Watch the Serpentine Dance, Created by the Pioneering Dancer Loie Fuller, Performed in an 1897 Film by the Lumière Brothers

Whatever their views on copyright, artists and inventors of all kinds can agree on one thing: all dread having their ideas stolen without so much as a footnote of credit. Such thefts have led to tanked careers, lifelong resentments, homicidal rivalries, and lawsuits to fill libraries. They have allowed many a thief to prosper and many an injured party to surrender.

But not legendary modern dance pioneer Loie Fuller.

“Short, plump, and thirty years old,” the dancer from Illinois arrived in Paris in 1892, fresh off the “mid-level vaudeville” circuit, writes Rhonda K. Garelick at Public Domain Review, and bent on proving herself to Édouard Marchand, director of the Folies-Bergère. She scored an interview within days of her arrival.

Alighting from her carriage in front of the theater, she stopped short at the sight of the large placard depicting the Folies’ current dance attraction: a young woman waving enormous veils over her head, billed as the “serpentine dancer.” “Here was the cataclysm, my utter annihilation,” Fuller would later write, for she had come to the Folies that day precisely to audition her own, new “serpentine dance,” an art form she had invented in the United States.

The imposter, an American named Maybelle Stewart, had seen Fuller perform in New York and had lifted her act and taken it to Paris. Rather than succumb to rage or despair, Fuller sat through the matinee performance and was moved from a cold sweat to renewed confidence. “The longer she danced,” she wrote, “the calmer I became.” After Stewart left the stage, Fuller ascended in her serpentine costume and auditioned for Marchand, who agreed to take her on and fire Stewart.

The story gets stranger. The show had been promoted with Stewart’s name, and so, to avoid bad publicity, Fuller agreed to perform the first two nights as Stewart, “dancing her own imitation of Stewart’s imitation of the serpentine dance,” a “triple-layer simulation,” Garelick writes, “worthy of an essay by Jean Baudrillard”—and emblematic of a career in dance marked by “self-replication, mirrored images, and identity play.”

Thus did the woman named Loie Fuller (born Mary-Louise Fuller), begin “what was to become an unbroken thirty-year reign as one of Europe’s most wildly celebrated dancers.” Fuller was “the only female entertainer to have her own pavilion” at the 1900 Exposition Universelle, writes Natalie Lemie at Artsy. “Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec featured her in a number of prints; Auguste Rodin commissioned a series of photographs of the dancer with plans to sculpt her; and the Lumière brothers released a film about her in 1897.”

Fuller’s dance personified Art Nouveau, expressing its elegant, flowing lines in her billowing silk gowns, which she moved by means of bamboo sewn into her sleeves. As she danced “colored lights were projected onto the flowing fabric, and as she twirled, she seemed to metamorphose into elements from the natural world: a flower, a butterfly, a tongue of flame.” Everyone came to see her. The Folies, which “typically attracted working class patrons," now had aristocratic newcomers lining up outside.

See the serpentine dance that launched her career at the top in the Lumière Brothers’ 1897 film and below it in a colorized excerpt, with the bewitching music of Sigur Ros added for effect. Other films and clips here from other early cinema pioneers show the medium's embrace of Fuller's choreography. Ironically, none of this footage, it seems, shows Fuller herself, but only her imitators. "Unfortunately none of the surviving films seem to contain a performance by the original dancer/choreographer," notes cinema history channel Magical Motion Museum, "despite some of them carrying her name in the title or otherwise crediting her as the dancer."

Her name carried a lot of weight. Fuller was not only a celebrated dancer, but also a manager, producer, and lighting designer with “over a dozen patents related to her costumes and innovations in stage lighting.” (She was so interested in the “luminous properties” of radium that she sought out and “befriended its discoverers, Pierre and Marie Curie.”) By 1908, however, she had left behind some of these elaborate stage effects to focus on “natural dancing’—dance inspired by nature, which was the forerunner of modern dance.”

And she had taken on a young dancer in her company named Isadora Duncan, often referred to as the “Mother of Modern Dance." Fuller deserves credit, too, but she didn’t seem to care about this overmuch. She was, notes Oberlin College dance professor Ann Cooper Albright, “way more interested in making things happen than creating a name for herself.” Fame came as a byproduct of her creativity rather than its sought-after reward. She was still renowned after she left the stage, and given a retrospective at The Louvre in 1924.

