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Figure 1. The dancing master's tuneful waltz leads Cælia to her death in Thomas Rowlandson's "The Waltz," from The English Dance of Death, 1815: She sinks, she faints, she pants for breath: Alas! it was the W D.
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Figure 1.

The dancing master's tuneful waltz leads Cælia to her death in Thomas Rowlandson's "The Waltz," from The English Dance of Death, 1815:

She sinks, she faints, she pants for breath:

Alas! it was the WALTZ OF DEATH.1

Pathologizing Dance

Felicia McCarren argues in Dance Pathologies: Performance, Poetics, Medicine that the power of nineteenth-century ballet and the popularity of the ballerina in Paris derived from an historic connection between what she frames as "dances of death" and "hysterical dances of repression."2Dance Pathologies discusses the nineteenth-century feminization of theater dance in Paris that occurred in tandem with a bourgeois idealization of femininity in enlightened European culture, noting how the practice of [End Page 199] prostituting female dancers at the Opéra and the real pathological impact of syphilis intertwined with the fictional pathology expressed in the choreography of women's dancing bodies. Perhaps most striking in McCarren's cultural history of the French Romantic ballet is her analysis of women's danced embodiment of a pathologically conflicted ideal of femininity: McCarren elaborates how the practices of dance and prostitution at the Opéra intersected with the medicalization of hysteria in France. As McCarren explains, "[t]he medicine of experiment, instrument, and clinical observation" were combined in Jean-Martin Charcot's study of the physiology of the nervous system and locomotor functional disorders and this allowed him to develop a notion of idiopathy that he applied to explain "what pathology could not explain, a pathology of 'idea' itself."3

This essay focuses not on the performance of theatrical dance praxis as McCarren's study does, but on the performance of social dancing and the literary, medical, and iconographic responses to dance developments that preceded the period of Charcot's work on hysteria. By examining the emergence of the waltz as a new social fad one sees how the phenomenon partnered the political revolution in France and came to be considered a symptom of social "mania" throughout Europe. In 1791 in Paris, there were 400 registered ballrooms open for business, and possibly as many more unregistered spaces used informally as dance halls.4 Anecdotal accounts transcribed in the journals of aristocrats who had survived the 1789 massacres claimed that the revolutionaries didn't hesitate to dance on the blood of their victims, in the churches and graveyards throughout Paris:

On danse en effet, un peu partout: sur les dalles, encore rouges du sang de l'échafaud, dans les couvents des Carmélites, au Marais, au séminaire Saint-Sulpice, dans la maison des ci-devant Carmes-Déchaux, sous les murs même où retentissaient les sinistres appels des condamnés, la musique fait entendre ses flonflons.5

The deafening cacophony of these dances of death did not echo the polite feet of a king's minuet. Along with group dances such as the carmagnole, people experimented with the new-found waltz that rapidly gained popularity in France. According to German historians Rudolf Braun and David Gugerli, the waltz became the cult dance of emancipation for French citizens during the revolution in France.6 In 1804, the patriotic German writer Ernst Moritz Arndt noted in his travel journal that the French citizens' "Liebe zum Walzer, und die Nationalisierung dieses deutschen Tanzes, ist ganz neu. Erst seit [End Page 200] dem Kriege ist er mit den Tabakrauchen und andern gemeinen Moden gewöhnlich geworden."7

The emergence and rapid popularization of waltzing among enlightened youth during and after the revolution can be mapped in parallel with developments in the medical history of the female imagination: physicians wrote specifically about the nefarious effects of this revolutionary dance practice on the state of women's mental and physical health. The late eighteenth-century "dance craze" of waltzing unleashed a bevy of medical discourse not only in France, but in Germany and England as well. These medical texts remain yet unexplored in American scholarship on dance studies. Arguing, often desperately, that the dance was symptomatic of a moral and social contagion, French medical philosophers and physicians particularly shunned this intimate and bawdy danse-à-deux as it traveled from Germany to France in the 1780s and 90s.

A Renaissance of the Dance of Death

"Was wissen Sie aber auch, der Sie alles zu wissen glauben? Sie glauben Appiani ist verwundet," —Appiani walzt, ist also—"schlimmer als todt."

