Preferred Citation: Toepfer, Karl. Empire of Ecstasy: Nudity and Movement in German Body Culture, 1910-1935. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1997 1997.

Schools of Bodily Expressivity


Although the influence of Dalcrozian rhythmic gymnastics waned considerably during the war, disciples of the Swiss educator did not disappear entirely. In 1915 the building complex at Hellerau came under the management of Christine Baer-Frissell, Ernest Ferand, and Valeria Kratina, advocates of the Dalcrozian approach. But Mensendieck ideas also entered the curriculum insofar as the school assumed a significant difference between male and female anatomies, which motivated the need for a completely feminine gymnastics. All students at the school were female. The atmosphere was free of the mysticism that pervaded so many other schools, which was not surprising, considering how carefully Dalcroze had planted his method in Gallic rationalism. Hellerau sought to free the female body without exhausting or depleting it. The school therefore condemned gymnastic acrobatics, dance virtuosity, and a focus on the perfection of movement: the female body possessed a different strength than did the male, and one measured it not by feats of acrobatic prowess but by an ability to move truthfully, confidently, and with adroit intelligence. To achieve this objective, Hellerau teachers had to modify Dalcroze's system to accommodate greater improvisation and greater independence between bodily and musical rhythms. Nevertheless, improvisation at Hellerau was a far stricter matter than with Laban or Wigman.

In 1990, Ilse Losch, a former student, published several examples of Hellerau "improvisations" (31–50), and these show the extent to which music controlled movement and movement unfolded according to an ideal of precision (though not one of "fatiguing" complexity). With the upbeat of a quiet piece of music in 4/4 time, the right leg rises a little, bending slightly at the knee. On the first beat of the bar, the left leg bends somewhat while the right foot, with gentle, intensifying pressure, touches the floor on tiptoe, then sinks onto the full sole, with the right knee bending lightly. On the second beat the left leg stretches to the knee while the right leg curls upward. On the third beat the right leg performs the gesture as in the first beat but more heavily, with the knee bending lightly. On the final beat the


left leg copies what the right leg initiated on the upbeat while the right leg stretches easily to the knee. The second measure of the music repeats these movements on the left leg, but the dancer never moves from the initial standing position (35). Each measure—indeed, each beat—introduces a new variation. Other exercises mobilize the arms, hands, and other parts of the body, shift rhythms (such as 3/4 to 5/8 to 2/4), and incorporate group interactions between bodies, but Dalcroze's obsession with synchronizing movement with the beat remains firmly in place.

Movement in this context was precise without being fatiguing, complex without being oppressively intimidating (for the performer). What made dance fatiguing was not increasingly complex synchronization of movement with the musical rhythm but movement that unfolded against the beat, the body in dialogue with the music rather than in harmony with it. As mentioned previously, this failure to acknowledge tensions between bodily and musical rhythms was a great weakness of the Dalcrozian system and hampered it from producing dances that went beyond the expression of a bright, sunny joy. The system did not establish any serious emotional connection between music and movement and made it all too easy for a mechanical sterility to dominate the exploration of bodily expressivity. But the detailed pedagogy, the exactness of the lesson plans, and the precisely measurable accomplishments offered by the exercises were quite appealing to some students, especially those planning to become teachers. In 1934, Hellerau-Laxenburg even gave courses in Paris at Studio Corposano under the guidance of a Finn, Maian Pontan, who had directed courses in Vienna, Berlin (at Diem's school), and Stockholm (AI 16–17). In 1925 the Hellerau school accepted the invitation of the city of Vienna to relocate to Laxenburg Castle, which was its home until 1938, when the Nazis annexed Austria. Between 1921 and 1924 the outstanding Czech choreographer Jarmilla Kröschlova, who had studied under Dalcroze in Geneva, taught at Hellerau before returning to Prague, where her career blossomed. The connection to Prague eventually proved significant for the fate of the Dalcroze system. In 1921 another Czech, from Brno, Rosalia Chladek (b. 1905), studied under Kröschlova and became so successful as a dancer, choreographer, and teacher (Basel) that in 1930 Hellerau-Laxenburg appointed her to manage the dance activities of the school, which she did until 1938.

