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I couldn't help but share this bit of delightful, albeit sobering, prose and ballet education from When Ballet Became French by Ilyana Karthas. " Ballet dancers were seen primarily as workers and minimally as artists. Degas depicted the ballet he observed in the 1880's; it was primarily a working class profession and art form in decline. In his work, the ballet dancer was not a metaphoric symbol of nobility, grace or poetry, but first and foremost, a sexual being, a worker and a titillating subject. To the French public of 1881, the ballet had come to represent a modern space of cross-class sexual exchange, a world of display and male possession, and an eroded French art form. "

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Thanks for the quote. I am reminded of the initial critical reaction to Degas' "Little Dancer":

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Because of the wax medium and the clothes, some compared the dancer to Madame Tussaud's waxworks, to puppets, dolls, dressmakers' mannequins. One critic, Elie de Mont, compared the dancer to a monkey. Another, Paul Mantz, referred to her as a "flower of precocious depravity," with a "face marked by the hateful promise of every vice" and "bearing the signs of a profoundly heinous character."

Such violent reactions originated in issues of the time. The dancers of the Paris opera often came from the lower classes (Marie van Goethem was the daughter of a tailor and a laundress), were sought after as sexual partners by rich dandies, and frequently became prostitutes. So the "Little Dancer" could be seen as someone destined for a life of depravity.

 

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Thank you to "dirac" for bringing to light this intriguing initial reation to Degas' Little Dancer. Fascinating.

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