Bücher's idea of rhythm as an aesthetic-economic principle that tied bodily movement to production was obviously less disturbing than Graeser's more apocalyptic vision of a world rhythm emanating from the pulse beat of blood, and in 1909 he noted with approval the gathering appeal throughout Europe, especially in Germany, of the doctrine of "rhythmic gymnastics" developed by a Swiss pedagogue, Émile Jaques-Dalcroze (1865–1950). But rhythmic gymnastics was to experience a consequence quite remote from what Bücher perhaps imagined. Jaques-Dalcroze came from a well-respected Genevan family; his father was Viennese representative for a watch firm when Dalcroze was born. The family was musical, and Dalcroze was a child when he decided to pursue a career in music. He studied in Vienna, where one of his teachers was Anton Bruckner. The early part of his life he spent striving to establish a reputation in Paris and Geneva as a composer, chiefly of theatrical works and songs. He wrote many of these for his wife, Nina Faliero, who was a splendid singer. Dalcroze composed a huge quantity of music throughout his life, but after about 1910 he designed the bulk of his compositions in direct relation to his pedagogic work.
In 1889 Dalcroze met the Swiss composer Mathis Lussy (1828–1910), who had published theoretical works on expressive values in music, especially the expressive functions of rhythm, accent, and phrasing, somewhat in contrast to the dominant interest of the time in harmony, counterpoint, and polyphonic coloring. Lussy's ideas moved Dalcroze toward the perception of rhythm as a suppressed power not only within music but within the body. The Geneva Conservatory appointed him professor of music in 1892, but it was not until 1904 that he actually conducted a course in rhythmic gymnastics at the conservatory and not until 1907 that he offered (in Stuttgart) any extensive public demonstration of the method. In 1909, as a result of a widely publicized demonstration tour through Austria and Germany, Dalcroze received an invitation from Wolf Dohrn to establish in Germany an institute for the study of rhythmic gymnastics. Before his fatal accident, Dohrn (1878–1914) was secretary for the Deutscher Werkbund, a
loose union of workshop artisans dedicated to the reform of urban and industrial culture. He came from a distinguished family of scientists and educators, and his ambition apparently was to become a kind of golden prince of modern art. Dohrn agreed to provide the financial backing to open the institute in Hellerau, a suburb of Dresden. Dalcroze believed the denizens of Hellerau, a Werkbund "garden city," were more sympathetic to his ideas about bodily rhythm than were the Berliners, who, he claimed, put too much emphasis on purely musical applications of his ideas. Dohrn and Dalcroze collaborated with architect Heinrich Tessenow, Swiss scenographer Adolphe Appia, and Russian designer Alexandre Salzmann on the design and construction of an elegant complex of neoclassical buildings with spacious garden zones for open air performance. In 1912 the school had more than 600 students from all over Europe, but Hellerau was by no means the only place offering instruction in the Dalcroze method of rhythmic gymnastics. By this time private schools dedicated to the teachings of the master flourished throughout Germany and in Stockholm, Paris, London, and Geneva. The Dalcroze school in St. Petersburg, promoted by Imperial Ballet impresario Serge Volkonsky, had 800 students in 1912. But Hellerau was, so to speak, the great temple of rhythmic gymnastics, to which the disciples made pilgrimage. It attracted enormous attention from the press, partly because so many famous people in the arts paid visits to it.
Dalcroze inspired extraordinary confidence because of his impeccable cosmopolitanism and eminently rational vision of bodily movement as the foundation of, as his friend Ernest Ansermet put it, a profoundly social art. He corresponded voluminously with important personages in the arts and traveled serenely throughout Europe, and though he continually felt compelled to correct publicly (but genially) what he believed were "misunderstandings" of his theories by his disciples, he never ceased to display a remarkable self-composure and teacherly patience toward obtusity. He suffused the emerging cult of the body with an aura of radiance, linked the discovery of bodily rhythms almost entirely with the experience of joy, and dispelled the anxieties, phobias, and psychic shadows that until that time made the body a supreme sign of irrationality (Figure 5). In 1912 a luxurious yearbook, Der Rhythmus , was launched in Hellerau, and it did much to advance the sunlit benevolence of Dalcroze's vision, as did the grandiose festival productions of Orpheus (1913) and the Genevan Fete de Juin (1914), a single performance of which was attended by 6,000 spectators.
