The Making of a "Fallen Angel": The Press and the Image of the "Danseuse" of the Paris Opéra Ballet, 1840-1890

By Lorraine Coons.

Published by The International Journal of Social, Political and Community Agendas in the Arts

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Published Online: August 4, 2016 $US5.00

From the period of the July Monarchy to the Third Republic, the young female ballet dancer was depicted in the press as a wayward, shallow, greedy, little Nana in the making, destined to a life of prostitution once her dream of becoming an étoile of the Paris Opéra Ballet was extinguished. Journalists like Albéric Second supplied their readers with enough gossip about the goings on behind the scenes to satisfy the most curious theatergoer. Prominent art critic, journalist and poet, Théophile Gautier scrutinized the young dancers’ bodies in print. The sketches of Jean Louis Forain that appeared in Le Courrier Français show young dancers either as "fallen angels" or just about to compromise their virtue in return for "protection" from the abonées (ballet subscribers) oftentimes with maman acting as negotiator. This article focuses on the image of the dancer that was constructed by the French press largely to sell newspapers and to satiate the ravenous appetite of their readers for scandal and intrigue backstage at the Paris Opéra. Such an image trivialized her life as a series of shallow encounters with potential “protectors.” By examining the sketches of Forain and articles of journalists like Gautier and Second, stereotypes of the danseuses emerge that have little basis in reality but which served to stigmatize them as largely untalented, ambitious opportunists in the eyes of the French public.

Keywords: Gender, Arts and the Media, Role of the Reader, Image of the Dancer

The International Journal of Social, Political and Community Agendas in the Arts, Volume 11, Issue 4, December, 2016, pp.49-60. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Published Online: August 4, 2016 (Article: Electronic (PDF File; 929.602KB)).

Dr. Lorraine Coons

Professor of History, Department of History and Political Science, Chestnut Hill College, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA