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Changing The Public

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I picked up this on the internet and wondered what BT people thought:


"I was positively uninterested in the dance."

When Bernays took on Diaghilev's Ballet Russes American tour in 1915, he wrote, "I was given a job about which I knew nothing. In fact, I was positively uninterested in the dance." He wasn't alone. Americans thought masculine dancers were deviates, and that "dancing was not nice," and of limited interest.

Bernays began to connect ballet to something people understood and enjoyed. "First, as a novelty in art forms, a unifying of several arts; second, its appeal to special groups; third, its direct impact on American life, on design and color in American products; and fourth, its personalities."

Beginning with newspapers, Bernays developed a four-page newsletter for editorial writers, local managers and others, containing photographs and stories of dancers, costumes, and composers. Articles were targeted to his four themes and audiences. For example, the "women's pages" received articles on costumes, fabric, and fashion design; the Sunday supplements received full-color photos.

A Bakst creation for Dance Guerriere Caucasienne.

Are American men ashamed to be graceful?

Magazine coverage, timed to appear just before the ballet opened, was his next approach. Bernays tailored his stories to his editors. When Ladies Home Journal said that they couldn't show photographs of dancers with skirts above the knees, he had artists retouch photos to bring down the hem. His abilities to understand editors' needs resulted in wide coverage: The American Hebrew, Collier's, Craftsman, Every Week, Harper's Weekly, Hearst Magazines, Harper's Bazaar, The Independent, Ladies Home Journal, Literary Digest, Munsey's, Musical America, Opera, Physical Culture, Strand, Spur, Town & Country, Vanity Fair, Vogue, and Woman's Home Companion.

Nijinsky and Karsovina are among the Russian ballet artists who came to New York in 1915 to perform during a difficult period of world war

Bernays created an 81-page user-friendly publicity guide for advance men to use on the tour. When a national story about the Ballet Russes appeared, advance men could tailor it for local coverage. The guide contained mimeographed pages, bios on the dancers, short notes and fillers, and even a question and answer page that asked, "Are American men ashamed to be graceful?"

He persuaded American manufacturers to make products inspired by the color and design of the sets and costumes, and national stores to advertise them. These styles became so popular that Fifth Avenue stores sold these products without Bernays's intervention. Bernays used overseas media reviews to heighten anticipation for the dancers. When they arrived at the docks in New York, a crowd was waiting. Bernays then took photos of the eager crowds and placed them in Sunday magazines throughout the country. The ballet was sold out before the opening. By the time the ballet toured American cities, demand had already dictated a second tour and little girls were dreaming of becoming ballerinas. Bernays had remolded biases to get his story told. The American view of ballet and dance was changed forever. "

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Wow, an early version of the press packet -- and of product tie-ins, too. I don't think Buckle's book on Diaghilev, which follows the company on its two US tours, includes anything like this. Edward Bernays is the father of public relations. It's nice to know that one of his early activities was in the service of ballet. :) Thanks, Sander O.

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