Rahel Levin Varnhagen, 17 December, 17938

During the eighteenth century on the European continent, the widespread popularity of English country dances initiated a gradual democratization of aristocratic social dance aesthetics. Consequently, this shift also paved the way for the revolutionary integration of the German and Austrian "low" folk dances in the latter half of the century. The ländler, weller, dreher and other round dances of the Germanic tradition incorporated a rotating, gliding or hopping closed-couple embrace, or prise-fermée. As Eduard Reeser suggests in his history of the waltz, a distinctive characteristic of the waltz was that its turning movements were performed while dragging the feet along the ground rather than lifting the feet in the air between steps.9 Dance historian Paul Nettle notes that these spinning folk dances remained popular in the ballrooms of the Viennese court "so long as the Italian influence prevailed in the Vienna Ballet . . . but as French influence increased [in the early eighteenth century], the popular dances gradually disappeared from the ballet."10 Despite the official bans in Vienna and Prague, these bawdy dances persisted as they had for centuries as a popular practice among the lower and rural classes.11 [End Page 201]

The revolutionary waltz, born of these peasant round dances, was prohibited by the bishops of Wurzburg and Fulda in a 1760 decree "forbidding all gliding and waltzing."12 Yet in 1787, Joseph II invited Vincent Martin, a Spanish librettist, to Vienna to stage Una Cosa Rara, the first opera to choreograph a waltz, thus introducing the dance into the aesthetic realm of "high art," and making it once again accessible to aristocratic audiences who flocked to see the opera. Martin's opera eclipsed Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro and the dejected Mozart left for Prague to write Don Giovanni. There Figaro had greater success and Mozart was delighted to discover a rustic ball at which "people jumped around with sincere enjoyment to the music of my Figaro which had been turned into all kinds of Contres and Teutsche."13

Although Nettle records the first appearance of the word "walzen" in the performance of "Bernardon," a 1754 comedy by the "famous Viennese clown, theatre-director and dramatist, Felix Kurz," to music by Haydn, the waltz as a social fad emerged forcefully on the international scene twenty years later after the literary success of Goethe's Die Leiden des jungen Werthers.14 The waltz was the first round dance to become an established and enduring praxis in the ballrooms of European society. This transformation occurred with as much opposition as joyous frenzy. English society officially refused to waltz until after the death of King George III. As late as 1816, The Times of London remarked:

with pain that the indecent foreign dance called the Waltz was introduced (we believe, for the first time) at the English Court on Friday last. This is a circumstance which ought not to be passed over in silence. National morals depend on national habits: and it is quite sufficient to cast one's eyes on the voluptuous intertwining of the limbs, and close compressure on the bodies, in this dance, to see that it is far indeed removed from the modest reserve which has hitherto been considered distinctive of English females. So long as this obscene display was confined to prostitutes and adulteresses we did not think it deserving of notice; but now that it is attempted to be forced on the respectable classes of society by the evil example of their superiors, we feel it a duty to warn every parent against exposing his daughter to so fatal a contagion.15

In this tirade, allusions to obscenity mix with fear of political contamination to proffer the idea that waltzing, like revolution, was a disease capable of corrupting the morals and national identity of the "respectable classes" in [End Page 202] England. The writer further states that "every parent" with authority to halt such a contagion was a father and not a mother, thus insinuating that women of all ages were susceptible to the corrupting appeal of the waltz. The Times' invective against the "voluptuous intertwining" of bodies marked a confusion of more than limbs and torsos in the ballroom: it also initiated a reactionary translation of the physical pressure upon women's bodies into a "fatal contagion" in the form of a voluptuous moral pressure that women naturally would not have the power to resist. As the author suggests, almost instantly within the turning touch of the waltz, respectable English females became indistinguishable from prostitutes, adulteresses, and "foreign" dancers.

In an England only recently rediscovering peace after the Napoleonic Wars, national pastimes such as dancing took on new urgency. The realities of high unemployment, stagnation of trade, and a crisis in agriculture had led to the inflation of corn and other food products causing street riots in 1816. Waltzing was depicted as a contaminating social madness linked historically to France's own bloody revoltuion.16The Times reconfigured the arrival of this "indecent foreign dance" into a threat that France's revolution had arrived on English shores to infiltrate English society like a contagious disease through the porthole of the ballroom, a public space notably rare in its often being monitored and controlled by women.

