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On the Question: “Why Do Philosophers Neglect the Aesthetics of the Dance?“

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 July 2014


Philosophers writing on aesthetics used to preface their essays by deploring the low standard of thought prevailing in that subject. Since they never tried to show that dullness and folly were less rampant in other fields, one had to recognize in this practice a mere ritual. But one can always speculate on what social purpose rituals had once served. Similarly, philosophers who nowadays write on the aesthetics of dance preface their papers by deploring the tendency of philosophers to neglect the topic. Since they produce no hard evidence of such neglect, this practice too has to be seen as a ritual, and this ritual also calls for explanation. It reflects some unease about the place of dance in the philosophy of art, but the reasons for that unease are not obvious. This paper suggests ways in which the theory of dance might not fit easily into the theory of art in general, or why it might be felt not to do so.


Writing on dance certainly has a low intellectual profile. I had supposed that among the data to be reckoned with were a failure on the part of Hellenistic writers to write dance histories comparable to those histories of painting, sculpture, and music that were so widely read and quoted in the Renaissance, and a corresponding failure in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to write handbooks and treatises on the practice of dance comparable to the well-known treatises on the other fine arts from that encyclopedia-ridden age.

Articles on Philosophy and Dance
Copyright © Congress on Research in Dance 1982

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This is a corrected and expanded version of a paper presented to the Pacific Division of the American Society for Aesthetics on April 5, 1980. I am grateful to many participants for helpful comments, and especially to my commentators, Selma Jeanne Cohen and Ann Clark. I have tried to ward off their most damaging blows. Allusions in the notes to “S.J. Cohen” without further reference are to comments made on this occasion.

1. Smith, Adam, “On the Nature of That Imitation Which Takes Place in What Are Called the Imitative Arts” (1795)CrossRefGoogle Scholar observes that the fact that all an opera-singer's movements are in time with the music does not suffice to make them dance steps. What is distinctive of dance is that its movements display grace, or agility, or both. This is in contrast with everyday life, where it is good for a movement to be graceful or agile, but it is offensive for it to be deliberately so. In dance, “The display of one, or other, or both of these qualities, is in reality the proper purpose of the action” (in Aesthetic Theories, ed. Aschenbrenner, Karl and Isenberg, Arnold [Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1975], p. 250)Google Scholar.

2. Fetherston, Christopher, A Dialogue Agaynst light, lewde, and lasciuious dancing (London: Thomas Dawson, 1582)Google Scholar, D4v, says of the dancers mentioned in the Old Testament that “They made no mixture of feres in their daunces, but the men daunced by themselues, and the women by themselues; but you in your daunces must have women, or else the market is marred.” Throughout his pamphlet, he does not argue that dancing is necessarily lascivious but simply refers to “lascivious dancing,” and on C2v uses the phrase “dauncing and lasciuiousnes” with a singular verb. At about the same time a Catholic priest, Fr. Jehan Tabourot, writing under the pseudonym “Thoinot Arbeau,” discerns the social function of that mixing of the sexes that Fetherston deplores:

Dancing is practised to make manifest whether lovers are in good health and sound in all their limbs, after which it is permitted to them to kiss their mistresses, whereby they may perceive if either has an unpleasant breath or exhales a disagreeable odour as of bad meat; so that, in addition to divers other merits attendant on dancing, it has become essential for the wellbeing of society” (Arbeau, Thoinot, Orchésographie [Langres, 1588], trans. Beaumont, Cyril [New York: Dance Horizons, 1968], p. 18)Google Scholar.

3. Fetherston, , Dialogue B2v–B3rGoogle Scholar, interprets the fourth commandment to mean that people ought to work all day for six days and rest on the seventh, leaving no time for trivial amusements like dancing. The objection is to the frivolity of dancing (“All vanitie doeth dishallow the Sabboath day, but dauncing is vanitie, therefore dauncing doth dishallowe the Sabboath day”) and to the fact that it makes people too tired to work next morning.

4. Dancing as such might be “a moderate motion of the bodie, which serued to set fourth and expresse the ioyes of the minde,” and might be well motivated: King David and others “daunced because they had receiued great blessings at the handes of the Lorde, and because they would set forth his prayse; but you daunce because you haue obteyned your wicked purposes, and because you will entise others to naughtines” (Fetherston, , Dialogue, D4v and D6r)Google Scholar.

5. For a survey of the scope of dance and its social functions, see Hanna, Judith Lynne, To Dance Is Human: A Theory of Nonverbal Communication (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1979)Google Scholar. She defines dance as “Human behavior composed, from the dancer's perspective, of (1) purposeful, (2) intentionally rhythmical, and (3) culturally patterned sequences of (4a) nonverbal body movements (4b) other than ordinary motor activities, (4c) the motion having inherent and aesthetic value. (Aesthetic refers to notions of appropriateness and competency held by the dancer's reference groups which act as a frame of reference for self-evaluation and attitude formation to guide the dancer's actions)” (p. 19). Note that she does not make it a matter of definition that dance should have many social functions, but does make it a matter of definition that the dancer assign inherent and aesthetic value to his dancing—that he regard it as something he might do rightly or wrongly, well or badly, by standards he accepts.

6. For dance as setting bodies in motion, see George Beiswanger, “Chance and Design in Choreography”: “Dances are made not out of, but upon movement, movement being the poetic bearer, the persistent metaphor, by which muscular material is made available for the enhanced, meaningful, and designed goings-on that are dance.” We are in error, he says, when “We think of choreography, not as putting dancers in motion, but as taking dance movement and putting it in order” (in The Dance Experience, ed. Nadel, M. H. and Nadel, C.G. [New York: Praeger, 1970], p. 88)Google Scholar.

7. Smith, Adam (“On the Nature of That Imitation,” p. 236)Google Scholar argues that pantomime is more natural than poetic expression and, if accompanied by music, will automatically fall into time with that music. It is therefore reasonable to suppose that mimic dance served to give sense to music before poetry did, so that dance is more primitive than song. And that, he says, is why we hear a lot about dance among the indigenous peoples of Africa and America, but little about their poetry.

8. Darwinism inaugurates a vogue for animal origins which reaches its peak around 1900, and survives in Sachs, Curt's World History of the Dance of 1937 (New York: Norton, 1963)Google Scholar. Hanna in To Dance Is Human complains of the way this preoccupation distorts his account.

9. S.J. Cohen rightly objects to this sentence that a dancer's idealized gesture, as envisaged by Fokine, is not different from a natural gesture but more perceptible: what it expresses is clarified and isolated for attention. What it expresses is thus the individual, the universal in the particular, by Hegel's own standards, whereas the natural gesture expresses confused particularity. So the way was after all open for an art of dance parallel to the art of sculpture. It might have been the preeminent art of the early Roman empire, the age of Bathyllus and Pylades, at the time when Hellenic sculpture had declined and Hellenistic portrait-sculpture represented the most notable successes of statuary.

10. The comparison is explicitly drawn by Noverre, Jean Georges, Letters on Dancing and Ballet (1760 [trans. Beaumont, Cyril: New York, Dance Horizons, 1966], p. 11)Google Scholar, according to whom pure dance by itself is like fireworks, but when allied with pantomime rises to the dignity of an imitative art. Compare Gallini, Giovanni-Andrea, A Treatise on the Art of Dancing (London: for the Author, 1762), p. 239Google Scholar: “The dance in action has the same superiority over sheer un-meaning dancing, that a fine history-piece has over cutting flowers in paper.” It is not surprising that the contemporary taste which prefers collages to history-pieces also extols sheer unmeaning dancing (see note 11 below).