Under Valeria Kratina, the Hellerau performance group had attracted international interest for its German premieres, in 1923, of Bartók's The Wooden Prince (1916) and Milhaud's L'Homme et son desir (1921) and, more important, for its open-air productions (the genre so loved by Dalcroze) in ancient Sicilian ruins in 1925, 1926, and 1927. Chladek continued this tradition by choreographing open-air productions at the Greek Theatre in Syracuse of Euripides' Iphigenia in Aulis (1933) and Sophocles' Oedipus at Colonus (1936) and Ajax (1939). Her enthusiasm for themes of classical


antiquity extended to her solo choreography for herself in Mythologischen Suite (1936), with its separate sections devoted to Narcissus, Daphne, Pythia, Penthesilea, and Agave; to her opera choreography for Glück's Orfeus und Euridyke (1940); and to the dance suite Apollon und die Amazone (1940). Like Kratina, Chladek displayed a very international taste in subject matter and music, working as comfortably with modern music (Stravinsky, Malipiero, Medtner) as with Handel or Dvoráak[*] . As a soloist, she traveled widely throughout Europe and as far as Indonesia in 1939. Indeed, a peculiarity of the Hellerau-Laxenburg school was its cultivation of dance as a sign of both internationality and modernity. Probably no other dancer after 1930 received as many offers to appear outside her homeland (both Germany and Austria) as Rosalia Chladek, but she did not have strong appeal for German audiences, even before the Nazi takeover. Wherever it operated in Europe, the Dalcroze system appeared as a foreign doctrine, and (like Dalcroze himself) one became a successful product of the doctrine by accepting the identity of a stranger to it and, quite often, to one's audiences. Certainly this was the case with Chladek, coming as she did from Czechoslovakia.

But as director of dance activities at Laxenburg, she succeeded in opening up the doctrine to the more expressive and improvisational features of "the free dance," as she firmly preferred to call Ausdruckstanz (Welziel 19, 22; Klingenbeck 15–16). And she brought male students into the lay course in Vienna. In 1931 she choreographed a large-scale, open-air dance spectacle for the Vienna Festwoche in the Rathausplatz, performed before 15,000 spectators. Twenty-five women, ten "youths" (performed by female students), and five men danced to the music of Bizet's L'Arlesienne Suites (1872), yet the effect was neither Gallic nor Teutonic nor even socialistic but peculiarly "European." The male dancers, clad in rust-brown tunics, wielded long staffs; the female group, in flowing orange gowns, carried gold shields; and the youths wore red tunics. Chladek made dramatic use of the huge space: the three groups developed a monumental counterpoint on different planes and at great distances from each other, then converged, employing vigorous swinging, rotating, or lunging movements—movement-countermovement in parallel lines, canon-countercanon, diagonal-counterdiagonal, round-counterround, concentric circles coiling centripedally, concentric circles spreading centrifugally. In the adagio section, the women sat in a half-circle and danced entirely with their upper bodies, moving the shields in "lyrical," undulating fashion so that the sunlight flashed off them; meanwhile the men, deep in the background, made hoeing, threshing movements with the staffs. In the carillon section, the youths usurped shields from the women while the men advanced employing scything movements. Then the soloist (Chladek herself) appeared, in a red and gold cloak, and her swirling dance brought all the groups together into a great whirlpool of


"dionysiac-ecstatic vibration," concluding what Ferand suggested "not unfairly could bear the name of 'Eleusinian Festival'" (Alexander 49–51). Yet the piece was actually an elaborate application of the same principle governing the two-bar exercise described above—left leg—right leg; movement-countermovement; diagonal-antidiagonal; clockwise circle within counterclockwise circle; male group–female group—with all movements exactly synchronized with all dynamics of the music (accelerando, crescendo, ostinato, and so forth). The realization of a unified, ecstatic community that transcended divisive pressures of sexual difference depended on large-scale deployment of the symmetricality-synchronicity principle introduced in the rudimentary exercise.

