At the height of its popularity in the 19th century, ballet began to assume a particular role in the lives of European women. In the Victorian era, dancers were seen as important role models, and female dance was used as evidence of their virtue and sophistication (Rosenberg 1979:3). The popular belief that women were supposed to dance as “man”like as the “handsome” man of the stage is still firmly in place. For example, in the 1950s, the German actress Gerda Pfeiffer was the sole dancer on stage at the first “Funktion-Verband” (popular dance-and-party club in Vienna, Austria) and her act was often referred to as “the first women’s performance” (Kurtz and Kurtz, 1986:26). This playfulness may suggest that ballet was still considered feminine, when in fact it was male and male-dominant (Mackenzie 2009:7). It should also be noted that although these female dancers were generally seen to “man-up” to the task of performing on the stage, their actions, especially in the case of Gerda Pfeiffer, suggest that they wanted women to feel powerful and free, and that there were “bros” who saw them as their equals even while they were performing (Hansmeier 2009:10-11).
So how did these women dance?
Unlike other dancers of the time (which tended to perform ballet as a sort of “feminine choreography”), these female “balletsmen” did not perform with their legs crossed or their upper body elevated in the air, so-to-speak, for the sake of grace. Rather, they did their dance steps with the soles of their feet on the ground on either side of the floor, then standing upright. In the early 1900s, women’s rights advocates (who also wanted to encourage females to participate in the workforce) sought to have male dancers be “punished” by having their feet touched on the ground after they stood upright. This led to their “pantomime” form becoming so prevalent that some writers used the term “pantomime” in place of “ballet” to describe it, though they did not intend to describe it as male. (Hansmeier 2009:10—11). The movement was considered to be “stiff” because it involved the use of hands without the use of the feet (Norman 2006; Rizzi 1998; Sacks
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