Fuller continued to work behind the scenes after the Art Nouveau movement gave way to new modernisms and supported and inspired younger artists until her death in 1928. Her work deserves a prominent place in the history of modern dance, but Fuller herself “was—and remains—elusive,” Lemie writes, “something of a phantom." Others might have stolen, borrowed, or imitated the serpentine dance, but Lois Fuller became it, going beyond competition and into a realm of magic.

via Public Domain Review

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Expressionist Dance Costumes from the 1920s, and the Tragic Story of Lavinia Schulz & Walter Holdt

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Expressionist Dance Costumes from the 1920s, and the Tragic Story of Lavinia Schulz & Walter Holdt

The most fruitful creative partnerships, long or short, have often been tempestuous. On the shorter side, and among the stormiest, we have a husband-and-wife team who realized visions hitherto unseen onstage, and who very nearly fell into total obscurity after a murder-suicide brought their partnership to an end. But in the Hamburg of the late 1910s and early 1920s, writes Hyperallergic's Allison Meier, Lavinia Schulz and Walter Holdt "created wild, Expressionist costumes that looked like retro robots and Bauhaus knights," twenty of them, for performances accompanied by avant-garde music. After their death in 1924, Schulz and Holdt's work went into storage, never to be found again until the late 1980s.

The costumes had been gifted to the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe, which in 1925 "staged an evening in memory of Lavinia Schulz and Walter Holdt," writes blogger Jan Reetze.




"After this, the masks, photos and drawings" — including dances diagrammed in a system of Schulz's own invention — "went into a couple of 'acrobat's baggage' boxes and fell into oblivion on the museum's attic. They were not even inventoried. Which turned out to be a stroke of luck because this way the objects didn't fall into the hands of the Nazis, who, without any doubt, would have seen these works as 'degenerate art' and in all probability would have destroyed them."

You can see the costumes in action in the video at the top of the post, and more of the photos taken by Minya Diez-Dührkoop in the last year of Schulz and Holdt's lives at Hyperallergic. Their performances began in the expressionism with which the Berlin-educated Schultz had been associated and moved toward "the supposed purity of pre-Judeo-Christian, Aryan-Nordic culture," as Dangerous Minds' Paul Gallagher writes.

"Between 1920-24, the couple performed their dance routines to the bewildered and often antagonistic audiences of Hamburg. Though some critics appreciated the pair’s talent and startling originality, this praise was never enough to pay the rent."

"According to contemporary critics, Lavinia seemed to be the more creative one," writes Reetze. "Walter, on the other hand, was the better and more disciplined dancer, he exactly knew his formal means and how to use them." The counterpart to Holdt's rigor was Schulz's more primal genius, a sensibility that manifested aesthetically — seen in her highly unconventional use of everyday materials like "wire, gypsum, papier mâché and industrial garbage" — and emotionally.

Reetze quotes from the autobiography of composer Hans Heinz Stuckenschmidt, who briefly lived with the couple: "Deprivation, hunger, coldness, nordic landscape with storm, ice, and catastrophes: That was her world, and she had found herself in it with Holdt."

Schulz and Holdt also refused to be paid for their performances. "You cannot sell spiritual ideas for money," Schulz wrote. "Spirit and money are two antagonistic poles, and if you sell spiritual ideas for money, you sold the spirit to the money and lost the spirit." Eventually their poverty — as well as the unusually volatile nature of their relationship, said to spark physical marital spats on stage — reached a breaking point. "Both were in their 20s, and had earned little money from their artistic work," writes Meier. "In financial ruin, on June 18, 1924, Schulz shot Holdt, and then turned the gun on herself." But against all odds, their still-startling creativity — the kind that can, perhaps, emerge only from the opposition of two incompatible forces — lives on.

via Dangerous Mind

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Science Shows That Snowball the Cockatoo Has 14 Different Dance Moves: The Vogue, Headbang & More

We humans think we invented everything.

The wheel…

The printing press…

Dancing…

Well, we’re right about the first two.

Turns out the impulse to shake a tail feather isn’t an arbitrary cultural construct of humanity but rather a hard-wired neurological impulse in beings classified as vocal learners—us, elephants, dolphins, songbirds, and parrots like the Internet-famous sulphur-crested cockatoo, Snowball, above.

Animals outside of this elite set can be trained to execute certain physical moves, or they may just look like they’re dancing when tracking the movements of their food bowl or shimmying with relief at being picked up from doggy daycare.




Snowball, however, is truly dancing, thanks to his species’ capacity for hearing, then imitating sounds. Like every great spontaneous dancer, he’s got the music in him.

Aniruddh Patel, a Professor of Psychology at Tufts who specializes in music cognition, was the first to consider that Snowball’s habit of rocking out to the Backstreet Boys CD he’d had in his possession when dropped off at a parrot rescue center in Dyer, Indiana, was something more than a party trick.

Dr. Patel notes that parrots have more in common with dinosaurs than human beings, and that our monkey cousins don’t dance (much to this writer’s disappointment).

(Also, for the record? That goat who sings like Usher? It may sound like Usher, but you'll find no scientific support for the notion that its vocalizations constitute singing.)

Snowball, on the other hand, has made a major impression upon the Academy.