Yet all was not well. Dalcroze faced endless difficulty in persuading public school officials to introduce rhythmic gymnastics into their curricula. Dohrn died in February 1914, and war broke out in July, leaving Dalcroze in no position to maintain funding of the institute. The Hellerau experiment came to an end after only three glorious years. Dalcroze returned to Geneva, and there in 1915 he established the Institute Jaques-Dalcroze in
conjunction with the Geneva Conservatory. He continued to coordinate an international network of schools and became closely attached to the Dalcroze Center in London. In 1919 the ballet of the Paris Opera, of all places, began instruction of rhythmic gymnastics under its director, Jacques Rouche. Dalcroze himself thought this idea was premature, knowing well the vehement hostility of the ballet world (including the powerful ballet critic André Levinson) toward his teachings. (Indeed, when Rouche departed in 1925, the Opera forbade its members to study rhythmic gymnastics.) But Dalcroze's influence in Germany waned considerably with the collapse of Hellerau. True, a Dalcroze-Bund remained quite visible in Germany until the mid-1930s, and many of the Hellerau students—most notably Mary Wigman, Henny Rosenstrauch, Valerie Kratina, Suzanne Perrottet, Hilda Senf (who taught in the Paris school), and Elfriede Feudel—became significant figures of Weimar body culture. In 1915 a group of Germans took over the Hellerau complex and gradually converted it to a school-company devoted to expressionist dance; in 1925 the company accepted an invitation to move its entire operation to the castle of Laxenburg in suburban Vienna. But the Hellerau-Laxenburg school of the 1920s, like nearly all other schools of dance or physical education in Germany, paid little attention to the discourse then issuing from Geneva, even if the Germans accorded Dalcroze himself enthusiastic receptions on his visits to Frankfurt, Hamburg, and Berlin in 1929. The war had undermined German confidence in the neoclassical optimism of the Dalcrozian ideology of rhythm; to a defeated nation struggling to recover its competitive cultural identity, Dalcroze's method appeared too Gallic in its reasonableness and perhaps too imbued with a Rousseauian belief in the innate innocence of bodies. The Germans now offered a body culture that showed less fear of the very shadows, the dark, "inner" impulses, that Dalcroze tried so hard to pretend were merely mythical illusions.
Dalcroze wrote many occasional articles on rhythmic gymnastics, but he lacked the temperament to produce books, which might have presented his manifold thinking in a sustained, systematic, and comprehensive manner. The semi-improvised lecture-demonstration was his ideal medium, but it also led to numerous misperceptions of his program. It was (and still is) not altogether clear what the "method" of rhythmic gymnastics entailed, for the success of the method depended as much on unique personal qualities of
the teacher as on the governing set of general principles that Dalcroze published. That was both the appeal of the method and its primary limitation. Dalcroze was a great teacher, not a great scholar, artist, or philosopher. He loved being in the classroom more than anywhere else and believed that the most intense learning occurs through immediate, physical application of ideas as managed by a teacher, not a book. Dalcroze hoped that rhythmic gymnastics would eventually become accessible to all people, regardless of age or class. The aim of rhythmic gymnastics was to create a heightened condition of individual freedom as well as a stronger sense of social unity by "establishing rapid communication between the brain which conceives and analyzes and the body which executes" (Dutoit-Carlier 346). The expression of individuality required the disclosure of a "unique rhythm." But rhythmic gymnastics, ostensibly at least, did not prepare bodies for professional careers as performers; it embraced all bodies, regardless of talent, aptitude, or intelligence. Dalcroze persistently attacked ballet training as a tyranny that intimidated people into thinking they had no business exploring their bodily expressivity if they lacked rare physical gifts. He proposed that people become conscious of their bodily rhythms by listening, especially to music. In the Dalcrozian system, the development of bodily awareness never occurred independently of music, a point of contention among many German physical educators.