11. According to Merce Cunningham as interpreted by Sheets-John-stone, all movements are “of equal merit.” Or, with a rather different emphasis: “What was presented in the new dance was the human body as an end in itself, a lucid and sonorous phenomenon in its own right.” All that dance can do, if it is not to sink to the level of elitism, is make the body noticeable (Sheets-Johnstone, Maxine, “An Account of Recent Changes in Dance in the U.S.A.,” Leonardo 11 [1978]: 198)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Hegel would think it unnecessary to invoke art to do that.

12. Compare Lincoln Kirstein's argument, referred to below, that modern dance cannot develop because it is too close to the natural expression of this or that individual teacher (Kirstein, Lincoln, Movement and Metaphor [New York: Praeger, 1970], p. 4)Google Scholar.

13. See Frankl, Paul, Principles of Architectural History (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1968)Google Scholar, and my How to Build Without Really Trying” (Journal of Aesthetic Education 10 [1976]: 93108)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. The issue is resumed by Gombrich, Ernst in The Sense of Order (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1979), Ch. viiiGoogle Scholar.

14. Lucian is a professed satirist, and one could argue that in this instance he is constructing a lampoon. It may be so, though Lucian does not usually show himself capable of much subtlety or depth of irony; but, if it is so, the effect is only to transfer our remarks from his practice to the object of his satire. (Lucian's authorship of the Peri Orcheseos has been questioned, but on no adequate grounds. Nothing in our argument depends on its authenticity; what is relevant is its existence and its availability in the modern age as an authority.)

15. Noverre's Letters appear in 1760, the first two volumes of Tristram Shandy in 1759, Sentimental Journey in 1768. Garrick met Diderot and his circle in Paris in 1763 (Diderot's Paradoxe sur le comédien was inspired by this encounter); the extravaganza of the belated Shakespeare bicentenary at Stratford, which should have been Garrick's apotheosis, was in 1769.

16. Joffrey, Robert's summary of Fokine's choreographic principles in Visions (ed. Crabb, Michael [Toronto: Simon and Pierre, 1978], p. 143 ff.Google Scholar), reads like a paraphrase of Noverre; and see Fokine, 's own account in Fokine: Memoirs of a Ballet Master (London: Constable, 1961)Google Scholar.

17. This alternative view is argued by Claude-François Ménestrier, S.J., Des Ballets anciens et modernes selon les règles du théâtre (Paris: René Guignard, 1682), p. 137Google Scholar and elsewhere. Ménestrier's position represents the Jesuits' reliance on popular entertainments to reach the people, together with a tacit opposition to elitist and academic theories and practices in the arts. It was important not to allow the proper domain of parades and processions to be usurped by antiquarian drama:

La Tragédie, la Comédie, les representations en Musique et les Ballets sont des Imitations. C'est ce qu'elles ont de commun. La Tragédie et la Comédie imitent les actions. … Le Ballet imite la nature des choses, et represente indifferment les hommes et les animaux. La Tragédie et la Comédie sont pour les moeurs et pour l'instruction; le Ballet pour le divertissement et le plaisir (pp. 290-91).

The opposing view, represented by Noverre, is concisely expressed by Gallini, in his Treatise on the Art of Dancing, p. 119Google Scholar: “A dance should be a kind of regular dramatic poem to be executed by dancing, in a manner so clear, as to give the understanding of the spectator no trouble in making out the meaning of the whole, or of any part of it.” Gallini also states concisely the first of the five theses distinguished in the text. Speaking of the usefully unobservable Greeks, he writes: “Nothing could be more graceful than the motion of their arms. They did not so much regard the nimbleness and capering with the legs and feet, on which we lay so great a stress. Attitude, grace, expression, were their principal object” (ibid., p. 18).

18. For such constructions, see Arbeau, Orchésographie, passim, who analyzes popular dance forms into a few basic components. It is worth bearing in mind how much of secular music as well as dance in the early eighteenth century consists of a few standard dance forms: bourrée, gigue, sarabande, and so forth, each supposed in some versions of the prevailing musicology of the day, the Affektenlehre, to be susceptible of analysis into affective elements as well as into component steps.

19. Noverre misses the inner significance of this phrase, thinking of it as simply ascribing beauty to what is natural, as Rousseau might do. In such writers as Batteux, Charles (Les Beaux arts réduits à un même principe [Paris: Durand, 1746])Google Scholar, the phrase still has neoplatonic connotations: “beautiful nature” is nature idealized and irradiated with a reality of a higher order, the “golden” world of Sir Philip Sidney.

20. This characterization of the ancient pantomimes is based on the extended account in Lucian, , Peri Orcheseos, sections 34ff.Google Scholar, especially sections 62-69. But these descriptions are at variance with the claim (section 35) that the art of the pantomime requires the “highest standard of culture in all its branches,” including rhetoric, the study of proportions, music, and natural and moral philosophy. Athenaeus names among the artistic progeny of Bathyllus and Pylades a “philosopher-dancer” who expounded the nature of Pythagorean philosophy, “clarifying everything for us more lucidly in his silence than those who claim to give instruction in the verbal skills” (Athenaeus, , Deipnosophistae, I, 20c-dGoogle Scholar). The difficulty lies, of course, in seeing just how this could have been done, and what use of rhetoric and other arts was actually made.

21. The dancers must be not only trained but persuaded: complaints by innovative playwrights, choreographers, and composers about the recalcitrance of executants are perennial.

22. See Genauer, Emily, “Modern Art and the Ballet,” in Nadel, and Nadel, , The Dance Experience (note 6)Google Scholar. Don McDonagh observes that it was because the pioneers of modern dance were too poor to take a theater for more than one night that they learned to do with-out sets, and because they had no audience anyway they made no concessions to established taste (McDonagh, Don, Martha Graham: A Biography [New York: Praeger, 1973], p. 60)Google Scholar.

23. La Fille Mai Gardée (Jean Dauberval, 1789)Google Scholar survives as Noverre's legacy. Can this much metamorphosed swallow make a summer?

24. Frye, Northrop, ed., Romanticism Reconsidered (New York: Columbia University Press, 1963)Google Scholar, the Introduction.

25. Levin, David Michael, “Philosophers and the Dance,” Ballet Review 6 (19771978): 7178Google Scholar. I have yet to be persuaded that there is more to this familiar sort of generalization than sentimental, sexist maundering. Since a member of the audience for the original version of this paper regretted that I had not further developed this “pro-founder” aspect of the womanliness of dance, I should make it clear that the only real connection I see between “Women's Lib” and ecology is that both have been exploited by the mass media.

26. The American association of dance with femininity, in connection with this frontier myth, takes on a form very different from that developed in romantic ballet. “The ballet condemns itself by enforcing the deformation of the beautiful woman's body! No historical, no choreographical reasons can prevail against that,” wrote Duncan, Isadora in The Art of the Dance (New York: Theatre Arts Inc., 1928), p. 56Google Scholar. And again:

It is not only a question of true art, it is a question of race, of the development of the female sex to beauty and health, of the return to the original strength and to natural movements of woman's body. …

The dancing school of the future is to develop and show the ideal form of woman (p. 61).

The reference to race is not accidental, for she writes elsewhere of the American dance of the future:

This dance will have nothing in it either of the servile coquetry of ballet or the sensual convulsion of the South African negro. It will be clean. … The real American type can never be a ballet dancer. The legs are too long, the body too supple and the spirit too free for this school of affected grace and toe-walking. It is noteworthy that all great ballet dancers have been very short women with small frames. A tall finely made woman could never dance the ballet (p. 49).

