Problems of Nacktkultur Dance
This account of Nacktkultur is hardly comprehensive, but it does indicate the range of attitudes toward the naked body circulating in early-twentieth-century German culture. Nacktkultur was not a monolithic or unified ideology but a constellation of choices about the meaning a nude body could project within German society. Having a tenuous pedagogical relation to particular strands of Nacktkultur, modern dance easily tended to situate itself within this constellation whenever it employed nudity. In other words, the relations nude modern dance constructed between bodies derived more from the choices embodied by Nacktkultur than from those
embodied by other modes of representing nudity, such as painting, anthropology, or even erotic behavior itself. The choices embodied by Nacktkultur regarding the meaning of nudity controlled the presence of nudity in modern dance in several ways: 1) aesthetic nude modern dance for a critical audience was overwhelmingly solo dancing, with group nude dancing confined to a private milieu of pedagogic exercises that prepared bodies to fulfill an ideal that was more than a condition of nakedness; 2) nude dancing in the private milieu, though documented abundantly and aesthetically by photography, emerged above all as a therapeutic benefit to the dancer rather than to the spectator; 3) the therapeutic value of nude dance depended on denying the serious erotic significance it rather obviously possessed, so that the motive for dancing nude was free of a more complex desire to see nude dancing; 4) in relation to the hygienic and eugenic ambitions of Nacktkultur, nude dancing consistently appeared as a feminine activity, as a choice for (young) women, not men; and 5) nude dancing projected an enigmatic image of the body that was different from that projected by nude gymnastics or athletics because dancing in itself blurred distinctions between "natural" and "theatricalized" ("unnatural") conditions of bodily activity.
Of course, one may find examples outside this range of controls over nude dancing, but they are so unique that they demonstrate the stability of the controls. More significant, such controls perhaps better explain why nude dancing did not occur more frequently than why it emerged at all. In any case, the result was a confused and highly compromised perception of how the relation between nudity and dance created a modern, liberated identity. The high-society arts and literary magazine Der Querschnitt (Berlin), for example, promoted modern culture by publishing, often without any commentary, images of nude women dancers side by side with pictures of sports, theatre, film, and society personalities, modernist paintings of nudes, stills from theatrical and film productions, photos of people from exotic or primitive cultures, scenes of modern urban life, and dancers who were not naked. Readers apparently appreciated the idea that both nudity and dance operated within a constantly recombinable montage of modern images; but, then, both nudity and dance remained subordinate to the authority of the image to define modernity.