Michael Kelly, an Irish lyric singer and friend of Mozart who himself performed in the Vienna premiere of Figaro, published his memoirs in 1826 in which he described his 1776 voyage to Vienna, a city, he declared, "where pleasure was the order of the day and night."17 In Kelly's well-known account, the Viennese pursuit of pleasure was symptomatic of a collective madness:

The people of Vienna were in my time dancing mad; . . . the propensity of the Vienna ladies for dancing . . . was so determined, that nothing was permitted to interfere with their enjoyment of their favourite amusement—nay, so notorious was it, that, for the sake of ladies in the family way, who could not be persuaded to stay at home, there were apartments prepared, with every convenience, for their accouchement, should they be unfortunately required. And I have been gravely told, and almost believe, that there have actually been instances of the utility of the arrangement. The ladies of Vienna are particularly celebrated for their grace and movements in waltzing, of which they never tire. For my own part, I thought waltzing from ten at night until seven in the [End Page 203] morning, a continual whirligig; most tiresome to the eye and ear—to say nothing of any worse consequences.18

Kelly recalls the waltz as a danse macabre poised to destroy not only the women who adored it, but "the people" of Vienna as a whole. Kelly locates the Viennese "madness" in the determination and pleasure of the dancing female body. His sentiments and concerns about the dance as social contagion were later echoed in the French romantic ballets.19 His reconstruction of the history of waltzing in Vienna articulated a shift that occurred not only in the praxis of social dancing in Europe at the end of the eighteenth century, but in the social consciousness that led ultimately to a re-gendering of the mania in dance itself.

The first Opéra produced in Paris after the revolution was Pierre Gardel's Dansomanie (1800). Dansomanie was the first French ballet to choreograph a waltz. The manic dancer in Gardel's ballet was a comical father figure, a man whose daughter usurps his parental authority to follow her heart in marriage. With the help of her lover and the dancing master, she dupes her dad by choreographing dances that deceive him. In Gautier's Giselle (1841), discussed at length by McCarren, the heroine dances herself to death to the tune of a waltz only to be resurrected as a Wili, one of a band of phantom females sworn to seduce the men who have betrayed them into a suicidal danse macabre.20 From Gardel to Gautier, one can map the shifting embodiment of dansomanie as it moved away from the post-revolution comic figure of an emasculated father and into the tragic figure of a hauntingly romantic woman: jilted, hysterical, then vengeful, hovering ever beautifully in suspension between life and death.

Suspended in Vertigo

Les regards confondus, absorbés l'un dans l'autre; genou contre genou, les mains entrelacées, corps à corps, j'ai presque dit bouche à bouche, ils décrivent, en délirant, des cercles multipliés [….] voyez-la Madame, éperdue, sans mouvement, sans voix, la poitrine pantelante, et décidez si c'est d'une lutte ou d'une danse qu'une femme sort ainsi épuisée.

—P. J. Marie de Saint-Ursin Ancien premier médecin de l'armée du Nord21 [End Page 204]

Unlike the aristocratic minuet, whose dominating influence on European social dancing began with the reign of Louis XIV and his 1661 creation of the Académie Royale de la Danse in Paris, the waltz that so appealed to the revolutionary generation was neither aristocratic nor sedate. In its nascent phase (1760–1816), waltzers reveled in the unpredictable and destabilizing vertigo of the physics of revolution. Waltz partners held one another, faced one another, and no longer danced facing a king or noble representative. Public intimacy and imperfection replaced the dauntingly perfected and intricately decorative dances that had symbolized and enforced French aristocratic power prior to the revolution.22 In his series of letters published under the title L'ami des femmes (1804) and addressed officially to Josephine Bonaparte, the French physician and chief editor of the Gazette de Santé, Pierre-Joseph Marie de Saint-Ursin, suggested that the repetitive motion of the popular spinning dance and the proximity that waltzing encouraged between men and women was nothing more than an immoral battle of the sexes, prone to exhaust and prostrate the women who danced it.23

The fact that waltzing gained favor with the bourgeois classes in France during the revolution underscores how its choreography reflected a romantic desire for social mobility and change.24 The vertigo so much aspired to and feared was the physical expression of a complex social negotiation incorporated into the deceptively simple and repetitive steps. The simple moves of the feet allowed for innovation in other aspects of the dance: the manner in which the couple negotiated partnership and circulation through the social space of the ballroom. Released from the elaborate and confining patterns of minuet choreography, couples suddenly discovered an improvisatory freedom to occupy public space, born out of a physics of interdependence that kindled spontaneous desire. What Saint-Ursin identified as the defeated exhaustion and syncope of unfortunate women waltzers was for others an exhilaration linked to the negotiation of romantic partnership, the sensation of Werther-walzer much admired by the German Romantics who first marveled at this new dance.

