Broad Strokes: The National Museum of Women in the Arts' Blog

In the mid-19th century, dance was ready for a revolution. The ballet theater had been nearly reduced to a peep show in Paris by 1850, as is reflected in the art of Mary Cassatt, Edgar Degas, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and others. Tutus were being shortened. Victorian corsets were donned by young “gamines,” who pranced around for the bourgeoisie. Additionally, as a reaction against the mechanization of the Industrial Revolution, an “ethereal” aesthetic became popular. Pointe shoes were invented by Marie Taglioni in 1827 to heighten the lithe look, and Romantic ballets starred fairies and nymphs. Even male dancing in Romantic ballets was tailored to please male audiences. Basically, a male dancer’s role was merely to frame the female body, support it, and aid in its contortion. Unfortunately, as more ballerinas fit this new ideal, theaters seemed to grow increasingly corrupt. As ballet developed a more scandalous reputation, many serious dancers realized…

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