Nudism, Dance, and Eroticism
Lotte Herrlich's work occupied an ambiguous zone between an activist strand of Nacktkultur, which strove to free the body from unhealthy constraints imposed upon it by industrialized civilization, and a contemplative strand, which saw the nude body as the manifestation of a cosmopolitan,
aesthetically advanced civilization. The contemplative strand valued nudity as an end in itself, but nudity was an end in itself only to the extent that the desire to be nude consciously modeled the desire to see nudity. This strand, defined by the conscious exchange of desire through nudity, bestowed a more overt erotic aura on Nacktkultur than did the activist strands. Erotic signification is always theatrical, a matter of scenes, enactments, pretenses, masks, dramatic pressures on perception. Though the contemplative strand found pleasure in the performance of the nude body in nature, it did not shun the bodily beauty created by the urban studio, the carefully staged pose, the narrativized "mood," the decorative detail, or the cosmetic supplement. But, of course, a consequence of this eclectic attitude was that it conveyed the impression that nudity in "nature" was just as much a pose or theatrical gesture as everything contrived in the secret, exclusive realm of an artist's studio in the big city. The contemplative strand aligned itself more with theatre, film, dance, and art photography than with sports, gymnastics, or communal hygiene. Nude dancing, however, made it difficult to maintain a neat division between activist and contemplative strands of Nacktkultur .
In Der nackte Tanz (1927), Werner Suhr declared that "dance in itself is erotic. Dancing is eroticism. And not just since the illusion-destroying claims of Sigmund Freud" (11). He contended that nude dancing "works most strongly in open nature" (30) and that in its strongest form nude dancing signified an intense critique of the modern mechanization of human identity: "The machine has certainly made hundreds into heroes, but millions into neurasthenics. The machine means nothing to artistic dance" (31). Yet Suhr did not believe that modern nude dancing benefited much from absorbing nude dance rituals of "primitive" peoples (Naturvölker ), especially African or African-American dance: "The Negro plays the role of the oppressed excellently, but in reality it is merely a question of [displaying] physical potency" (37). An unknown writer for the Darmstadt nudist journal Orplid (4/5, 1925) acknowledged that "erotic nude dances" among some Naturvölker led to violent ecstasies and "wild orgies," compared to which all forms of modern and social dancing seemed tame; but the author also observed that constant nudity and even nude dancing among "many" other Naturvölker did not lead to uninhibited eroticism nor to an absence of moral controls (63). He therefore concluded that responses to the naked body, including nude dancing, were not innate but rather conditioned by attitudes toward the body, a "feeling of shame" (Schamgefühl ) introduced by religious doctrines to preserve the authority of marriage as an economic, rather than aesthetic-erotic, institution: "The weaker the feeling of shame, the more marriage becomes the expression of free love, not the pressure of economic considerations and cares" (61). "A person does not acquire the feeling of shame from God or nature" (63). Another anonymous writer in
the same issue of Orplid decided that "true Nacktkultur is not only a healthy pursuit but an intensifying necessity born of a deeply religious feeling. . . . The faith in light is pure German religion" ("Lichtglaube," 54). This author proposed that movements of the nude body in nature signified the recovery of a primeval, pre-Christian, and supremely redemptive mode of Nordic "sun worship," the opposite of the death-darkened anxiety about the body inherent in Christian ideology.
But Christian sentiment and nude dancing were not entirely antithetical during these years. In 1925 Suhr commented uncertainly on Charlotte Bara's nude performance at a concert (not at a school or camp) of her Hymnis ("Der entfesselte Tanz," 243). By no means a pagan, Bara suffused this dance, like many others in her repertoire, with a romantic, Gothic-Christian piety—without, however, depriving her image of erotic glamor. In the Hamburg Nacktkultur journal Die Freude (5/6, 1928), Suhr stressed again the necessity of performing nude dances in the open air, where they would emerge "organically" from a specific environment (256). He insisted that the open-air dancer resist the use of any makeup or theatrical devices, and he denied the relevance to open-air performance of dancers such as Anita Berber, Grit Hegesa, and Jenny Hasselquist, whose styles of movement were too worldly and nocturnal to survive exposure to the sunlight. These dancers were "exotic hot-house flowers," "artistic products, whose art only seldom ignites interest outside of themselves and never glows in real sunlight" (257). The open-air dancer, he observed, is anonymous, has no need to affix names to the naked body. Heavy intellectuality, such as pervaded the work of Mary Wigman, was also alien to Suhr's concept of nude dancing: "[O]ne follows only 'the call' that comes out of the heart of nature and the human body." He felt only Edith von Schrenck possessed the "double nature" to dance in the open air and on the stage, because her eyes and style of movement revealed a strange connection to the earth and to a subterranean feel for theatre.