There is something in that: the Paris Opera recruited its dancers from the slums. But there may be a personal bias, for photographs reveal an earth-motherly aspect to Isadora's beauty: that is, she acquired a distinctly low center of gravity. The same emphasis on the essential Americanism of a corn-fed frame appears in Margaret H'Doubler's predilection for the great galumphing girls of Wisconsin (Dance: A Creative Art Experience [New York: F. S. Crofts, 1940], the opening chapters)Google Scholar.

27. A review of the examples of dance collected from around the world by Hanna (To Dance Is Human) shows that cultures in which only women dance, or dance more than men, are few indeed.

28. Fokine's version is: “When Diaghilev announced Anna Pavlova as ‘a nearly equal partner to Nijinsky,’ this unfair estimation of Pavlova led to her resignation from the company” (Fokine, p. 221).

29. In the Preface to Guest, Ivor's The Romantic Ballet in Paris (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 1966)Google Scholar, Ninette de Valois remarks that even in the romantic ballet in Paris male dancers and choreographers retained artistic control, though performance and publicity were focussed on the female dancers. Isadora's woman-centered dance can be construed as an attempt to recapture the spirit of romantic ballet in a less artificial and more democratic form, rather than (as she thought of it) as a rediscovery of the original nature of dance—she mistakenly supposed, as Levin does, that femininity was part of that original nature rather than a recent and local phenomenon.

30. The association of dance with womanhood, once established, is institutionally perpetuated. Educational authorities offer dance to girls, but not to boys, as a means of fulfilling a physical training requirement. The dissemination of Martha Graham's teaching, at Bennington summer schools between 1934 and 1938, to physical training instructors, was instrumental in this process, and had other effects as well: modern dance in America still has, spiritually, a whistle on a string round its neck (for Bennington see McDonagh, , Martha Graham, p. 110ff)Google Scholar.

31. Guest, , Romantic Ballet in Paris, pp. 7 and 3Google Scholar.

32. Journal des débats, March 2, 1840, quoted in Guest, , Romantic Ballet in Paris, 21Google Scholar. Théophile Gautier writes in a very similar vein. Janin's reference to “unmaking laws” may be significant as a veiled reference to the contrast between post-revolutionary France and the ancien régime.

33. The 1661 charter of the Academie Royale had emphasized the utility of dance in teaching the use of weapons. Fencing is dancing of a sort. Lessons in an elementary sword-dance formed part of my fencing lessons from a former Regimental Sergeant Major. Fokine notes as inexplicable that the special subjects at the St. Petersburg Imperial Theater School in 1889 included military gymnastics and fencing; it does not seem at all surprising to me (Fokine, p. 17). Lucian's defense of dancing expatiates on the antiquity of military dancing (Peri Orcheseos, pp. 8-10).

34. Guest's descriptions of the methods of recruitment and training at the Paris Opera School bear out the other half of Tolstoy's denunciation: that these luxury arts rest on the oppression and exploitation of the poor by the rich.

35. See for instance Fokine's observation that in the Russian ballet of 1890, “Everything was directed towards one goal: immediate, personal and loud recognition,” and that in consequence ballet was despised not only by public and press but by artists in other arts (Fokine, pp. 47-53). It has to be admitted that the faults have not been everywhere corrected nor the stigma removed.

36. The pluralization of the sylphs was a stroke of genius, translating from the context of suppressed lust into that of self-contained ethereality.

37. Hegel, G. W. F., Aesthetics, translated by Knox, T.M. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975), p. 626Google Scholar.

38. Hegel, , Aesthetics, pp. 330, 495Google Scholar.

39. Hegel, , Aesthetics, pp. 124, 627, 1039Google Scholar.

40. Hegel, , Aesthetics, pp. 1186-87, 1192Google Scholar.

41. Hegel, , Aesthetics, pp. 1039, 1192, 495Google Scholar.

42. d'Alembert, Jean, Preliminary Discourse to the Encyclopedia, translated by Schwab, R. N. (New York: Liberal Arts Press, 1963), pp. 3755Google Scholar.

43. d'Alembert, , Preliminary Discourse, p. 39Google Scholar.

44. The phrase is adapted from Gerard Manley Hopkins on poetry, by Cohen, S. J., “Prolegomenon to the Aesthetics of Dance,” in Nadel, and Nadel, , The Dance Experience, pp. 45Google Scholar; I take its intention to be in line with the formulation quoted above by Adam Smith. The definition is much less careful than that cited from Hanna in note 5, but the latter is not without its problems: its definition of “aesthetic” is hardly lucid, and the requirements of rhythmicality and cultural patterning are hard to make precise in any non-circular way. We observe that Smith and Cohen stipulate that the relevant access to dance is visual, whereas Hanna, with her rather puzzling emphasis on “the dancer's perspective,” might almost be ruling out visual access. Her book, for all the wealth of information it collects and collates, does not clarify such theoretical points, and in the end the promised “theory of non-verbal communication” is not really provided. Sketchy indications such as those of Cohen are thus not yet ruled out of court.

45. Kristeller, Paul Oskar, “The Modern System of the Arts,” (Journal of the History of Ideas, 1951)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, reprinted in Problems in Aesthetics, ed. Weitz, Morris, 2nd ed., (New York: Macmillan, 1970), pp. 108164Google Scholar. The relation between autocracy, acquisition, and art is explored by Bazin, Germain in The Museum Age (New York: Universe Books, 1967)Google Scholar.

46. See the materials collected by McGowan, Margaret M., L'Art du ballet de cour en France 1581-1643 (Paris: C.N.R.S., 1963)Google Scholar. Ménestrier, , Des Ballets anciens et modernes, p. 146Google Scholar, observes that ballet is a divertissement, but deplores the modern custom of abandoning the principles of symbolism in the interests of entertainment value, especially by having the performers lay aside their symbolic trappings before they start to dance.

47. It was harder to reconcile classical authority with current practice in music; the Florentine camerata had to re-invent music in the ancient manner. But there was a secular vacuum for that music to fill.

48. Weaver, John, Essays Toward an History of Dancing (London: Tonson, 1712), p. 121Google Scholar, points this out: “The Actions and Gestures of these Mimes, and Pantomimes, tho' adapted to the Pleasure of the Spectator, were never thought a general Qualification fit for Persons of Quality, or Gentlemen, from thence to derive a graceful Motion, Mien or handsome Assurance in Conversation.” However, he does not accept the thesis that changes in the style of dancing have made classical eulogies of dance inapplicable to modern dance: “As to Dancing in its Fundamentals and Expediency, Modern Dancing is of equal Desert,” and is closer than pantomime to the original forms of dance (p. 8). According to McGowan, , L'Art du Ballet de cour, p. 22Google Scholar, Beaujoyeulx, 's Ballet comique de la reine of 1581Google Scholar, which inaugurates the French court ballet and in which the four arts of music, poetry, painting, and dance were meant to be fused, was intended to realize Jean Antoine de Baif's ideal of reviving ancient drama through the reduction of dance, music and verse to a common measure. If that was what was intended, however, it did not come off, for the reasons Menestrier gives (cf. note 17 above).

49. John Weaver says this in the Dedication to his presentation of Feuillet's dance notation:

Tho' Dancing and Musick seem to be of near an equal Antiquity, and even of an equal Extent, yet Musick has long receiv'd an Advantage, which Dancing wanted. Musick has employ'd the Pens of many of the Learned, both Ancient and Modern, and has had the Benefit of an universal character, which convey'd the harmonious Compositions to all Lovers of the Art in all Nations. Dancing, on the contrary, tho' celebrated by Ancient Authors in an extraordinary manner, and with uncommon Praises, (as I shall shew in a Treatise, which I shall suddenly publish on that Subject) yet among the Moderns, it has been wholly unknown to the Learned, and destitute of all Pens, in either the speculative or practick part of the Art, which for want of an universal Character, was confin'd to the immediate Master and Scholar, or at farthest, to a narrow traditional Instruction, which none could participate of without a Teacher, who had been taught by some other, either Composer, or Scholar of such Composer. (Orchesography; or, the Art of Dancing, by Characters and Demonstrative Figures. … Being an Exact and Just Translation from the French of Monsieur Feuillet [London: H. Meere, 1706]Google Scholar, “The Dedication”).