Awareness of bodily rhythms began with the heartbeat. A body's unique response to different rhythms was the result of a distinctive heartbeat. Then a drumbeat and eventually piano tunes would permit the students to explore different rhythms: 4/4, 3/4, 3/8, 5/4, 2/2, 6/4, 9/8, 3/2, and so forth. Students moved in relation to different rhythms and different tempos; they moved only the left hand or only the right hand; they moved only the head; they moved only the left hand and the head; they moved the left hand in 4/4 while the right hand moved in 3/8. They marched, they hopped, they skipped, they stamped, they crept, they undulated; they moved in unison, in a line, in a column, in concentric circles, in parallel circles; they moved in a canon; they mirrored each other's rhythms in duets, trios, quartets, and so forth. They introduced accents and syncopations, then added expressions into the movement, displaying anger or delight when the teacher so instructed. Eventually students would add their own voices to the movement and construct "rhythmic dialogues" within the group (rhythmic gymnastics, unlike ballet training, is always a group activity). The exercise trajectory was always from the simple to the complex, so that rhythmic mastery nearly always implied a capacity to express multiple rhythms within the body simultaneously. The variety of such exercises was practically infinite, and Dalcroze liked nothing better than to compose hundreds of them, for he believed that the exercise, not the lecture or reading, was the key to effective learning.
But for Germans, a Gallic rationalism pervaded this approach. Dalcroze's idea of rhythm was too metrical, too mathematical. He linked all movements of the body to note values to produce synchronization of body and music; he had no concept at all of body movement performed against the rhythm of the music. Moreover, he showed far too little consideration for the relation between movement and musical values other than rhythm, such as tonality, harmony, and dynamics. And Dalcroze all too easily reduced the notion of expression to a simple correspondence between a vague, one-word category of emotion—such as fear—and a generic set of movements. The great weakness of exercise-driven instruction is that it makes students masters of fragments but hinders them from structuring actions in relation to a culminating point. In spite of his many compositions for the theatre, Dalcroze had little understanding of dramatic action; he understood parts but not the whole, and he really did not understand how a body could display mastery of ideas in movement without displaying much mastery of rhythmical movement. Moreover, Dalcroze scarcely considered space as a material value effecting bodily rhythm; space for him was pretty much an abstract category, a thing in a schematic diagram rather than a particular place for the body. In Der moderne Tanz (1921), Hans Brandenburg complained of an aesthetic that even before the war was losing adherents "through an evermore tortuous metricality, evermore convoluted and entangled rhythms, wherein neither the body nor music moves forward" and neither the body, nerves, nor mind acquires any strength (107). Brandenburg also criticized the use of archaic Grecian costumes in rhythmic gymnastics, and he denounced the excessively austere auditorium at Hellerau and the "pretentious" obsession (due to Appia) with lighting and luminosity at the expense of dramatic effects. For Dalcroze, what happened in the classroom tended to be far more interesting than what happened on the stage, but this attitude was not helpful in enhancing the public value of either dance or physical education.
Such criticisms were surely significant in urging Dalcroze, upon his return to Geneva, to focus his energies on the rhythmic education of children, which was also the focus of the Dalcroze-Bund in Germany. Yet Dalcroze was and remained a decisive, deeply respected figure in Germany, precisely because he showed how the teaching (perhaps more than the learning) of bodily movement was an intensely liberating expression of individuality. This was no small achievement, for it quickly became obvious that it was extremely difficult to pursue a life devoted to expressionist dance without also being a teacher. More than anyone before the war, Dalcroze established a pervasive didactic credibility for activities that, from a social (if not particularly public) perspective, even long after the war, might otherwise have seemed excessively aesthetic, mere narcissistic body worship.