But in an earlier issue of Die Freude (5/4, 1928), Lotte Neelsen, who in 1924 had published a small book containing twelve photographs of a nude female dancer in an austere studio, complained that open-air nude dancing was a kind of artless folk dance that associated freedom with only one emotion: joy. Artistic dance, however, was not always the creation or expression of joy; art dominated space to produce concentration in a critical spectator ("Tanzkunst," 184). The real problem with nude dancing, she contended, was that dance lacked its own unique architecture. "It is not in the open air, with its incessant weavings and rushes, but in silent halls and ceremonial temples that the elements of the neo-classical dance will unfold as a great, sacred flame" (185). Her vision of nude dance was much more Hellenic than Nordic and more severe than exuberant. In a 1924 article for the Essen Jugendkultur journal Hellweg, Neelsen asserted that dance was most naked
(and "cold") when stripped of music. She had tried dances in which she moved to the accompaniment of her own speech instead of music, but these experiments failed; she therefore sought a way in which dance, through nudity, could become musical without depending on music ("Wohin," 399). But once nude dancing became more than or other than an expression of primordial joy, the motive for it, even when it manifested artistic ambition, remained shadowy. An unsigned editorial in Licht Luft Leben (23/6, 1925), a Dresden Nacktkultur journal, announced that nude dancing "must be a service to God, as in India and other ethnic cultures." Moreover, "the nude dancer must be above all an artist," for "as long as the danger exists that she can be confused with the demimondaine," the (female) nude dancer must continue to hide behind some final veil. This danger existed because "it comes naturally to the nude dancer," who is "an international type" from Rumania or Sweden as much as from France or Germany, that she charms a man with her presence and beauty. "But what use is a beautiful body if its owner is unable to show beautiful movement?" ("Die Nackttänzerin," 88). In other words, one could take nude dancing seriously only when it offered a mode of performance (movement) that was too complex and educated to serve as a nightclub "enticement of the mass audience."
Willi Warstat somewhat echoed this attitude in his excellent treatise on nude photography, Der schöne Akt (1929). He wrote that "educated" dancers of both sexes were "very valuable models" as long as they understood that they appeared before a camera, not on stage, and therefore avoided always putting forth their "best" poses, avoided putting powder or cosmetics on their bodies (43–44). To avoid "kitsch" effects in nude dance photography and reveal the essence of bodily movement, Warstat recommended, dance poses should occur in an uncontextualized "ideal space [i.e., a studio] without any motivating or situation-determined connection to a recognizable environment," as exemplified by the nude dance images of Danzig photographer W. Kernspecht (53). Nude dancing appeared far more frequently in photography than in theatrical performance. Claire Bauroff's wide reputation as a nude dancer seems to have derived entirely from the exquisite nude photographs of her taken in Vienna (1925) by Trude Fleischmann (Schreiber 117–119) (Figure 13); in theatrical performance, she was, if anything, innovative in her use of mysterious, androgynous costumes. Perhaps her motive in making nude images of herself was not much different from that of the famous "waltz queen" of 1910 Vienna, Grete Wiesenthal, whose then husband, Erwin Lang (1886–1962), published a book of his woodcuts glorifying her. Several showed her performing in the nude dances that she never performed nude on a stage: she wanted an idealized, symbolic image of dance, not a document of her dances (Figure 14). (Indeed, no one during the Weimar era used photography to look at dances them-
selves as innovatively as Adorée Villany had back in 1908–1911.) In any case, although Warstat disapproved of theatrical effects in nude models, his preoccupation with lighting problems, control over the camera apparatus, and manipulation of chemical processes defining the image indicated that nude photography was not far removed from theatre in being the sign of a "nature-estranged, preeminently intellectual culture, which has transplanted us into the stoney deserts of the big city and left us to perceive our bodies through fashion" (13).