In the French context, waltzing expressed a spirit of popular rebellion against aristocratic tradition that favored the social significance of the romantic couple over the hierarchies of paternalistic aristocratic tradition. The waltz knit these radical elements together in an enticing, vertiginous rush. The constant pivoting motion engaged the couple in what was perhaps the most surprising innovation of the dance: the prise-fermée, or a closed, locked embrace.25 The prise-fermée allowed for a new mechanics of pivoting à deux. Instead of a pirouette (a pivot for the soloist who turns on the ball of his foot) the closed embrace meant that the dancers pivoted [End Page 205] together: the man placed his leading leg in between the spread legs of his dance partner, and with the following step, the woman did the same, placing her leg between her partner's thighs to advance the dance and maintain the pivot. Far from the distanced politeness choreographed by the French minuet, this dance-for-two articulated a radical social departure out of the proscenium into the protected proximity of romantic intimacy.

In the waltz, movements for the lower half of the body were for all intents and purposes the same for men and women, the steps mechanically identical but occurring in opposition. This sameness has led some historians to call the dance the "egalitarian waltz."26 In performance, when the dancing bodies were interconnected, unified and moving as one, these identical but opposite moves promised the possibility of egalitarian partnership. The exchange of weight created a shared fulcrum to sustain the rotation of the couple, but dynamic changes in the movement during performance could alter the balance unpredictably. Waltzing offered the potential for egalitarian partnership but could also result in an unequal balance, as depicted in the caricature Waltzer au Mouchoir (fig. 2). Impossible to predetermine the dance precisely, waltzing was always a moment of research. What remained variable and challenging in the beginning was how to deal with the upper half of the body, or in other words, how to construct, maintain, and negotiate the prise-fermée.

The look and feel of the waltz, the very possibility of maintaining the physics of the pivot, depended on the successful research of how to embody this reciprocal union of man and woman engaged in a centripetal resistance to the forces of gravity. Initially, this negotiation was challenging for genteel dancers unused to giving over their weight to an external force. This challenge provided much of the thrill of the dance as well as fodder for satiric depictions of waltzing disasters. Foibles, falls, and failed attempts to pivot were easily construed as a mark of the dance's vulgarity, its lewdness, awkwardness, and unsuitability for high society (see fig. 3, Specimens of Waltzing). The vertigo associated with this dancing experiment was much discussed, either in order to condemn the waltz or to describe it as the ultimate sublime practice, and the effects of waltzing were considered by most to be either monstrous or divine.

In addition to the rotation of the couple around a shared center of gravity, a secondary rotation occurred in waltzing: a collective improvisation with the other couples negotiating the open spaces in the ballroom. This circulation of the couple in a general counter-clockwise direction eventually evolved and became known as the "sens du bal" (direction of the dance). The manner in which each couple improvisationally navigated this sens du bal permitted them physically and metaphorically to trace their own [End Page 206] circulation in society. This appealed to people who aspired to the advantages offered by upward social mobility and likewise added to the perception that the waltz was a liberating dance. In some popular variations of waltzing in the very early nineteenth century, speed took precedence over form: the Langaus, waltzed in two steps rather than three, enacted a contest in which couples sped around the room six to eight times as quickly as possible to the waltz tune. In early experiments with waltzing, much as with the invention of the bicycle, frequent falling, fainting, and collapse intersected with the much-sought-after sensation of valse-vertige. Looming at the limits of this heavenly vertigo was the real possibility of syncope.

Physicians in France, England, and Germany published treatises on women's health arguing that waltzing and the vertigo it produced would lead women into a general state of weakness, physical collapse, sterility, and eventually death. In 1797, a pamphlet accused the waltz of being principally responsible for the weakening state of health of an entire generation of Germany's youth.27 In L'ami des femmes Saint-Ursin attempted to convince women that the dance constituted a moral indecency which they should resist at all costs, equating the waltz with a debased amour which he declared "n'est plus que le délire des sens," personifying it as a "guerrier féroce" ready to "déchire sa proie," and suggesting that the dance provoked "phtisies pulmonaires" (tuberculosis) in women who waltzed. According to Saint-Ursin, certain kinds of touch were considered to promote "nervous sympathy," and thus the waltz endangered all women who indulged their envie in the pivoting temptations of waltz vertigo.28

