So in university we have finally reached the topic of erotic dance in the early twentieth century, something I am delighted to be concentrating on and I will be doing some of my essays on this topic. I am currently reading Sisters of Salome by Toni Bentley which gives Bentleys fabulous journey from ballerina to strip tease as she presents the early icons of the strip tease (you can use the link to take a look at the book). Concentrating on the era and the representations of Salome in particular have presented some really interesting thoughts when looking back on history.
Salome is a story set deep within Christian history of a young girl of royalty asked to perform a dance for her father Herod by Herod himself, it is believed she was his step-daughter and a blood relative. The price her would pay for her to dance for him is most interesting as he offers her land and jewels to see his young daughter’s moving flesh. This is one reason I find the subordination of strippers and sex workers intriguing (as mentioned in my previous post here) because the price that someone would pay to see that dance puts the dancer in high regard and in a position of power and they can indeed just say no, or as in Salome’s case, she asks for the head of John the Baptist.
Herod has John the Baptist imprisoned at this time as he shouted prophecies of the coming Saviour, Salome felt that she had fallen in love and or/lust with the man but in his rebuke of her advance she asked for his head on a platter as a reward for her dance. There is some questioning around wether her request for this prize was actually out of hurt or jealously, but possibly out of the hot red obsession of lust. This again is interesting, this lustful seeing red is often attributed to male lust rather than female lust and this gruesome version of the story is one than Oscar Wilde tells. Is Salome the first woman to be depicted with the dangerous lusting qualities that have usually been assigned to men throughout history? Or is this what condemns her? Or maybe this male quality is something more recently assigned as we have forgotten to address history?
There was no strip in the pre-Wilde historical account of Salome, but Wilde also did not mention a strip, what he did was leave his story open to the imagination. In some versions Salome made love to the separated head of the Basptist, in others he was just a spiritual figment; it may be assumed that she danced naked due to the rewards that Herod was offereing her. There is no victory in the story of Salome as for her alleged acts upon the severed head she was exectued which brings the story back around to the historial demonisation of the powerful male role. A slight side note that I am intrigued by, there is no mention of Salome’s age-this could indeed be a horrendous story of a girl too young who experiences lust and when asked for her reward asks for an outlandish prize to which she does not know the consequence of. Given the time the story was set women would have married and bred young and violence would have been a common occurrence therefore not thinking about the consequence of asking for such a reward in the time at such a young age may not have even been considered.
Now we jet to the late 1800’s and sit firmly in the era of the cosmopolitan before Wilde is imprisoned. Wilde’s story of Salome was banned from the stage at first but published in French (its intended language) and some in English. Sarah Bernhardt was the famous actress of the time and although nearing her 50’s she was supported by Wilde to portray Salome but alas was not allowed. For the published books Aubrey Beardsley drew the images for the literature which upon reading about the artist was intriguing due to the rumours of incest about him not unlike those in Salome’s story. I came across his depiction of Salome and the head when I was a teenager looking at gothic (as in sub-culture) art. His style struck me but at the time I did not know what the picture was of and I never looked in to it. I can now tie these two interests together knowing that this artist and picture is linked to this story and the start of the strip-tease. Although Salome has existed for a tremendous amount of time we may have Oscar Wilde to thank for this moving rendition of her which lead to the strip-tease. It all seems very neatly packaged that someone condemned for being a homosexual influenced the strip and therefore influenced the “outing” of female sexuality but also the underworld of the dance scene.
So I leave you with pictures, a video of one of my burlesque routines which has a slight Eastern influence like many of those influenced by the many renditions of Salome’s dance and also news of a new routine (sorry, you have to click on the link as WP doesn’t allow video imbedding on my plan). I will be doing a routine more heavily influenced by the first-world war dancers and bring Mata Hari to the stage (kind of) in a classic but bombastic bejeweled fan dance! It’s really exciting, I just can’t afford the fans yet so I am getting everything else done in the meantime. If you are able to contribute at all, even if it £1 it will all go to the feather fans and it will be greatly appreciated! : PayPal Link.