque performances: a split skirt and garter, a transparent veil, and a fringed vest. Note: In France, generic “belly dancers” were usually identified as “La Belle Fatima.” In the United States, “Little Egypt” is the name of choice. Eastern Dancers in the West

Slide31: Here a dancer identified as “Little Egypt” performs at the Barbary Coast in San Francisco in 1890 Eastern Dancers in the West


Eastern Dancers in the West Eastern dancers in the West, and their American imitators were first presented at Cultural Exhibitions and World’s Fairs. They appeared as “Others” – as representatives in re-created scenes of foreign cultures at Fairs Their customs were presented as examples of less advanced cultures


They were presented as amusement, away from the more serious scientific and cultural exhibits Eastern Dancers in the West


Eastern Dancers in the West Later they appeared in midways and dime museums: Still as foreigners and others Still primarily as amusement not fit for true theatrical performance Often sensationalized Habit arises of defining their dance as lewd and suitable for “prohibited” or “chaotic” environments Not the sort of woman a Western woman would want to imitate                                                                <>


Western women were already portraying the East on stage, though. Otero, a notorious dancer/ courtesan who often featured in the Folies Bergere, presented herself in an “Eastern” costume in 1901. She was already famous for wearing her jewels onstage … Dancing the East


Her rival, Hero, performed in similarly sketchy costume. La Goulou, a cancan star from the Moulin Rouge, also did an oriental dance, and eventually opened up her own “belly dance” club. Dancing the East


When Strauss’s Salome was shut down in New York, the dancer who was performing Salome’s dance began doing her dance as a solo in local theaters. Variety theater, often called generically “Vaudeville,” was the popular entertainment of the day. It catered to a general audience with programs that involved short sets by many different sorts of performers, from comedians to animal acts to acrobats to plays to dance of all sorts. Dancing the East


Dancing the East Dancers like Isadora Duncan and Ruth St. Denis were changing the face of dance: From male-authored ballets (which featured female dancers, who were often the object of adoration by their fans) To female-authored, expressive dance Often these dances challenged propriety But the women who did them had a strong female fan base and female patronage.


Their dances were liberating. Across America, amateur dancers created their own dances. Dance became a grounds for feminine self-expression. Feminine self-expression became a legitimate grounds for art. The ancient past – Greek dances in particular – and the Orient were frequent sites of inspiration for women’s dances. Dancing the East


Maud Allen was an American musician who began a second career as an aesthetic dancer in Europe. She created “The Vision of Salome” in which she portrayed Salome as a young girl who dances her passion for John the Baptist, then wakes to horror at what has happened. It was a huge hit, and controversial for many reasons: Notably the costume and the head. Dancing the East


Dancing the East American dancer Gertrude Hoffman brought back the Salome dance to America. Between imitators of Allen, and imitators of the Operatic Salome, Vaudeville theaters in America and Europe were flooded with Salomes. There were many interpretations.


The women who danced Salome felt free to use her dance as a vehicle for exploring the tensions surrounding : women’s bodies ... women’s use of sexuality ... Dancing the East


women’s use of power ... Dancing the East


youth as opposed to age ... Dancing the East


the boundary between sacred and profane … Dancing the East


There are even reports of women-only Salome parties, where women dressed in Eastern apparel and dances sensuously … Salome had become a figure representing women’s power in the face of patriarchy … A figure representing women’s ownership of their sexuality, And their potential to use it for purposes of their own. Dancing the East


All the same, Salome came to a bad end in most versions of the story … Did women inadvertently support patriarchal readings of women’s power by embracing a story where it was punished? In embracing the femme fatale, did they participate in an orientalism that obscured the true nature of the Eastern world? The femme fatale is one element of the Western reception of Eastern dance that still remains, obscuring the cultural meanings of raqs sharqi sometimes even to those who perform it … Dancing the East


Adolphe Gaussen: At the Costumier Souplet’s A standard costume for performing Eastern dance arose… Dancing the East


Dancing the East In the 1910’s, Mata Hari, a dancer/courtesan who presented herself as a former temple priestess from Java, wore it for her oriental dances …


By the teens, the costume was also being worn by dancers or Eastern ethnicity who performed in the West, like La Belle Zerka, who performed in Paris … Dancing the East


Dancing the East And by this unnamed dancer performing in Europe.


Dancing the East Veil dances had been done on stage before Salome. Loie Fuller’s fabric dances were an extreme example. The veil has a long Western history of representing meanings, from mystical revelation to innocence to vulnerability to unknowability. In women’s expressive dance, it could represent the woman’s feelings.


The veil, so long an element in the West’s visual images of the East, now became a key element of the portrayal of the East in dance. Dancing the East


Dancing the East In the 1910’s, Mata Hari manipulates a veil …


In the 1920’s, a dancer performs an Eastern-themed veil dance. The veil remained a key element of the portrayal of Eastern dance in the West, though it never really caught on in the East. Western women today often comment that the veil gives them scope for self-expression … While in the East the creator of emotional expression remains the body. Dancing the East


Lydia Borelli , teens Wilde’s Salome and Strauss’s operatic Salome continued to be performed, with many different stagings of the Dance of the Seven Veils – some formal and metaphorical, some wild and sensual. They continue to this day. Staging Salome


Salome was portrayed in a number of movies, including the versions of Theda Bara … Staging Salome


… and Alla Nazimova. Staging Salome


Many Salome performances also bridged the gap between polite theater and burlesque, which was gaining in popularity in the 1910’s and ’20’s. Dancing the East


Dancing the East In burlesque theaters, the “Eastern” techniques of the hoochie-coochie dancers, and the costume and the unveiling of Salome, conflated.


The orient offered a range of stances, from voracious sexuality to naked innocence … Dancing the East


The Salome craze died by the mid-1920’s. Salome’s many interpretations had played their role in dramatizing women’s emancipation, both for the women themselves, and for the men whose complacency was challenged by women’s changing roles. Salome’s Impact


Aesthetic dancing had transformed from the expressive art of a single woman, to the work of companies and troupes. The image of the Eastern dancer stayed alive in the public’s imagination, though. Salome’s Impact New dances, created and popularized by African-Americans, were taking the lead in participant dancing in dance halls all over America.


“The Costume,” adapted by Eastern artists working in the West and brought back to the East, became a part of the urban Eastern rendition of raqs sharqi under such artist/impresarios as Badia Masabni. Salome’s Impact


Western versions of “the Costume” were featured in movies and in pinups. Salome’s Impact


Most influential in the West, though, was the popularization of the idea that women could find themselves and express themselves through dancing an ancient dance of Eastern origin, and that that dance could bear as many interpretations as there are dancers … One of the principles that is the foundation of the success of belly dance in the West. Salome’s Impact finis

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