Nude dance in Weibliche Körperbildung emerged more as a figment of romantic fantasy than as a serious mode of performance that modern society could accommodate. The intensifying eroticism resulting from the nude performance of dance or dancelike movements could well jeopardize the innocence feminists wished to ascribe to their Nacktkultur . A more sobering view came from Dora Menzler, whose Mensendieck-influenced school in Leipzig went into operation about 1908. Die Schönheit deines Körpers (1924) linked her teaching to feminist efforts to construct a "new ideal of woman." Menzler thought too much nakedness could dissipate the physical vitality that feminist body culture sought to cultivate: "Nakedness must not lead to apathy" (41). Therefore, it was not necessary for women to perform all gymnastic activities in the nude. Though she did not specify what activities require nudity, the implication, derived largely from the photodocumentation, was that nudity was appropriate only in solo or group stretching exercises. By contrast, Surén, Koch, and Giese linked nudity to performance in
sports (such as archery, javelin, rowing, wrestling, and weightlifting) as well as dancing.
Menzler, however, asserted emphatically that "dances and dancelike movements which result in heightened emotion should in no case be performed naked." But who felt this ominous "heightened emotion"?—the performer? the (female?) spectator? or both? And what sort of dancelike movements actually heightened emotion? Was the power of these mysterious movements independent of the music that normally accompanied them? Virtually all Nacktkultur theorists implicitly assumed that dancelike movements projected a potent erotic significance independent of the narrative or musical contexts that motivated them. Yet the identity of these movements remained obscure, veiled in a rhetoric of ambivalence toward the unnamed consequences of nude dance. On the one hand, the theorists claimed that body culture reached its highest manifestations through dance and through nudity; on the other hand, they discreetly worried that any convergence of dance and nudity would lower the authority of either to construct a modern, liberated identity for humanity. A few representatives of feminist Nacktkultur resolved the paradox by blurring distinctions between dance and gymnastics, and even the photodocumentation in Menzler's book did not make clear the difference between gymnastic and dancelike movements. Although the bodies she depicted performed in untheatricalized, outdoor spaces, the actions were aesthetic in that they focused attention entirely on the bodies performing them, not on the movements themselves (Hagemann's abstractionism) nor on intragroup dynamics (Hagemann's homoeroticism). However, Menzler did include separate photos of men performing the same exercises as the women, suggesting that gymnastics was a way to resolve differences between men and women associated with feminism. With this strategy, nudity, dance, and gymnastics were subordinated to a peculiar image of a healthy, beautiful body that was desirable without being "seductive," without being a calculated assertion of desire, without being an invitation, a promise, a challenge, or a dare. It was a strategy that completely deflected the burden of desire away from the performer and onto the spectator. More precisely, it intimated, in spite of a ceaseless ambition to document it visually, that Nacktkultur innocence needed no spectator, that those who engaged in it were oblivious to the presence of a critical other.
But Menzler understood that artistic dance is always the embodiment of a powerful desire, a great "must." Giese and Hagemann called this desire erotic, but Menzler preferred to designate it as a "complete surrender" to one's own "bodily form" (42). For her, dance marked the division not only between male and female body culture but also between "healthy" and "dangerous" nudity, for dance, not nudity, was the controlling sign of desire in modern culture. All body culture, she proposed, strove toward the
highest phase (dance, not nudity) because (female) desire was much more complex (vulnerable to misunderstanding) than any condition of nakedness could signify. Thus, "nudity is only a means to an end," and that end was a state of liberation embodied above all by "artistic" dance: "We use nudity for the sake of body culture, but do not pursue body culture for the sake of nudity" (41). But this attitude did compromise the perception of modern identity as a condition of nakedness, unveiling, complete disclosure, fearless objectivity. When nakedness failed to become an end in itself, then all movement served an end that was "mysterious" because it was "hidden" from others. Such a compromise, however, implied a submission to the premodern notion of femininity as a "veiled" construction of identity.