50. Claims of sibling status for dance take several forms. Plutarch at the end of Symposium Questions IX proposes that dance be substituted for painting in Simonides' famous analogy between poetry and painting, and Colletet appeals to the same analogy in adding dance to the pair:

If the Ancients called poetry a speaking painting and painting a silent poetry, we may follow their example and call dance—especially that which is performed in our ballets—a mobile picture or an animated poetry. For, just as poetry is a true picture of our passions and painting a discourse, dumb indeed, but still able to arouse whatever our imagination may hold, so dance is a lively image of our actions and an artistic expression of our secret thoughts (Colletet, G., preface to his Grand Ballet des Effects de la Nature [Paris, 1636]Google Scholar; quoted by Prunières, Henry, Le Ballet de cour en France avant Benserade et Lully [Paris: Henri Laurens, 1914], p. 168Google Scholar; my translation).

Ménestrier then takes the three sister arts to be music, poetry, and painting, and says that dance is their elder brother, though fallen into neglect (Des Ballets anciens et modernes, p. 1). Gallini, (Treatise on the Art of Dancing, p. 142)Google Scholar quotes the Chevalier de Ramsay to the effect that “To the study of poetry, should be joined that of the three arts of imitation. The antients represented the passions, by gestures, colors, and sounds.” Finally, Adam Smith, in the article cited in note 1, introduces a triad of dance, poetry and music; and this triad is later taken up by Wagner (see p. 19). Obviously this last triad, which excludes painting, is based not on a division of the means of expression or representation, but on a classification of artistic movement.

51. One important factor was the King's choice of a role. According to the libretto of the Ballet de la délivrance de Reynaud (1617), “Ce ne fut pas sans choix ny raison que le Roy voulut representer icy le Demon du feu”: fire, which purifies and joins like to like, symbolizes his beneficence to his subjects, his power to his enemies, and his magnificence to foreigners (McGowan, , L'Art du ballet de cour, p. 108Google Scholar). Similarly, Erlanger, Philippe in his Louis XIV (New York: Praeger, 1970), p. 117Google Scholar, quotes the King's Memoirs with reference to the Fête de carrousel (1662), a year after he had assumed absolute power:

I chose to assume the form of the sun, because of the unique quality of the radiance that surrounds it; the light it imparts to the other stars, which impose a kind of court; the fair and equal share of that light that it gives to all the various climates of the world; the good it does in every place, ceaselessly producing joy and activity on every side; the untiring motion in which it yet seems always tranquil; and that constant, invariable course from which it never deviates or diverges—assuredly the most vivid and beautiful image of a great monarch.

Obviously these ideas are to be conveyed by knowledge of what it is that the king is representing, not at all by any movements he may make. Compare Ménestrier's implication that the symbolic meaning is carried by the costumes and emblems of the dancers, as opposed to their steps (note 46 above).

52. In the Greek tragedy that Plato condemned, while the professional actors were up there on the stage, the chorus were amateur singers and dancers privileged to participate on the city's behalf in this ritual worship of Dionysus. Plato would keep the civic chorus and reject the professional display. (No reference to this aspect of tragedy can be found in Aristotle's Poetics: it is an important though little-noted feature of his philosophy of morality and culture that he systematically excludes from consideration the ritual and religious significances of all contemporary practices except formal sacrifices, which he reduces to the status of arbitrary conventions.)

53. This is what Baïf fastened on—see note 48 above.

54. This dance would be the dance of Shiva, Lord of the Dead: Schopenhauer invokes traditional Indian thought.

55. In tracing the pedigree of the dance, Lucian invokes the round-dance of the heavens, which is certainly choros rather than orchesis. This suggests that he was not aware of any difference between the two concepts. The Peri Orcheseos is by no means a profound or penetrating work. (Nonetheless, McGowan claims that it is the immediate source of all the sixteenth-century theories relating dance to the music of spheres; they all cite it [L'Art du ballet de cour, p. 20].)

56. Ménestrier, writing twelve years after Louis XIV had ceased to take part in ballets, disagrees: he holds that dance is unsuitable to doctors, magistrates, the old, and counsellors, but not for young princes (Des ballets anciens et modernes, pp. 17-18).

57. If the indications of Liddell and Scott's Lexicon are to be relied on, orchesis is a much rarer word than choros, and one built less centrally into the language—further, then, from the central concerns of Hellenic civilization.

58. Yo Kî or the Record of Music, in Sacred Books of the East, ed. Mueller, Max, Vol. 28 (London: Oxford University Press, 1885)Google Scholar.

59. In the Ballet comique de la reine, 1581, Beaujoyeulx “constantly reverts to the relationship between the harmony of heaven and that which it is desired to restore on earth: the music of the gilded vault not only represents but attracts ‘la vraye harmonie du ciel, de laquelle toutes les choses qui sont en estre sont conservées et maintenues’ (p. 5v)” (McGowan, , L'Art du ballet de cour, p. 46Google Scholar; my translation).

60. The symbolism of the maypole seems obvious, but the habit of indiscriminately ascribing traditional practices to “fertility rites,” of which the Diaghilev Sacre du Printemps is one manifestation, really belongs to the end of the nineteenth century; the heyday of the fashion was over by 1920, though its vestiges linger here and there.

61. According to Maurice Béjart, “Dance is a phenomenon of religious origin, and then social, and to the extent that it remains a religious and social phenomenon it fulfills its function. Dance is a rite, sacred and human, and as far as it is a rite it interests me. As a divertissement it is not dance.” (Quoted in Percival, John, Experimental Dance [London: Studio Vista, 1971], p. 57Google Scholar.) But Béjart's ballets are obviously not rituals of any specific cult: all he means is that one should dance as though one were performing some rite or other.

62. For the facile assumption that ethnic dance and art dance are discontinuous, compare Mary H. Kaprelian's comment on an article by Feibleman, James K.: “An example of how far out of touch the philosopher may be with dance. Fails to distinguish between ethnic dance and dance as an art form.” (Aesthetics for Dancers [Washington: AAHPER, 1976], p. 58.)Google Scholar For the opposite view, see Hanna, , To Dance Is Human, pp. 201–2Google Scholar: “Whether a ballet series at Lincoln Center in New York City or a performance for a New Yam Festival among the Ubakala in Nigeria, dance may fulfill the same kinds of function for dancers and observers. … There are more similarities than differences to be found in Balanchine's students' devotion to the dance form, intragroup competition, and cooperation and that of an Ubakala's youth group.”

63. This would of course be true only in the ideal case: not every performer's experience would on every occasion be profounder than that of every member of the audience! But in any case it is hard to see how this can be true of the dance, in which the performer cannot see himself and has only kinesthetic or imaginative access to his dance. See my essay The Solitary Dancer,” Philosophic Exchange 3 (Summer 1981): 6980Google Scholar.

64. None of the choreographers contributing to Cohen, S. J., ed., The Modern Dance (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 1966)Google Scholar admit to thinking of themselves as producing something primarily to be looked at, much less to give pleasure in being looked at.

65. According to Descartes' associate Mersenne, Marin (Harmonie universelle [Paris: S. Cramoisy, 1636], p. 159)Google Scholar, God is “the supreme master of the ballet danced by all creatures, in steps and movements so well regulated that they enrapture wise and learned men and bring contentment to the Angels and to all the saints.” (My translation.)