A more skeptical position appeared in a 1927 comment on "Tanz und Nacktheit" in Die Tat, a cultural-political journal published in Jena. Adam Kuckhoff argued that pornographic images of nude dance were misleading, in spite of their pervasiveness, for the nude dances in nightclub revues were actually antierotic, schematic, mechanized tableaux vivants . However, he did not think nude Ausdruckstanz (expressive dance) would change the situation, because Ausdruckstanz glorified individualism through the "strongest possible physical individualization" of bodily movement itself. But "to European humanity, nudity outside of the individual erotic sphere is simply unbearable." Thus, nudity in performance did not intensify expression—it merely superimposed an expression that movement itself should already have made naked. But because Ausdruckstanz was too "sentimental" to accommodate adequately the relation between nudity and the "individual erotic sphere," revue dance nudity remained closer to the reality of the future (644). This view, however, could hardly have seemed modern to anyone who saw, even if only in the dance photographs, how "new" the body looked when it performed Ausdruckstanz movements in the nude.
Even though nude Ausdruckstanz was not much of a reality in a theatrical context, it was definitely alive in schools and clubs where the physical expression of "inner," individualizing drives depended on blurring distinctions between gymnastics and dance, between the active and contemplative strands of Nacktkultur . Some of these schools included those of Gertrud Volkenesen (Hamburg), Trude Hammer (Berlin), Ellinor Tordis (Vienna), Hertha Feist (Berlin), Helmi Nurk (Bremen), Lucy Heyer (Munich), Ida Herion (Stuttgart), Jenny Gerz (Halle), Elisabet Estas (Cologne), and the Loheland school (Fulda). But much of the evidence for nudity at these schools comes from photographs intended to document neither the dances nor the pedagogical methods associated with the schools. The nude photographs give a strong idea of the ultimate, idealized image of dance to which students should aspire, but they do little to clarify relations between nudity and movement or between nudity and circumstances of instruction. In Der moderne Tanz (1928), Rudolf Lämmel published several beautiful photographs of a nude dancer at the Elisabet Estas School of Movement in Cologne; these pictures made imaginative use of backlighting in an uncon-
textualized space to heighten the abstraction of bodily pliancy and suppleness of movement (Figure 15).
In a fascinating section of the text, Lämmel unfavorably compared the teaching methods of the Berthe Trümpy school in Berlin with those of the Estas school. Estas's background was actually in ballet, but in Vienna she became a disciple of Ausdruckstanz . As a member of an examining board, Lämmel described the day-to-day process of instruction at the school. He found impressive the very efficient use of classroom time, as well as the superior seriousness of the students, all female. Instructors required students to verbalize responses to the body and to movements; to physicalize ideas with their own bodies; to watch the teacher physicalize ideas with her body; to articulate movement choices in relation to general functions and specific expressive significance; to respond briefly to questions in writing; to explain rhythmic and musical ideas on the piano or with drums; to lead group movement studies; to critique their own movements orally and demonstrate corrections; to present improvised and prepared dances or exercises with different pieces of music, different combinations of bodies, and different aesthetic-gymnastic goals; and to display current progress in the mastery of lecture material and exercise categories of bodily movement (188–200). Like Mensendieck, Estas favored an analytical attitude toward the body, with different exercises designed to strengthen the physical and expressive power of individual body parts. Lämmel found her students much more confident, imaginative, and accomplished than those in the relaxed atmosphere of the Trümpy school, even though students in the Estas school did fewer exercises (but in greater depth) and covered far fewer themes and historical-philosophical topics. But he did not indicate where, if at all, in the Estas curriculum nudity took place. Yet even if nudity was merely a publicity image for Estas (which seems unlikely, given the all-female environment of the school and Lämmel's status as an examining male "outsider"), it was evident that one could associate nudity in dance as much with analytical rigor and refined self-consciousness as with a mystical, intuitive "call from the heart of nature."