The perception begins to emerge that the voice of dance theory was distinctly male; women appeared disinclined to publish books or even Rilkian essays that examined dance abstractly, as a philosophical, metaphysical, or cognitive problem. This perception intensified with Der Tanz als Kunstwerk (1919; 1923) by novelist Frank Thiess (1890–1977). Thiess classified abstract aesthetic principles by which a critical evaluation of dance as artwork was possible. These principles included movement, rhythm, line, color, music, costume, lighting, nudity, space, and decorative properties. These principles designated differences between dance and pantomime, between tragic and comic dance, and between "beautiful," "nonbeautiful" (grotesque), and "ugly" dances. In his rambling, excessively informal style of writing, Thiess made numerous valuable references to the performance styles (rather than performances) of various dancers (Kieselhausen, Hegesa, Bara, Johansson, von Derp) who remain too much in the shadows of dance history. He supplemented his text with twenty-four photos of solo female dancers. But despite categorizing dance art around aesthetic principles (rather than around personalities or generic dance forms), Thiess was
neither systematic nor deep enough for the categories. He continually introduced an aesthetic principle or device without explaining its inherent semantic or cognitive significance. Instead, he merely fell back on a rather conventional rhetoric of "harmony," "beauty," and "structure," for "the borders of the non-beautiful are much narrower for this art than for other arts" (102). He was at his best when illustrating a principle by reference to a dancer's style:
Ronny Johansson danced a grotesque in black and yellow. Perhaps the best of her dances, in any case, wonderfully instructive for those who want to see the immanent comedy in dance. For what was comic here? Did she make faces? Roll her eyes? Wiggle her ears? None of that. Her face had a quiet, cunning, lurking expression, as if she expected something pleasurable, but which she actually did not wish to invite. . . . She moved neither crookedly nor with bent legs, nor did she wear Turkish pantaloons and slippers or an otherwise ridiculous dress; instead, she wore a costume which in each and every line supported her movements . . . But her movements were of brain-burning choppiness, of such cunning, delighted attenuation, grotesquely angular and so splendidly mis-defined, tightened, and knotted by each other, that one begins to laugh without knowing why . . . startled by the terrible seriousness with which she constructs each attitude (74–75).
Although he insisted that "rhythmic movement and it alone is primary in dance" (45), Thiess did not describe bodily movement well (compared with decorative effects). His significant achievement in his book was to show how performance elements other than movement governed the power of dance to embody meaning. Thiess went on to publish many novels but not any more statements on dance; he articulated the perspective of a cosmopolitan spectator who brought to dance a set of general aesthetic principles dominated by ideals of beauty, ideals that became inadequate in relation to the complexities and ambiguities of Ausdruckstanz in the postwar years.