66. For the nature of this transformation in underlying attitudes, see Gadamer, H.-G.'s Truth and Method (London: Sheed and Ward, 1975), Part IGoogle Scholar; but do not forget that the contrast between rational beauty and aesthetic attractiveness had long been a commonplace. See note 84 below.

67. Cohen argues that planometric patterns prevailed in court ballets because the dancers, being amateurs, could not manage elaborate steps and acrobatic feats. One could apply the same argument to the dances of the Athenian Dionysia that are Plato's exemplars. That is to say, choros would be orchesis if it could. Obviously there is a lot of truth in that: a large part of Plato's and Aristotle's thought on these matters, as also of Confucian thought, is simple opposition to professionalism. But they certainly made a virtue of this necessity.

The question why theater and dance retreated behind a proscenium arch remains to be considered. For some relevant factors, see Yates, Frances A., Theatre of the World (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1969)Google Scholar. The change goes with a philosophical transition from classical to baroque forms of thought, from emphasis on reality to emphasis on appearance; and specifically with a vogue for stage illusions calling for machinery which an open hall cannot accommodate. The French court ballet resisted this change, and its theatrical housing remained archaic. (See Prunières, , Le Ballet de cour en France, p. 150 ff.Google Scholar) The end of any court ballet, according to Prunières, was to prepare for the final grand ballet, a formal dance in which only the nobility took part; and for years after an elevated stage had been introduced, the courtiers would descend a ramp into the body of the hall for this formal finale. Finally, in the Ballet de la prosperité des armes de France (1641), the court does not descend into the hall but remains on stage where it appears in a sort of apotheosis, celebrating the separateness of the monarchy; and in the new Palais Cardinal the stage, behind a proscenium, had neither stairs nor ramp down to the body of the hall (McGowan, , L'Art du ballet de cour en France, pp. 188190Google Scholar). The origin of planometric dance in modern times remains obscure: according to McGowan (ibid. p. 36) the first reference to it is in Colonna's Hypnerotomachia of 1499, and Beaujoyeulx used it for the grand ballet of the Ballet Comique de la Reine, emphasizing in his libretto its geometric character.

68. It would not be surprising to learn that the practice of the Spanish Riding School at Vienna, for all its historical vicissitudes, preserves the only authentic and recognizable vestiges of the practice of court ballet—horse ballets were a recognized genre, and Ménestrier, (Des Ballets anciens et modernes, p. 235 ff.Google Scholar) includes some descriptions. It is hard to tuck dancing horses away on a stage. But my information is inadequate—Handler, Hans's The Spanish Riding School (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1972) has nothing relevantGoogle Scholar.

69. The phrase “Divine Grace is dancing” is from the version of the second-century Acts of John set by Gustav Hoist in his Hymn of Jesus. Jesus makes the Apostles form a ring round him and hold hands, and they circle around him answering “Amen” as he sings: “Glory to Thee, Father. … Glory to Thee, Word; Glory to Thee, Grace. Grace is dancing; I wish to pipe, dance all of you.” “Amen!”. … “The twelfth number dances above.” “Amen!” “Dancing belongs to the sum of things.” “Amen!” “He who does not dance does not know what is happening.” “Amen!”. … “He who dances knows what I am doing, that his is this human suffering that I am going to suffer.” The word for “dance” is the choros-woid choreuein throughout, except when Jesus says “Dance, all of you” (orchesasthe pantes), when he uses an orchesis-word. This text was not recognized as canonical by official Christianity, but any blanket condemnation of dancing by the church was made very difficult by Matthew 11.17, in which Jesus seems to regard dancing as harmless, and downright impossible by II Samuel 6, in which a woman who despises King David for dancing before the Lord suffers a magical retribution. For more on King David and dancing Grace, see p. 19 below.

70. Lukacs, Georg in Die Eigenart des Aesthetischen (Darmstadt: Luchterhand, 1963)Google Scholar takes it to be the chief mission of art as such to rescue art-like practices from magic and religion and establish their significance as secular.

71. Erlanger, , Louis XIV, p. 25Google Scholar.

72. “Nature” in Plotinus is best understood as a sort of force of generalized vitality, productive of change and variety as such. Susanne Langer's general account of the significance of dance in Feeling and Form (New York: Scribners, 1953)Google ScholarPubMed hits it off exactly, though there is nothing to suggest that Langer had any such neoplatonic source in mind.

A parallel for the assigning of dance to a secondary level of cosmogony is found among the Dogon of Mali, for whom

God's son the jackal danced and tranced out the world and its future; and wearing the fibre skirt imbued with the first Word revealed by the Spirit to the earth, the jackal spoke the “word that contained the designs of the celestial powers. So the first attested dance had been a dance of divination; it had told in the dust the secrets of the Word contained in the fibres worn by the dancer.” (Hanna, , To Dance Is Human, p. 50Google Scholar, quoting Griaule, Marcel, Conversations with Ogotemmêli [London: Oxford University Press, 1965], p. 187.)Google Scholar

73. For a later rhapsody on this theme, see Tuccaro, Archange, Trois dialogues de l'exercice de sauter et voltiger en l'air (Paris, 1599), p. 36Google Scholar, who says of the planetary motions:

If one would consider all these things perfectly, one could perhaps recognize that they are justly imitated and represented in the ball… those fine and varied retreats, advances, and diagonals, so gracefully performed, are the same conjunctions and triangular, tetragonal, even hexagonal oppositions that daily (as it were) relate the planets in their heavenly spheres. (Quoted by McGowan, , L'Art du ballet de cour en France, pp. 2021Google Scholar; my translation.)

The history of the metaphor whereby the heavenly bodies are said to dance has been traced in detail by Miller, James Lester, Choreia: Visions of the Cosmic Dance in Western Literature from Plato to Jean de Meun (unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of Toronto, 1979)Google Scholar.

74. Aristotle, , Metaphysics XII, 1076a4Google Scholar, citing Homer, , Iliad II, line 204Google Scholar.

75. According to de Saint-Hubert, M., La Manière de composer et faire réussir les ballets (Paris: F. Targa, 1641)Google Scholar, dance was “one of the three principle exercises of the nobility” (quoted by Christout, M.F. in Le Ballet de cour de Louis XIV [Paris: Picard, 1967], p. 27)Google Scholar.

76. See McGowan, , L'Art du ballet de cour en France, pp. 174–6Google Scholar, and Christout, Le Ballet de cour de Louis XIV, passim.

77. McGowan, observes, however (L'Art du ballet de cour en France, p. 170)Google Scholar, that ballets, unlike plays, tended to be used to promote politico-philosophical ideals rather than to promote specific policies.

78. Compare T.S. Eliot's adaptation of Thomas Elyot's Gouvernour:

The association of man and woman

In daunsinge, signifying matrimonie. …

Two and two, necessarye coniunction,

Holding eche other by the hand or the arm

Which betokeneth Concorde.

John Weaver quotes the same passage in his Essay Towards an History of Dancing, p. 67 ff.; the significance of the hand-holding betokening concord is said to be the conjunction of male and female virtue. Davies, as we shall see, introduces concord as such in a different context.

79. Tuccaro's analogies (see note 73 above) belong to the same world of thought.

80. The immediate allusion must be to Plato's Symposium, but the underlying thought is that expressed more clearly by Aristotle's claim that early thinkers deified Eros to signify “a principle of things which is at the same time the cause of beauty, and that sort of cause from which things acquire movement” (Metaphysics A, 984b20ff.).