Dalcroze looms over the relation between modernity and carnality in Germany before and after the war. Perhaps more than any other figure, he made it possible for modern dance to become the most powerful contribution of Weimar body culture. I have hardly provided a comprehensive analysis of the intellectual-cultural context in which peculiar manifestations of body culture, especially dance, emerged, for I have ignored much evidence from psychology, sexology, race theory, physiognomic theory, feminism, eugenics, medicine, social hygiene, literature, painting, graphic arts, film, fashion, sculpture, theatre, and music. I intend to use some of this evidence in analyzing the German modern dance culture, but I do not want an obsessive preoccupation with the context of German body culture to deflect attention away from a major consequence of that context. A new view of modern German perceptions of the body and identity requires examination of hitherto neglected yet revelatory sources of information. These sources lead us to four principal conclusions. First, a powerful dance culture emerged in German society during the modernist era because that society displayed an unusually intense preoccupation with the body as a redemptive sign of a deep, or metaphysical, identity. Second, they show that the cognitive-cultural context that made such preoccupation possible was not reducible to a single or dominant set of ideas, personalities, or events. What dominated the body-consciousness of modernist Germany was the notion of modernity in relation to carnality. Many ideas about the body never intersected with each other or achieved universal circulation, and many fascinating and influential theories about the body came from people who are today quite obscure but whose thinking was readily accessible to audiences of that time. Third, the continuity between Wilhelmine and Weimar body culture was much stronger than one might suppose when one interprets, as so often happens, Weimar culture almost entirely in relation to a set of immediate, violent political events, such as the war, the November Revolution, and the turbulent adventures of the state. The continuity between Wilhelmine and Weimar body culture was actually much stronger than the continuity between Weimar and Nazi body culture. The war, of course, was by no means irrelevant to the production of body culture, but people in Germany thought about the body, regardless of whether the state thought about it. The Wilhelmine and Weimar states, more than any other, let them think about it, whereas the Nazi state emphatically did not. Fourth, the scale of the German discourse on modernity and carnality was vast, both in quantity of documentation and ideological ambition, and it involved an extraordinarily diverse range of participants, even if the driving force of the body culture was essentially middle class. A peculiarity of the personalities I have discussed so far was their determination to integrate body consciousness into a larger cultural framework: they crossed disciplines, ignored borders between art and science, sought to transcend clearly defined identities,
and were especially curious about zones of experience that were "between worlds." If anything is clear, it is that as one examines the body as a configuration of identity, identity becomes more ambiguous than authentic.
But the context, as I have presented it, does not explain why Germany was a favored site for such an immense discourse on the body. The answer does not depend entirely or even mostly on analysis of historical events; one can as well argue that attitudes toward the body are responsible for historical events as vice versa. It requires a semiotic analysis of distinctive features of the German language, features that bestow a unique power of perception (and a distrust of perception) with regard to forms, bodies, and appearances. Great anxieties and ecstasies must seem embedded in the need to name "authentic" forms or form "authentic" names, the need to produce an ecstatic unity of internal and external conditions of being in which, as Novalis remarked, "the world-state is the body." The problem is primarily cognitive, and I do not think we should remain excessively skeptical of the many German theorists of body culture who kept insisting that the value of their subject actually lay deep within the body. But such an analysis of language and its power to construct identities is not within my skill and demands a much deeper mind than mine. My chief concern is to show how dance was the most powerful, complex, and memorable manifestation of German body culture. It is not possible for dance to achieve such unprecedented vitality outside of such a convoluted and, indeed, dark context. Dance offers perhaps the most startling and revelatory challenges to a culture's perception of the body. Moreover, the context, as a cognitive-cultural phenomenon, is primarily synonymous with theories of body culture, and it seems largely devoid of participation by women. But this perception is misleading. One may lament the marginalization of women's contribution to Weimar film, literature, music, philosophy, fine arts, architecture, medicine, law, and science; but in the realms of dance and physical education women achieved such a large measure of expression, both theoretically and practically, that it is necessary to argue that a deep preoccupation with the body as the secret of identity is not altogether a feminine mode of being. That women overwhelmingly chose these disciplines over others may have to do with a great desire, shaped by gender politics, to expose the limitations of language and signification governing those disciplines. These women responded to a context that was not entirely of their own making, and their success in shaping that context means that they were by no means content to regard their insights or their identities as a fate determined either by sex or by gender.