The Serpentine Dance
VIDEO • CREATIVE REFERENCE
The story behind the famous Serpentine Dance that has been an inspiration since 1893
Serpentine dance is a form of early burlesque that has been a constant source of inspiration to many creatives through its innovation, choreography and costume design. It was also a frequent subject of early motion pictures, as it highlighted the technology's ability to portray movement and light for the very first time.
The dance was created in 1892 by Loie Fuller and involves swirling a white transparent silk around the body to create different colours, with the aid of movement. There are varying accounts of how she developed the spectacle.
"I wanted to create a new form of art, an art completely irrelevant to usual theories.” said Loie Fuller for Éclair Magazine in 1914.
The story goes that one day Loie received a voluminous skirt of transparent white silk and while dancing around sensuously with it in front of a mirror, the sun's light shone through the silk and had a beautiful effect. Voila, her vision was born.
A year later, in the autumn of 1892, Loie secured an audition to perform at Folies Bergère. P(Folies Bergère is a cabaret music hall, located on 32 Rue Ruchen, 75009. It is an iconic place that is still a strong symbol of Parisian life today). Stepping outside her carriage, she saw a poster advertising a 'Serpentine Dancer performance by Maybelle Stewart.’ Trembling, she went inside to watch the young woman perform.
“The longer I watched the calmer I became.” said Fuller. It turned out that the Serpentine Dancer was terrible.
When the theatre emptied, Fuller put on her billowy costume and auditioned for Bergère. By the end of the day, Maybelle Stewart was out and Fuller was in in.
Her gown extended into vast wings that the dancer manipulated with concealed wands made of aluminium or bamboo. The colours of the dress changed with the aids of a glass platform on the stage which featured many different coloured lights. According to US patent records, Fuller's Serpentine dress was registered as 'beautiful’ and it was noted that ‘scenic effects are produced’ when she performed.
Fuller would place a hypnotic hold on her audience by imitating shapes such as butterflies, flowers and flames while she danced. Many people tried to copy Fuller’s act, but no one danced liked her and she once even took an imitator to court…