In papers published in Current Biology and Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, Patel and his co-authors John R. Iversen, Micah R. Bregman, and Irena Schulz delved into why Snowball can dance like … well, maybe not Fred Astaire, but certainly your average moshing human.

After extensive observation, they concluded that an individual must possess five specific mental skills and predilections in order to move impulsively to music:

  1. They must be complex vocal learners, with the accompanying ability to connect sound and movement.
  2. They must be able to imitate movements.
  3. They must be able to learn complex sequences of actions.
  4. They must be attentive to the movements of others.
  5. They must form long-term social bonds.

Cockatoos can do all of this. Humans, too.

Patel’s former student R. Joanne Jao Keehn recently reviewed footage she shot in 2009 of Snowball getting down to Queen’s "Another One Bites the Dust" and Cyndi Lauper’s "Girls Just Want to Have Fun," identifying 14 distinct moves.

According to her research, his favorites are Vogue, Head-Foot Sync, and Headbang with Lifted Foot.

If you’ve been hugging the wall since middle school, maybe it’s time to take a deep breath, followed by an avian dancing lesson.

How did Snowball come by his astonishing rug-cutting confidence? Certainly not by watching instructional videos on YouTube. His human companion Schulz dances with him occasionally, but doesn't attempt to teach him her moves, which she describes as "limited."

Much like two human partners, they’re not always doing the same thing at the same time.

And the choreography is purely Snowball’s.

As Patel told The Harvard Gazette:

It’s actually a complex cognitive act that involves choosing among different types of possible movement options. It’s exactly how we think of human dancing.

If he is actually coming up with some of this stuff by himself, it’s an incredible example of animal creativity because he’s not doing this to get food; he’s not doing this to get a mating opportunity, both of which are often motivations in examples of creative behavior in other species.

You can read more science-based articles inspired by Snowball and watch some of his many public appearances on the not-for-profit, donation-based sanctuary Bird Lovers Only’s website.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inkyzine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, September 9 for another season of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Why We Dance: An Animated Video Explains the Science Behind Why We Bust a Move

Has any culture, apart from that of the tiny Utah town in Footloose, done entirely without dancing? It would at first seem that any human need the rhythmic shaking of one's limbs to organized sound fulfills must reside pretty low on the overall priority scale, but anthropology tells us that various human societies started dancing before they got into most every other activity that fills their time today. "Why is this ostensibly frivolous act so fundamental to being human?" asks the Aeon video above. "The answer, it seems, is in our need for social cohesion — that vital glue that keeps societies from breaking apart despite interpersonal differences."

Directed and animated by Rosanna Wan and Andrew Khosravani, the four-minute explainer frames our deep, culture-transcending need to "bust a move" in terms of the work of both 19th- and early 20th-century French sociologist Émile Durkheim and more recent research performed by Bronwyn Tarr, an Oxford evolutionary biologist who also happens to be a dancer herself.




Durkheim posited the phenomenon of "collective effervescence," or "a sort of electricity," or "that exhilaration, almost euphoria, that overtakes groups of people united by a common purpose, pursuing an intensely involving activity together." When you feel it, you feel "a flow, a sense that your self is melding with the group as a whole." And has any practice generated as much collective effervescence throughout human history as dance?

Modern science has shed a bit of light on why: Tarr has found that "we humans have a natural tendency to synchronize our movements with other humans," thanks to a region in the brain which helps us make the same movements we see others making. "When we mimic our partner's movements, and they're mimicking ours, similar neural networks in both networks open up a rush of neurohormones, all of which make us feel good." Listening to music "can create such a euphoric delight that it appears to activate opioid receptors in the brain," making it even harder to resist getting up and dancing. "They said he'd never win," Footloose's tagline said of the movie's big-city teen intent on getting the town dancing again, but "he knew he had to" — an assurance that turns out to have had a basis in neurology.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

How Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” Video Changed Pop Culture Forever: Revisit the 13-Minute Short Film Directed by John Landis

Michael Jackson's Thriller, the album, had spent the previous year at the top of the charts before the John Landis-directed video for the title track debuted in 1983. Two previous videos, for massive hits “Billie Jean” and “Beat It,” kept him on constant rotation on the fledgling MTV and other networks. It seemed that the “naïve, preternaturally gifted 25-year-old” couldn’t get any more internationally famous, but then, as Nancy Griffin writes at Vanity Fair, “it was the ‘Thriller’ video that pushed Jackson over the top, consolidating his position as the King of Pop."

His naïveté was matched by a shrewd, calculating ambition, and the story of the “Thriller” video highlights both. After seeing An American Werewolf in London, he chose Landis to make a video that would goose Thriller’s sales as they started to fall. Landis, the profane, irreverent director of The Blues Brothers and Animal House, may have seemed an odd choice for the wholesome pop star, who prefaced his zombie spoof with a pious disclaimer about his “strong personal convictions.” (Shortly before the video's release, Jackson, under pressure from the Jehovah's Witnesses, asked Landis to destroy it.)