81. Here, as often, “concord” is to be taken as implying what the Romans had called concordia ordinum, that acceptance of a hierarchical social order which Plato had identified as one of the prime virtues of a city. Davies, a lawyer, would be familiar with the ideology of Roman law; but his thought here has an immediate antecedent in Jean Dorat's “Eprithalame” of 1570:

Jouvenceaux: Le monde est faict par discorde accordance:

Le Roy craint Dieu, et les Princes le Roy,

Qui vont donnans au peuple bas la Loy.

Dansons ainsi pour n'avoir discordance.

Pucelles: L'un doit porter à l'autre obeissance

Du plus petit jusques au grant des grans,

Sans rompre l'ordre et sans troubler les rangs,

Pour danser tous en bonne convenance. …

Pucelles: Nous ne scaurions aller en decadence,

Puisque le Roy Charles mene le bal:

Comm'un Soleil qui va d'à mont à val,

En conduisant d'astres grand'abondance.

(Quoted by McGowan, , L'Art du ballet de cour en France, pp. 2122.Google Scholar)

82. Why did Louis XIV stop dancing? The question has more than anecdotal interest. When Louis withdrew (his last appearance was in Les Amants magnifiques in 1670), many other nobles withdrew also; this withdrawal gave Lully his opportunity to take over Perrin's abortive Academy of 1669 and transform the ballet into a fully professional organization. This transformation marks the end of ballet as a socially pivotal institution in Europe. (Thus Christout in Le Ballet de cour de Louis XIV, pp. 7 and 123; but the granting of the privilege to open Perrin's academy in 1669 presumably shows that the King was thinking of phasing himself out.)

The old tale that Louis's retirement was prompted by Narcisse's speech at the end of Act IV of Racine, 's Britannicus (1669)Google Scholar, in which he imagines the senators despising Nero for “se donner luy-même en spectacle aux Romains,” though accepted by Erlanger in Louis XIV, is rightly rejected by Christout. It is indeed ludicrous. Narcisse is, as Racine points out in his preface, Nero's evil genius, and in this speech he is urging Nero to murder Britannicus. Nor can we imagine Racine being in a position to admonish the King; nor, in view of the long history of the ballet at the French court, would such admonishment have made sense.

The fact is that what calls for explanation is why the court ballet persisted so long. The institution is more appropriate to the small courts of the princes in its Italian homeland. Erlanger, (Louis XIV, p. 177)Google Scholar points out that by 1675 the court establishment numbered in the thousands, as opposed to the mere hundred or so of the early sixties; it was obviously impossible to involve such a court as a whole in a ballet. The inner meaning of this change can perhaps be inferred from Elton, G.R.'s Tudor Revolution in Government (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1959)Google Scholar, which shows how Henry VIII was caught between his twin functions as head of the court and head of the administration.

In the earlier court ballets, the parts in which the gentry performed consisted mostly of the elementary social and ethnic dances of the time, with the final Grand Ballet not even that—more of a processional walk. But the increasing participation of professionals kept driving standards up—Purè, Michel de's Idée des spectacles anciens et nouveaux (Paris: M. Brunet, 1668)Google Scholar maintained that the gentry ought to work at learning their steps (cited by Christout, , Le Ballet de cour de Louis XIV, p. 139Google Scholar). But few nobles had the necessary talent and figure, and not all could spare the time: Louis XIV was not only too fat, he was too busy to practice.

The time at which Louis gives up dancing is also the time at which he embarks on military campaigns. It is tempting to think of these as performing in a wider field the functions that the ballets had performed, that of surrounding the monarchy with visible glory. One has to bear in mind that for Louis XIV much more than for Louis XIII the ballets were a deliberate instrument of policy rather than a natural manifestation of princedom. Louis XIV's public career as a dancer began at the age of eight, as part of a desperate publicity campaign by Mazarin to build up the king's personal image against disaffection; a campaign renewed after the Fronde (it was then, in 1653, at the age of fifteen, that Louis first appeared as the Sun, in the Ballet de la nuit). Royal participation in the ballet was protracted long after its natural term, as a beloved anachronism; when the king's position was independently strong and conspicuous enough, there was no need to continue it. A king has no need to dance the sun, if he is the sun.

83. The text here repeats what is commonly said of the fate of music in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. But one should bear in mind that a tradition going back to the Middle Ages had reserved a place for an esoteric music—almost a secret music—that only experts could understand, and had assigned to this music a higher dignity than that of the music all educated persons shared. No such tradition of an inner circle of erudite dance and its initiates existed, though the allegorical meanings that the libretti claimed for court ballets were probably not meant to be present to the minds of most spectators. What was a mystery to the literati was a mere spectacle to the plain man.

84. These principles of design have now been examined and explicated by Gombrich, E.H. in The Sense of Order (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1979)Google Scholar. Plato's contrast between beautiful simplicity and seductive variety is picked up by Augustine, (De Ordine II, 32 ff.)Google Scholar and becomes the contrast between rational beauty and perceptible charm employed by Vasari and other theorists of the Renaissance and after.

85. In a dance in which distinguished amateurs perform alongside professionals, the parts taken by the former must be technically and athletically modest: the danse noble is fundamentally a dance that even a noble can do. Gallini remarks that “The grave or serious stile of dancing, is the great ground-work of the art. It is also the most difficult” (Treatise on the Art of Dancing, p. 75)Google Scholar. No doubt something of the sort was true, as one might nowadays say that a flashy technique is valueless without purity of line; but there may also be an element of flattery in it, as the gentry consoled themselves for the nimbleness of the professional dancer by reflecting that, however hard the poor fellow worked, he could never attain the all-important quality they themselves already had, of being a gentleman. The aristocrat appreciates in his dancing master what he himself is aspiring to do, his own ideal as a dancer. When the amateur disappears from the scene there is no reason to maintain this artificial prestige for the movements of dignity.

86. Anonymous article in Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th edition, vol. 3 (1910), p. 270Google Scholar. The article was not in the ninth edition, as might have been expected; its anonymity may reflect the low social standing of ballet at the time.

87. What the Encyclopedia Britannica author has in mind is that only where the inherent values of all dance are esteemed throughout society will the specifically theatrical dance of ballet be sustained by being made the object of an attention that is not frivolous. In this connection it is worth noting that Locke, John's Thoughts Concerning Education (1693)Google Scholar, determinedly hostile to poetry, praises dance as an “accomplishment most necessary for a gentleman”: “Dancing being that which gives graceful motions all the life, and above all things manliness and a becoming confidence to young children, I think it cannot be learned too early.” John Weaver followed an Aristotelian tradition in separating this advocacy of social dance from the practice of professional dance:

To dance too exquisitely is, I must own, too laborious a Vanity; and to be totally ignorant of it, and of that Carriage, Behaviour, Fashion and Address, gain'd by learning it, shews (on the other hand) a Man either stoical, or but meanly bred, or not us'd to Conversation. The best therefore is a kind of Artful Carelessness, as if it were a natural Motion, without a too curious and painful practising (Essay Towards an History of Dancing, p. 65).

I suppose what this means is that the newly-rich takes dancing lessons in the hope that he will pass for a gentleman born and bred (cf. note 85).

88. Compare Isadora Duncan's claim that whereas her initial inspiration had come from Walt Whitman, “afterwards, coming to Europe, I had three great Masters, the three great precursors of the Dance of our century—Beethoven, Nietzsche and Wagner” (The Art of the Dance, p. 48). For Beethoven, see below, p. 19 and note.

