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

Rudolf Bode

By the end of World War I, Dalcroze's definition of rhythm appeared too narrow and mathematical to satisfy the German appetite for a more radical, ecstatic, and transformative definition of rhythm that yielded a distinctly "German" expression of modernity. But a German definition of rhythm was not the same thing as a German way of moving the body, nor was it to be identified with some peculiarly German physiognomy. Germanness revealed itself in the origin and formation of the definition, not in the bodies that applied or appropriated the definition. In an interesting article for Der Leib (2/2, January 1921, 34–53), Fritz Klatt proposed general categories of creative rhythms associated with the body rather than with music, machines, or dance. Blood pulse and heartbeat constituted the primal sources of rhythm: "Everything called love, knowledge, death, everything which reflects the individuality of the individual human, everything that creates unities and eventually demands the sacrifice of the self, has its sensually traceable basis, its reality, in the depths of the human-bonding bloodstream" (35–36). The breath pulse, however, connected bodily rhythm to the will, because the pace of breathing, the relation between inhalation and exhalation, between magnitudes and urgencies of breath, resulted from specific conditions of emotion and consciousness. The creative rhythm of the day evolved out of the microrhythms of blood and breath insofar as it conformed to a complex pattern of alternation between movement and pause, beat and rest. The rhythm of months and years, deadlines and holidays, seasons and ages was but a macrocosmic pulse resulting from the great

[1] For more information about the captivating achievements of Czech body culture and aesthetic performance in the 1920s and 30s, see Burian, O nové divadlo 1930–1940; Obst and Scherl; Teige; Kröschlova 47–90; Vavra 17–27; Vodicka.


bonding power of the blood pulse. Of course, a Dalcrozian might contend that music itself was both the abstract and material revelation of drive rhythms ultimately originating in the heartbeat, but by detaching his argument from any discussion of music, Klatt implied that music did not make people more aware of the great unifying yet individuating power of the blood pulse. Active in the youth movement and in public school teaching, Klatt believed that instructors could create greater rhythmic awareness, at least among the young, by restructuring the rhythm of the school day and year, changing the durations of instructional periods, the relations between play and contemplation, the divisions between outdoor and indoor knowledge, and so forth (see Die Tat , 14/7, October 1922, 621–622).

An equally grandiose concept of rhythm came from Artur Jacobs (Die Tat , 14/9, December 1922, 641–664), who proposed that the formation of a redemptive proletarian culture depended on "renewal through rhythm." Much less precisely or concisely than Karl Bücher, Jacobs presented the conventional Marxist argument that "the great misery of the worker is not that he receives too little reward, that things go badly externally for him, but that he must live soullessly and without dignity, that he is merely a mechanical beast of labor, that he must produce in stultifying compulsion completely mechanical things, to which he has no connection and whose meaning he does not understand"—that, in short, the worker lived utterly alienated from a despiritualized (entseelte ) world: "Our bodies are as strange to us as a still undiscovered land" (655). To renew the physical dignity of the modern worker, it was necessary to perceive in eroticism the great source of love for materials and forms, which together produced a culture that bestowed a more authentic value on labor. By eroticism, Jacobs did not mean anything connected to sexual drives; "on the contrary," he meant more general actions of release, giving, expenditure, and self-offering (653). A new notion of bodily rhythm was essential in cultivating the primal strength (UrKraft ) of Eros. Jacobs acknowledged that rhythm was an image of time but contended that its form was infinite and beyond empirical measurement, for painting, architecture, theatre, and poetry possessed as much rhythm as music or dance did: "Rhythm stands over nature the way reason stands over nature" (662). He regarded rhythm as a deeply irrational phenomenon, for it did not function according to any logic of causality: erotic rhythm was an end in itself. However, the renewal of the worker through a new concept of bodily rhythm was not exactly synonymous with greater participation in games, sports, athletics, gymnastics, or dance, for these refined the mechanization of life without overcoming it (656). But in spite of his appeal to restore the authority of forms, Jacobs himself did not provide a concrete image of the proletarian body culture other than to echo Klatt in proposing, vaguely, a "complete transformation of the entire contemporary school life" (663). He simply announced the need for a "Copernican turn" in edu-


cation. With this metaphor, the implication emerged, albeit cryptically, that the rhythm of Eros remained inarticulately embedded in the form of revolution as simultaneously a physical and a historical phenomenon.

In the next issue of Die Tat (14/10, January 1923, 755–764), Wilhelm Hagen provided a much clearer image of the definitions of rhythm proposed by Klatt and Jacobs. He supposed that the answer to the question of what is the best school for gymnastics depended on the relation between rhythm and bodily education. He denied that rhythm referred to patterns of repetition, regularity, or automaticity. The study of music theory revealed that the source of rhythm was movement, not the other way around. Thus, the study of bodily movement depended not on musical rhythms but on motives for action, relations between will and object. Rhythm referred to dynamic structural relations between being and becoming. However, Hagen contended that men and women experience different essential rhythms and therefore require different modes of bodily education. He claimed that a woman feels she bears a weight, whereas a man feels he lifts a weight; the woman treats action as a state of being, whereas the man treats it as a state of becoming. Dance could well represent the female state but not the male, because for the male, will and object never merge to produce a state of being. For woman, "dance is always a transfiguration of being, not doing. . . . Man must find the bridge to sport. As a dancer he remains a neurotic" (764). The work of Rudolf Bode, Hagen declared, exhibited an attitude toward rhythm firmly grounded in the body and movement, not in music, although he expressed pronounced reservations about Bode's ability or willingness to maintain the principle of sexual difference in movement education.