During the 1930s Chladek devoted much of her time to performing solo dances. In these she displayed her preference not only for stark, monumental movement but also for abstract theatrical props such as a staff, a great disk, a hoop, or a cape, as well as glamorous period costumes and archaic garments (Tanz mit Stab [1930]; Jeanne d'Arc [1934]). Her body was powerfully muscled, like an athlete's, and she sought bold gestures that heightened its muscularity (Penthesilea ); but she contrasted this quality with a flowing, exaggerated femininity, as in Die Kamelliendame (1938), in which she swooned and soared in a luxurious white romantic dress. Unlike Wigman, Chladek enjoyed displaying her powerful legs and introducing mysteriously androgynous touches (Narcissus; Luzifer [1938]; Michael [1938]). After World War II, she continued busily on the international dance scene, receiving commissions, honors, appointments, and students well into the 1990s. "Strength is the source of movement," she remarked in 1935 (Alexander 95). But Dalcroze himself worked from almost the reverse perspective, that movement is the source of strength. Thus, although Chladek showed the power of the Dalcroze system to produce a compelling artist, she was not quite as faithful to her teacher as were the great majority of his disciples, whose mission was to strengthen ordinary bodies easily fatigued by the rhythms of the modern world.

After World War I, Dalcroze disciples worked primarily in the public school system, where they often faced difficulties no less great than those afflicting dance artists. The Dalcroze Bund constantly struggled against bureaucratic inertia and the pervasive assumption that rhythmic gymnastics was not as practical as the study of the arts and sciences. An important figure in the rhythmic gymnastics movement, Elfriede Feudel (1881–1966), studied under Dalcroze at Hellerau and taught at the Dortmund Conservatory from 1927–1935 (Peter-Fuhr 26–27). Her Rhythmik: Theorie und Praxis der körperlich-musikalischen Erziehung (1926) was an impressive collection of essays that coolly addressed the chief criticisms and misperceptions of rhythmic gymnastics, put Dalcroze's method into a historical perspective, clarified its aims, differentiated it from other approaches to bodily education,


and provided (as usual) detailed examples of "lead and follow"–type exercises. She denied that, because it did not wallow in the undisciplined, irrational pathos of Ausdruckstanz , rhythmic gymnastics was too intellectual; more surprising, she criticized the Mensendieck system for being antierotic (62), and Hedwig Nottebohm attacked arch-rival Rudolf Bode for promoting an idea of rhythm that was hopelessly vague (140). This shift from a defensive to an offensive position somewhat strengthened rhythmic gymnastics in Germany. A school opened in 1910 by Otto Blensdorf (1871–1947) in Elberfeldt (Wuppertal) and later moved to Jena (1928) reemerged as a prominent center for rhythmic gymnastic teaching when Blensdorf's daughter Charlotte (already a lecturer at the Conservatory in Mälmo, Sweden) received an appointment from the university to provide instruction in Dalcrozian thinking (Alexander). Students from this school, as well as from Hellerau-Laxenburg and a school in Essen run by Dalcroze student Dore Jacobs (1894–1979), revitalized hope for making rhythmic gymnastics the basis for a national program of physical education. The Nazis, however, were hostile to rhythmic gymnastics, which furthermore attracted many Jewish women, and they put their faith in Bode's program.

The political ramifications of the Dalcroze system become more apparent if we look at the situation of rhythmic gymnastics in Czechoslovakia. Kröschlova had returned to Prague in 1924 because she realized that rhythmic gymnastics "did not lead to dance expression" (EST 135), but the innovative dance work she did in her native city nevertheless seemed to validate the attitude toward the body implanted in her by Dalcroze. Another student of Dalcroze, Anna Dubska, had managed a popular school for rhythmic gymnastics since 1912, and through her the notion emerged persuasively that the Dalcroze system demonstrated its credibility not through beautiful dances but through behavioral changes in individuals. In 1913 the powerful Sokol (Falcon) Organization of physical educators and bureaucrats, which had close ties to the labor movement, began to absorb Dalcrozian ideas into a large-scale plan to create a strong body culture in Czechoslovakia. Under the leadership of Hanna Burgerova-Dubova, Sokol's physical education program expanded ambitiously, propelled by Dalcrozian objectives but also by the ideas of people such as Klages, Bücher, Bode, Mensendieck, and Duncan, as well as native Czechs such as Karel Pospisel and Augustin Ocenasek (EST 142–144; Sokol 33–38). The Sokol body culture program did not define itself entirely in terms of a response to internal, uniquely national pressures, as was the habit in Germany; it treated body culture as an international network of ideas that produced an embodiment of power and identity.