In 1814 the French doctors M. Pariset and M. Villeneuve published an article discussing the circulation of vital fluids in the dancing body. They argued that, although certain of the polite dances (the minuet, for example) were excellent exercises for women whose movements were in general too restricted for optimal health, the waltz "comme toute espèce de mouvement spontané poussé à un certain degré [et] qui se composent principalement d'une succession non interrompue de mouvemens circulaires . . . était capable d'affaiblir ou de diminuer les facultés intellectuelles, en appelant vers les parties inférieures du corps une trop grande quantité de fluide nerveux, de principe vital."29 The authors refrained from concluding, as their respected medical colleagues did, that waltzing actually reduced a dancer's intelligence, but they did observe that "il en est quelques-uns de particuliers à certaines espèces [de danse], telles que la valse, la sauteuse" which are known to induce shock and "signale des accidens encore plus graves."30 The nature of such serious accidents was never detailed, but the inference is the same as in Kelly's memoirs: the "consequences" that so horrified him were the alleged miscarriages of pregnant women waltzers. [End Page 207]

Figure 2. James Gillray, Waltzer au mouchoir (1800). In Gillray's caricature of a waltzing couple dressed in revolutionary garb, the artist points to the ridiculous predicaments a man could get himself into because of the physical negotiation of shared weight required by the waltz's pivoting choreography. Gillray illuminates the masculine anxiety evoked by the prise-fermée. The grotesque little man, obliged to use a handkerchief to achieve the prise-fermée, seems blithely content despite the vulgar gender reversal implied in the couple's posture: as he gets dragged though the dance by his obese partner, her upturned eyes suggest she is experiencing the jouissance of waltz vertigo.
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Figure 2.

James Gillray, Waltzer au mouchoir (1800). In Gillray's caricature of a waltzing couple dressed in revolutionary garb, the artist points to the ridiculous predicaments a man could get himself into because of the physical negotiation of shared weight required by the waltz's pivoting choreography. Gillray illuminates the masculine anxiety evoked by the prise-fermée. The grotesque little man, obliged to use a handkerchief to achieve the prise-fermée, seems blithely content despite the vulgar gender reversal implied in the couple's posture: as he gets dragged though the dance by his obese partner, her upturned eyes suggest she is experiencing the jouissance of waltz vertigo.

[End Page 208]

Figure 3. George Cruikshank, Specimens of Waltzing (1817). Cruickshank's satire on waltzing, like Gillray's (also published by Hannah Humphrey), calls attention to the incongruous bodies and awkward lewdness of the physical combinations such partnering produced. Cruickshank's framed portrait of dogs waltzing placed in the background of his drawing snidely gestures to the then fashionable medical practice of comparative anatomy. Cruickshank's anatomy of these waltzing "specimens," rather than modeling the fearfully "voluptuous intertwining of the limbs" that had so shocked the editors of The Times of London one year prior, depicts waltzers as vulgar and clumsy: dancers legs attack the air as they seek the space between their partners' legs; coattails cut through the air like blades; partners lean away from one another at dangerous, unsustainable angles; one man's nose hooks sharply into his partner's waist while he peers up at his partner's décolleté bosom; another man's obese stomach nearly touches his partner's visible thighs; the women have pointy chins and noses, as well as severely angular coiffures, described by Mary Dorothy George as a style known as a "sugar-loaf erection."
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Figure 3.

George Cruikshank, Specimens of Waltzing (1817). Cruickshank's satire on waltzing, like Gillray's (also published by Hannah Humphrey), calls attention to the incongruous bodies and awkward lewdness of the physical combinations such partnering produced. Cruickshank's framed portrait of dogs waltzing placed in the background of his drawing snidely gestures to the then fashionable medical practice of comparative anatomy. Cruickshank's anatomy of these waltzing "specimens," rather than modeling the fearfully "voluptuous intertwining of the limbs" that had so shocked the editors of The Times of London one year prior, depicts waltzers as vulgar and clumsy: dancers legs attack the air as they seek the space between their partners' legs; coattails cut through the air like blades; partners lean away from one another at dangerous, unsustainable angles; one man's nose hooks sharply into his partner's waist while he peers up at his partner's décolleté bosom; another man's obese stomach nearly touches his partner's visible thighs; the women have pointy chins and noses, as well as severely angular coiffures, described by Mary Dorothy George as a style known as a "sugar-loaf erection."

The Viennese ladies' irresponsible return to the dance floor when they "could not be persuaded to stay home" intimated for Kelly as for others a [End Page 209] "grave" circumstance, caused when women's passionate refusal to arrest their envie interfered with what was considered a woman's "natural" course: the private pursuit of domestic tranquility. The dancing woman, considered as an always potentially pregnant body, embodied in her dedicated return to this vertiginous "whirligig" a shocking public embrace of intimacy intertwined with a refusal of maternity. In the philosophical age of Rousseau's Emile, such a refusal could only be understood as madness.

Rahel, the Philosopher Choreographer

—die Wollust find' ich nur nicht drin.

Rahel Levin Varnhagen, 17 December, 179331

A renowned salonnière and participant in the German Romantic literary movement, Rahel Levin Varnhagen observed that the "jouissance par l'imagination" considered symptomatic of the new waltz, was described by "fast alle Menschen, die eine Hälfte als so gefährlich, die andre als so himmlisch."32 As Rahel's writing about this phenomenon reveals, one of the single most pivotal novels to discuss the waltz in the late eighteenth century was Goethe's Die Leiden des jungen Werthers. Goethe's novel was responsible for popularizing the waltz on the continent and in particular for bringing the fashion to France during the years leading up to the 1789 revolution.33 In Goethe's romance, the hero and narrator of the epistolary novel dances a waltz (and presently falls in love) with Lotte. Werther's and Lotte's interest in this ecstatic dance and their ability to outperform their peers (including most conspicuously Lotte's fiancé) link them through a shared affinity for the sublime that they are permitted to articulate in their dancing but never to consummate in their daily lives. The fulcrum of Werther's affliction (Leiden) that eventually leads him to commit suicide lies in the tragic disjuncture between his love for Lotte and the impossibility of possessing her.

With the popularity of Goethe's novel, the waltz and a phenomenon known as "Werther-walzer"—a mixture of the Leiden and the jouissance associated with vertigo—became a topic of debate among members of Europe's intelligentsia, including the Ièna romantics with whom Rahel corresponded. The discourse about Werther-walzer addressed the questionable pleasure and desire evoked by waltzing. Werther declares that he could never allow a woman he loved to waltz with another man (as [End Page 210] Lotte's betrothed does), because the pleasure of the dance was too intimate, too significant to be shared with anyone else. Goethe's premise, illustrated in Werther's passionate desire for Lotte, suggests that once stimulated by the fantasies waltzing evoked, a dancer would be ruined for any real possibility of marital happiness in a social world constructed to thwart romantic desire. The corollary discussion of the waltz so much debated in intellectual circles reading Goethe seems conspicuously, however, to have focused not on the way waltzing disempowered the men who did or did not fall in love while dancing, but rather on the manner in which the vertiginous jouissance of waltzing affected women. A displacement of the waltz's effect occurred in the debates over Werther-walzer such that people argued not whether the jouissance of waltzing was troublesome for the men who danced it, but whether a man should permit his beloved to dance with another man given the dance's way of establishing ecstatic intimacy: if he did, would he effectively be consenting to the contamination of his beloved's affection, to the corrupting of her reason by the jouissance of the waltz and the envie it evoked in her body?

On 17 December, 1793, Rahel weighed in on the Werther-walzer debate. Spurred by a letter on the subject from her childhood companion and loyal correspondent David Veit, who seems to have initiated the dialogue based on readings about the waltz, including Goethe's novel, Rahel responds with a description of her own dancing experience:

Ja, ich walze. Seit fünf Montagen haben wir eine Tanz-stunde etablirt bei uns—seit dem dritten walz' ich, und nicht bitter; und glauben Sie, daß man den Verstand bei diesem unheilsamen Drehen behält?—die Wollust find' ich nur nicht drin; —die fast alle Menschen, die eine Hälfte als so gefährlich, die andre als so himmlisch schildert, oder muß man so verliebt sein, wie Werther, um daß man den Andern gar nicht gönnen kann, mit seinem Mädchen zu walzen, weil man es gar zu köstlich findet? —Nach meiner Erfahrung, schwör' ich Ihnen, kenn' ich nicht noch so eine Sache, heftige Schmerzen nicht ausgenommen—wo man so gar nichts bei denken kann und eben so wenig empfinden (das "also" will ich weglassen), als bei diesem deutschen Schwenken.34

In Rahel's experience of this newfangled dance, she refused to discover the "jouissance" of vertigo that everyone described. At first, she stated only that the spinning motion seemed to cause people to lose their intellectual [End Page 211] power and their ability to feel. She maintains, however, that the relationship between the two—the inability to think and the inability to feel—was not causal. Rather than jubilant about the waltz, Rahel seemed irritated at the "imprudent turning," which, she hints, made one lose one's reason.