89. It was this comprehensive presentation that Baif recognized in Greek drama and sought to reconstitute in ballet but (for want of effective contact with the creative sources of dance in Italy) could not put into effect. Compare Duncan's surprising claim that “To unite the arts around the Chorus, to give back to the dance its place as the chorus, that is my ideal. When I have danced I have tried always to be the chorus. … I have never once danced a solo” (The Art of the Dance, p. 96). (What makes this claim surprising is that the impression Duncan's dance made on others was that of incommunicably individual genius. Robert Henri, for instance, uses her as the prime illustration of his thesis that we “deal in an unconscious way with another dimension than the well-known three,” because differences in significance in art do not seem to correlate with measurable differences:

Isadora Duncan, who is perhaps one of the greatest masters of gesture the world has ever seen, carries us through the universe in a single movement of her body. Her hand alone held aloft becomes a shape of infinite significance. Yet her gesture in fact can only be the stretch of arm or the stride of a normal human body (Henri, Robert, The Art Spirit [Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1923, repr. 1960], pp. 5455)Google Scholar.

It was indeed a common complaint about Duncan that her attempts to impart her technique were futile: she could only say “Not like this, but like this”—and there was no visible difference between the right and the wrong, except that the right were of the kind that Henri describes and the wrong were just ordinary.)

90. According to Fokine, “A choreographer's creation leaves only a fleeting impression with even the most experienced spectator. The more a ballet is scattered around the world, the more it deteriorates. The longer a ballet exists in the repertoire, the further it departs from its original version (“Father used to say” this according to Vitale Fokine in Fokine, p. 297).

91. This is because the status of the instance itself is always in question. What matters is the possibility of an admitted counterexample, not the actual existence of a phenomenon that would be a counter-example if its status were conceded. Tolstoy can cite King Lear, and Collingwood can cite the Hammerklavier Sonata, as examples of what is not art; and one can see their point.

92. Goodman, Nelson in Languages of Art (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1968)Google Scholar opened up the topic of notationality, but his lead has not been followed.

93. The notation invented by Feuillet, presented in Weaver's Orchesography of 1706, would obviously be intolerably cluttered if applied to movements of any complexity. It rather relies on the presumption that “The Carriage and Movement of the Arms depend more on the Fancy of the Performer, than on any certain Rules” (p. 55). Gallini, (Treatise on the Art of Dancing, p. 123)Google Scholar says that the use of a notation “only serves to obstruct and infrigidate the fire of composition”—if a choreographer is sufficiently struck by his own ideas, he says, he will remember them.

94. Cf. note 89 above on Duncan's failure as a teacher.

95. The history of the ideology and iconography of the Graces is traced by Deichgräber, Karl in Charts und Charites: Grazie und Grazien (Munich: Ernst Heimeran, 1971)Google Scholar. On his account, Wagner would have picked up the notion of making the Graces symbolic of grace in art from such texts of German romanticism as Herder, J. G.'s Das Fest der Grazien (1793)Google Scholar, which in turn derived from Schiller's use of Winckelmann.

96. Deichgräber observes that the ambiguity is inherent in the Graces themselves, who begin their career as goddesses of benediction (etymologically connected with chairein, to rejoice or prosper), and become successively associated with a divine beauty of person, the spirit of fifth-century Athenian culture, and the “beauties” of a poet's style. “Grace” may stand for whatever the Graces at any time may be thought to bestow, and in addition to the two specific meanings mentioned in the text it may in aesthetics stand for the uncovenanted “Je ne sais quoi,” that aspect of beauty which is attested to by experience but cannot be accounted for by any system.

97. Dance being a kind of practice, it is hard to see what would be meant by ascribing an essence to it, and harder to see how one could determine what its essence is—the fancy word “quintessence” was used to warn the reader that an element of metaphor was seeping in. What is meant is that a statue or picture of the Graces is correctly interpreted when they are taken to be dancing in such a way as perfectly to express that motivation which most typically moves humans to dance rather than to do something equally well or better designated by some other word. It follows that if no such motivation can be identified the iconography of the Graces represents an unsubstantiated claim.

98. Lemprière, J., Bibliotheca Classica; or, a Classical Dictionary (London: T. Cadell Jun. and W. Davies, 4th ed., 1801)Google Scholar, s.v. “Charities & Gratiae.”

99. According to Deichgraber (Charts und Chariten, p. 58) a cosmic interpretation in neoplatonic terms is first found in Proclus; the moral interpretation exemplified by Lemprière is Stoic, and Seneca (citing Chrysippus) gives three versions (to which Herder refers in Das Fest der Grazien).

100. Compare Gregory Nazianzen (Adversus Julianum Oratio 4, ch. 43):

And if you must dance, being addicted to feasts and festivals, then dance; only, not the dance of the shameless Herodias, whose end was the death of the Baptist, but the dance of David at the resting of the Ark, which I believe to be symbolic of the mobile and agile outgoing of the Divine (tes eukinetou kai polustrophou kata theon poreias).

On the human scale, it is this sense of movement as an outgoing of the inward person that is captured in Martha Graham's much-quoted formulation of what it is to dance significantly: “Through the medium of discipline and by means of a sensitive, strong instrument, to bring into focus unhackneyed movement: a human being” (in Rogers, Frederick Rand, ed., Dance: A Basic Educational Technique [New York: Macmillan, 1941]Google Scholar; cited from Cohen, S.J., ed., Dance as a Theatre Art [New York: Dodd, Mead and Co., 1974], p. 136)Google Scholar.

101. The duplication and inversion of this theme in La Spectre de la Rose is as profound an invention as the metamorphosis of La Sylphide into Les Sylphides.

102. Wagner fails to observe that meter is a late and sophisticated device, superimposing on the rhythm of the voice a specifically musical order. Not for nothing is Augustine's treatise on prosody called De Musica. But, if he had observed it, it is unlikely that it would have changed his mind: he would regard the relationships he unveiled as unaffected by accidents of historical sequence, and would derive strict tempi in music from the necessity of accompanying verse.

103. Like Wagner, Adam Smith points to the symbolic poverty of music—“In the power of expressing a meaning with clearness and distinctness, Dancing is superior to Music, and Poetry to Dancing”; and like Wagner (though for a different reason) he thinks dancing must depend on music for its artistic articulation: “In Dancing, the rhythmus, the proper proportion, the time and measure of its motions, cannot be distinctly perceived, unless they are marked by the more distinct time and measure of Music. It is otherwise in poetry. … ” He contends, though I cannot tell why, that the ear judges “time and measure” more precisely than the eye (“On the Nature of that Imitation…,” p. 236).

104. This contention, most familiar from Hanslick, had been common ground for up-to-date musicians since the middle of the eighteenth century.

105. Duncan's version of Wagner's argument has it that dance with-out music is not so much ungainly as meaningless: “The ballet is without true significance, without any accord with art,… for in the ballet the dance aspires to be everything, to take the place of poetry and drama. The proof that the dance cannot exist alone is that it finds recourse to pantomime” (The Art of the Dance, p. 95). Rather similarly, Henry Prunieres argued that ballet, shorn of the literary underpinnings with which the composers of court ballets had often provided it, could only become opera or degenerate into mere spectacle (Le Ballet de cour en France, pp. 246-47)—an argument which assumes that it is impossible to take any interest in dance as such. To make that assumption is sufficient to exclude any interest in a possible theory of dance as such, and any philosopher who made the assumption would be bound to ignore dance; but we would need to know why he made the assumption, and his underlying reason might be a prior decision to pay no attention to the dance.

106. Like many of his generation, Wagner is inspired by this symphony and appeals to its authority: its choral finale was held to announce the bankruptcy of instrumental music in general and sonata form in particular. As Wagner saw it, the earlier symphonists had tried to rescue the beauty of “absolute” music from its inherent insignificance by shaping it into the forms of ethnic dance, but had only partly succeeded. The finale of the Ninth explicitly rejects these half-measures—nicht diese Töne—in favor of a hymn that becomes a military march. Everyone knew that Schiller's Freude meant Freiheit—it is, in fact, the latter word that fits Beethoven's spondaic accentuation.