In 1929 Sokol collaborated with the Czech government to produce an immense book, Základy rytmického telocviku sokolského , which presented an official, state-sanctioned method for the rhythmic gymnastic education of


girls and young women. The book was designed more for (public school) teachers than for students. Professor Karel Weigner announced that men and women have quite different bodily constitutions that respond to different principles of rhythm: "[M]en tend toward a katabolic principle of courage, inventiveness, and change; women tend toward an anabolic principle of conservatism, continuity, and patience, with the most difficult and noble goal of maternity" (vii). But in spite of this somewhat limited view of sexual difference and the fact that all the authors were men, the book was an amazing and certainly luxurious production, testifying to a spectacularly deep concern with how to manage the modern female body. After several chapters of scholarly, pretty solid theoretical-historical overview, the book presented a vast treatise on rhythmic gymnastic practice, replete with more than four hundred exercises, each one described in detail regarding musical rhythm, bodily movement, and function through the use of stick figures, drawings, musical notations, and more abstract diagrams, charts, and tables (Figure 33). The book also contained some wonderful photographs of exercising students, open-air games, and theatrical dance productions and even had a kind of appendix of advertisements for Prague businesses. No German publication on bodily movement was ever as systematic, comprehensive, detailed, and precise as the Základy ; no German ideology, not even Laban's Kinetographie , showed so clearly the extraordinary range of possible human movements.

Of course, the book suffered from the usual objection to rhythmic gymnastics: it did not explain the emotional or expressive significance of all these movements. Instructors assumed that every exercise was valuable because it led to a healthier body, regardless of whether it was aesthetically interesting. But Germans (and not only Germans) strongly resisted this sort of lucid, systematic view of bodily education, partly because the state believed it was too politically risky to identify itself decisively with a particular concept of body culture and partly because Germans tended to believe that the expressive and liberating power of the body remained enshrouded in irrationality, well beyond the control of measurable, external musical rhythms. The Germans had grasped that a healthy body was not necessarily synonymous with an ecstatic body, and that led to greater darkness in the world of German body culture and to a far more complex dance culture than existed elsewhere. The Czechs liked formalistic analyses of aesthetic phenomena because they tended to believe that formalistic "objectivity" was the key to resolving political conflicts. This perspective favored the development in the 1930s of the great Prague structuralism school of literary and theatrical semiotics guided by such figures as Otakar Zich, Jan Mukarovsky, and Jindrich Honzl and exemplified further in the wide-ranging critical commentaries of Karel Teige (1900–1951) and in Irena Lexova's enchanting semiotics of Ancient Egyptian


Dances (1935).[1] In Germany, however, formalism emerged as a source of political conflict because of its innate power to estrange or render foreign even the most familiar significations.

Yet Germany was still the chief exporter of the Dalcroze model, even after it almost ceased to exist in Germany in the 1930s, because so many foreign students had studied there. An excellent example is the Finnish dancer Bertta Reiho, who published Rytmillinen likünta (1948), a textbook with numerous stunning photographs, for teachers of female rhythmic gymnastics. Though not nearly as ambitious as the Základy , it was nevertheless a beautiful elucidation of the Dalcroze technique—though, not surprisingly, it did not mention either him or a German context. But in the 1930s Reiho was a student of the Finnish expressionist dancer Maggie Gripenberg, who had studied under Dalcroze around 1911 (Hällström 200).

Schools of Bodily Expressivity

Preferred Citation: Toepfer, Karl. Empire of Ecstasy: Nudity and Movement in German Body Culture, 1910-1935. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1997 1997.