It turns out, however, that when Jackson called Landis, he hadn’t seen any of the director’s other films (and Landis hadn’t heard the song). It was Landis who suggested that the video be turned into a 14-minute short film, a choice that set the bar high for the form ever since. As he told Billboard’s John Branca on the video’s 35th anniversary, just days ago:

Music videos at that time were always just needle drop. Some were pretty good, but most were not, and they were commercials. Michael’s such a huge star that I said, “Maybe I can bring back the theatrical short.” I pitched him the idea, and he totally went for it. Michael was extremely enthusiastic because he wanted to make movies.

Before “Thriller” even aired, it was a high-profile event. “Marlon Brando, Fred Astaire, Rock Hudson and Jackie Kennedy Onassis all turned up on set,” notes Phil Hebblethwaite, “and Eddie Murphy, Prince and Diana Ross were spotted at the private premier.” After the video premiered on MTV at midnight on December 2nd, it sealed the network’s “reputation as a new cultural force; dissolved racial barriers in the station’s treatment of music,” and “helped create a market for VHS rentals and sales.”

“Thriller” turned the making of music videos into a “proper industry,” says Brian Grant, the British director who made videos for Tina Turner’s “Private Dancer” and Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody.” It “launched a dance craze,” Karen Bliss writes at Billboard, and “a red-jacket fashion favorite.” It won three MTV Awards, two American Music Awards, and a Grammy. In 2009, it became the first music video inducted into the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry, designated as a national treasure.

But as we look back on unprecedented historic impact “Thriller” had on pop culture, we must also look at its continued impact in the present. It remains the most popular music video of all time. “’Thriller’ is thriving on YouTube,” Griffin writes. Celebrities and ordinary people, professional and amateur dance troops, Filipino prisoners and Norwegian soldiers, routinely perform its dance moves for the camera all over the world. An entire genre of how-to videos teach viewers how to do the "Thriller" dance. This past September, it became the first music video released in IMAX 3D.

The video received the documentary treatment in Jerry Kramer’s Making Michael Jackson’s Thriller, which premiered at the Venice Film Festival last year. Landis tells Branca one story that did not make it into Kramer's movie. After Quincy Jones refused him permission to remix the song, he and Jackson walked into the studio at night, took the tapes, duplicated them and returned them. The song that appears in the video “is very different than the record,” says Landis. “I only used a third of the lyrics. It’s a 3-minute song; in the film, it plays for 11 minutes.” Jones and engineer Bruce Swedien didn’t even notice, says the director, they were so enthralled with what they saw onscreen.

What continues to drive “Thriller’s” popularity? The combination of good clean fun and perfectly-pitched camp horror—Vincent Price voiceover and all? The virtuoso dance moves, zombie choreography, and irresistibly sleek 80s fashions? All of the above, of course, and also some indefinable sum of all these parts, a perfect combination of cinematic depth and shiny pop culture surfaces that set the benchmark for the format for three-and-a-half decades.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Twerking, Moonwalking AI Robots–They’re Now Here

In a study released last year, Katja Grace at Oxford's Future of Humanity Institute “surveyed the world’s leading researchers in artificial intelligence by asking them when they think intelligent machines will better humans in a wide range of tasks.” After interviewing 1,634 experts, they found that they “believe there is a 50% chance of AI outperforming humans in all tasks in 45 years and of automating all human jobs in 120 years.” That includes everything from driving trucks, running cash registers, to performing surgery, and writing New York Times bestsellers. These sobering predictions have prompted academics, like Northeastern University president Joseph Aoun, to write books along the lines of Robot-Proof: Higher Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence which asks the question, How can universities "educate the next generation of college students to invent, to create, and to discover—filling needs that even the most sophisticated robot cannot"? It's a good question. But a challenging one too. Because it assumes we understand what robots can, and cannot, do. Case in point, Boston Dynamics released a video this week of its SpotMini robot dancing to Bruno Mars’s “Uptown Funk.” It can moonwalk. It can twerk. Did the dance departments see that coming? Doubt it.

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Bauhaus Ballet: A Dance of Geometry

During the past month, the Great Big Story has released a series of videos that revisit the design aesthetic of the Bauhaus movement. Their first video explored the radical buildings designed by Bauhaus architects. A second focused on the legacy of minimalist Bauhaus furniture. And now a third takes as its subject Oskar Schlemmer's 1922 “Triadic Ballet”--a ballet famous for putting geometry and structure into dance. The video above shows the "Bayerisches Junior Ballet München as they prepare to bring Bauhaus center stage again." You can watch a full recreation of the ballet and learn much more about Schlemmer's experimental production by reading this post from our archive.

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

Also consider following Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and sharing intelligent media with your friends. Or sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

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