107. Caryl Brahms had made the same point earlier in relation to the European antecedents of the American “modern dance” (there has been a tendency to exaggerate the originality of the American movement, partly, it has been suggested, because its European ancestry was largely German at a time when Germanic connections could be embarrassing):

The greater part of the dancing literature of the Central European school is of transitory material in the form of a personal record of mood or emotion devised by the interpreter. Most of these mood chronicles, being entirely personal and arbitrary, are evanescent. The choreographical approach is subjective and not—as in Ballet Russe—objective (Brahms, Caryl, Footnotes to the Ballet [London: Peter Davies, 1936], pp. 6263Google Scholar).

The close agreement in so tendentious a view suggests that Kirstein is reciting the creed of some balletic orthodoxy rather than reporting on experience.

108. See for instance Murray, Jan, Dance Now (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1979), p. 72Google Scholar. Don McDonagh complains that Graham's teaching was disseminated at Bennington summer schools (1934 to 1938 and after) to physical education instructors who took every little movement and made a dance of it, without artistic purpose (Martha Graham, p. 110 ff.). The pervasiveness of Graham's vocabulary was borne in on me at a baton-twirlers' competition in British Columbia in June, 1980, at which one corps's ensemble piece was made up entirely of Graham-style movements: the girls sprawled on the floor in angular poses expressive of loss, anguish, and despair, twirling their batons vigorously in their free hands.

109. Compare Sokolow, Anna, “The Rebel and the Bourgeois,” in Cohen's Modern Dance, p. 29Google Scholar: “We should not try to create a tradition. The ballet has done that, and that's fine—for the ballet. But not for us. Our strength lies in our lack of tradition.” It is quite true that the original (and violent) objection to ballet had not been to its having a stable tradition but to its social ambience and the specific aesthetic quality of its movements. Duncan, for one, clearly envisaged the replacement of ballet by a “dance of the future” which would have its own discipline and schools.

110. It is important to note that most of those who use the word “elitism” confuse two things: the assignment of exclusive value to one social class and its preferences, and the distinction between doing something well and doing it badly. Equality of opportunity is meaningless unless some of the things one might have the opportunity to do are really better than others in the context of choice.

111. Fried, Michael, “Art and Objecthood,” in Aesthetics: A Critical Anthology ed. Dickie, George and Sclafani, B. F. (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1977), pp. 438460Google Scholar.

112. There is a horrid plausibility to the proud claim of Kraus, Richard's History of the Dance in Art and Education (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1969), pp. 132–3Google Scholar, that the growth period of modern dance, which he sees as a uniquely American phenomenon, stems from the activity at Columbia Teachers College (of which Kraus is an ornament) of Gertrude Colby, who around 1913 developed “a physical education program that would be natural and free, and which would permit self-expression,” through a “creative dance based on natural movement and on children's interests” (my emphasis). If that is so, modern dance should not be seen in terms of compelling conviction, creating tradition, or anything of that order—the appropriate response would be “Yes, dear, very nice.”

113. In one much-mentioned dance in 1957, Paul Taylor simply stood still from the time the curtain rose until the time it fell. In a performance of Cage's 4'33” a musician does nothing for an indeterminate time (according to the score; the custom of choosing a piano to do nothing with, and doing it for four minutes and thirty-three seconds, perpetuates what David Tudor happened to do at the first performance). How do we know that Taylor is dancing and Tudor performing music? Only because the circumstances of presentation invite us to whet our eyes for Taylor and our ears for Tudor.

The foregoing assumes that Paul Taylor was not standing in any particular way, and that is what most accounts of the matter imply. A recent PBS special on Taylor's work, however, included a photograph in which he and a female dancer were striking a pose. If that is what they did, they were presenting a tableau vivant, something very different from what we have been told. If simply standing still was what Taylor did, the point could have been similar to that evoked by Isadora Duncan's comment on a performance of The Second Mrs. Tanqueray: “I said to myself, when I can come on the stage and stand as still as Eleonora Duse did tonight, and, at the same time, create that tremendous force of dynamic movement, then I shall be the greatest dancer in the world.” (The Art of the Dance, p. 121.)

114. The thesis that there are sufficient and necessary conditions of the dance, or that dances have a “family resemblance,” or that the concept of dance is ambiguous or incoherent, does in a sense amount to a “special aesthetics of the dance,” and one likely to be of considerable extent, if adequately explicated and supported. But it could not sustain itself as a discipline, for there would be no reason for anyone to care what anyone said about the matter.

115. It could be argued that post-modern dance reinstates the democracy of movement, and unites dancer and spectator in their common humanity. It could be countered that, just for that reason, no significant body of spectators has accepted that practice as an art. Friedman, J.M. has grappled with this question in his Dancer and Spectator: An Aesthetic Distance (San Francisco: Balletmonographs, 1976)Google Scholar.

S. J. Cohen objects to my claim that theater dance is remote from the experience of the non-dancer, pointing out that we all dream of dancing, flying, and otherwise performing movements beyond the actual capacity of our bodies. Let each speak for his own dreams: my own dreams of levitation do not seem to bring me any closer to anything I would recognize in the dance.

116. The 700 percent increase is claimed by Friedman, , Dancer and Spectator, p. 111 (references, p. 142)Google Scholar, without further specification of what audiences for which dances are included.

117. This three-dimensionality is discussed in my Theory of the Arts (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982), pp. 187191Google Scholar.

118. See Sheets-Johnstone as cited in note 11 above. Paul Taylor's celebrated stand (note 113) could have been an attempt to isolate this dimension of significance, perhaps without realizing that to be present is not enough to establish oneself as a presence.

Isadora Duncan's praise of Duse glosses over what I take to be the fact, that a stage presence as such does not establish its possessor as a dancer rather than a mime or an actor, or even an orator. If the dancer's presentness is distinctive, it must be established as a presentness of the living body as such, rather than of the potential agent; if it is not distinctive, its character must be established either by the dance context, or by the mental set of the audience, or by something to be more precisely defined with some affinity to one or the other of those.

A good deal of this paper, with its emphasis on dances centered on a single unmoving figure, is a meditation on the significance of one half-remembered experience: the entry of Robert Helpmann in The Haunted Ballroom, a little-esteemed ballet by Ninette de Valois, at Sadler's Wells in about 1945. His immobility dominated the stage and made the other dancers his environment. The quality of his presence was that of a dancer, not an actor.

119. Psychological experiment establishes what we perhaps knew, that humans detect and respond to those movements that have mimetic meaning, the shadow of a smile or a welcoming twinkle, with far greater precision than that of which they are capable in relation to other movements. Choreography and dance aesthetics ignore this at some risk.

120. S.J. Cohen suggests that what Smith contrasts as grace and agility come together in virtuosity, in a dance that exhibits a versatile dancer's training, the dichotomy of “grace” and “agility” may be distracting and misleading. In any case, it appears that the qualities Smith had in mind would either divide the domain of structure or appear in rather different forms in both structure and expression. In neither case would his insistence on their fundamental status sit well with the “three-dimensional” analysis.

121. Sartre's analysis of “the body,” the nature of corporeal experience, in Being and Nothingness, could easily be made the foundation of a philosophy of dance.

122. The suggested answers to the question are by no means exclusive. They could specify alternative ways of relating to any dance, some of which were more appropriate to certain practices than others. (Any tie can be worn with any shirt, and a person may own only one tie which he wears with all his shirts; but some ties go better with some shirts than others.)

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