Bode (1881–1971) was a student of Dalcroze at Hellerau in 1911–1912. By 1913, when he established his own school in Munich, Bode opposed the methods of his teacher and embarked on a pedagogy that developed bodily rhythms independently of music. In Der Rhythmus und seine Bedeutung für die körperliche Erziehung (1920), he introduced a "total" concept of rhythm similar to that of Klatt and Jacobs. A major influence was Klages, who asserted that excessive rationality or intellectual analysis was a source of "arhythm," or unnatural, strained, discordant, stifled movement. "In the rationalizing of instincts in our schools, colleges included, lies the final reason for the inner and outer breakdown of Germany" (RB 21). Bode's most popular work, Ausdrucksgymnastik (1925), enjoyed considerable appeal in its English translation of 1931. His school in Munich attracted many students, even though Bode had no ambition to produce dancers, athletes, performances, or anything understood as an artwork. For Hagen, Bode seemed to offer a "masculine" approach to movement education that did not rely on dance or dancelike deployments of the body to justify itself; however, the great majority of Bode's students were women. His anti-intellectualism made him susceptible to National Socialism, and during the


1920s he participated in party activities. In 1933 he became director of the Körperbildung and Tanz division of the Kampfbund für Deutsche Kultur and director of the gymnastic and dance section of the Reichsverband Deutscher Turn-, Sport- und Gymnastiklehrer in NS-Lehrerbund. In these capacities he attempted to undermine the rival Deutscher Chorsangerverband und Tanzerbund (established in 1909), which in 1933 was under the leadership of a socialist, the Hamburg ballet mistress Olga Brandt-Knack, a former student of Rudolf Laban. Bode regarded Laban as his most pernicious rival, but Goebbels, grasping Bode's limited understanding of dance, decided not to put the Tänzerbund under his control—instead, he changed its mission statement and replaced its administration (MS 116). By this time, though, Bode had firmly established the identity of a distinctly "German" notion of rhythm and bodily movement.

According to Bode, a "principle of totality" must govern perception of the body and its expressivity. He disapproved of Mensendieck-type efforts to analyze movement in relation to isolated parts of the body, and, of course, he denounced the Dalcroze system of synchronizing movement to musical rhythms. He also expressed skepticism concerning the use of gymnastic apparati such as parallel bars and weights, for these emphasized movement as a struggle against forces external to the body, whereas expression gymnastics was always a struggle of the body against forces internal to it. Bode did not want his method associated with sport competition; rather, the aim of expression gymnastics was to develop bodily movements derived from rhythms in nature, with the view of making the body expressive in the performance of everyday actions. However, a serious defect of Bode's theorizing lay in his failure to clarify what he meant by natural, or "organic," rhythms. Moreover, the gymnastic body offered "no expression of definite feelings like sorrow or joy, or patternlike forms for any feeling; all this is the task of a school of dramatics" (RB 46). What the body expressed entirely was a heightened, "ethical" sense of "vitality" and a triumphant struggle against the mental and mechanical "opposing powers inimical to life" (25). Bode built an exercise program around "natural" movements, "the simplest movements like walking, striding, swinging, pushing, or beating of the arms, bending of the body" (47). Yet nearly all the exercises in Ausdrucksgymnastik kept the body in a standing position: different parts of the body could move in swinging, flinging, beating, bending, raising, dropping, turning, rolling, pushing, or stretching motions without the body's going anywhere.

In spite of the book's focus on single bodies—a focus reinforced by photographs depicting solitary male and female models performing all of the eighty or so exercises—Bode earned respect for his skillful management of group exercises, and he obviously believed that the individual body developed its vitality more quickly through immersion in a controlled communal rhythm. But undated (ca. 1927) photographs by Gerhard Riebicke of stu-


dent activities in Munich deposited in the Joan Erikson Archive of the Harvard Theatre Collection strongly suggest that Bode did not build group exercises around interaction between bodies. In this respect, his method differed significantly from so-called "Swedish gymnastics," especially the method of Nils Bukh, which stressed variations in movement within an exercising group and therefore required an individual body to maintain constant awareness of other bodies; the movement of each contributed uniquely to an overall group design that continually changed in relation to a controlling gymnastic objective (Figure 34). Swedish gymnastics was not dance, yet it did invest group exercises and communal rhythm with a strong subsidiary aesthetic effect. But Bode presumably felt that Swedish gymnastics was too rational for a German mass audience—it was exercise for an elite, upper-class, already alert community. Six of the Riebicke photographs show groups of women exercising in a park or on some sort of beach. But whether the group consists of three, six, or seven women, the bodies make the same synchronized movement. One photo shows eighteen women in Peter Pan-type costumes advancing toward the camera with arms upraised, bearing gongs, mallets, and drums; another depicts a round dance of six women surrounded by another round dance of twenty-four women, all being watched by a milling group of sixteen women, although it is not clear who the leader is.

Thus, regardless of group size, Bode apparently did not introduce any of the polyrhythmic convolutions that delighted Laban. Although he rejected the synchronization of movement with music advocated by his teacher, Dalcroze, Bode nevertheless linked the mysterious German concept of rhythm to the phenomenon of synchronicity. Synchronicity was a supreme sign of unity—with nature, with other bodies, with movements external to the body. But synchronicity is frequently a supreme sign of simplicity, and simplicity made Bode's teachings very appealing to people with simple ambitions. Though many of his students found a humble place in the German educational system, few achieved distinction within the world of body culture. In the 1920s this limitation was evident to serious commentators on movement education: "This gymnastic method follows a friendly middle path between extremes, between unleashing and strictness: but for that reason it can at best build a bridge to an acceptable practical art, never to a high art, which always demands something unconditional" (HFK 218).

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.