That a young woman such as Rahel would at first renounce the joy in the release from gravity that such a dance allegedly imposed is not surprising. Rahel's identity in her adult life was founded on her performance as an intellectual peer to a male elite who had access, social rights, and a freedom of movement that she knew she herself would never have. Any performance that destabilized her intellectual force was to be greeted with a healthy dose of caution and skepticism. So she initially denied feeling the sensations of jouissance, or Werther-waltzer purportedly embodied in waltzing.

Yet even in her renunciation, her language is contradictory and conflicted. Perhaps to avoid seeming defensive, Rahel pointed out some suitably interesting quality about waltzing, claiming the only merits of the dance were its technical challenges: "Ein Vergnügen ist's aber doch—nämlich als unablässigste Okkupation, weil Sie immer beschäftigt sein müssen nicht zu fehlen; das wird aber so maschinel, daß Sie endlich nichts denken, und sehen—als die Stube im gräßlichsten Kreisen."35 But Rahel's compliment sours as she tries to describe the distorted view of the ballroom that waltzing offered the dancers, yet without demonstrating that this aspect of implicit vertigo disarmed her. She asserts, "ich bin eine der wüthendsten und unermüdetsten Walzerinnen," and that "auch nichts spür' ich von Schwäche," and yet her thought on that subject ends with the contrary admission that waltzing is a religious experience she likens to a sacrifice: "es ist bei mir ein Gottesdienst, eine Art Dankfest, und vielleicht auch Opfer, denn es schwächt mich gewiß doch."36 So although she claimed she danced tirelessly and did not feel exhaustion, Rahel concluded nonetheless that waltzing weakened her.

When only days later Veit responded to Rahel's letter, he challenged her rejection of jouissance, teasing her to admit a critical omission in her analysis of her authoritative experience of waltzing:

Aus Ihren Bemerkungen über das Walzen schließe ich positiv, daß Sie in den Menschen nicht verliebt waren, mit welchem Sie walzten. Das haben Sie vergessen, daß ein Mensch, der fertig walzt, und nicht schwindlicht ist, in diesem Augenblick nur an die Person denkt, und denken kann, die er hält; daß die große Nähe, die beständig auf einander gerichteten Augen, und das Vergessen aller andern Gegenstände, [End Page 212] verbunden mit der dem Körper angenehmen Bewegung des Tanzes, alle die Gefühle erregt, von welchen Werther spricht. . . . Ein jeder, der es recht ernst meint, hält seine Liebe für allgemeingültig . . . ihm wird reell entzogen, sobald seine Geliebte auch in dem Walzen mit einem Andern Lust findet.37

The waltz, as Veit underscores, is a dance about romantic love, embodying in its "great closeness," "constant interlocking of the eyes" and "forgetting of all other things," what Remi Hess has defined as "la révolution du couple" in Europe.38 Refusing to concede, Rahel responds, "I waltz, period, and I do not become dizzy." She insists that Veit acknowledge her authority on the subject, for she speaks from her own experience, where he speaks of the waltz philosophically and based only on what he has read.

[Ich hab'] mit einem Menschen gewalzt, dem ich sehr gut bin, und auch im Walzen keine Wollust gefunden, denn au contraire, man sieht sich nicht Aug' in Aug'; wenigstens ich—ich sehe nicht so nah, und indem man sich so bewegt—; und ich empfinde nichts, denn ich denke nicht; nun braucht man, ich weiß es wohl, manchmal nur zu sehen um zu empfinden, aber ich sehe nicht, wenn ich walze.—Und säh' ich—und empfänd' ich—und liebt' ich—und wär' ich noch so glücklich, wenn ich walzte, so machte all diese Göttlichkeiten die Gesellschaft, in der man doch immer walzt, total nichtig; denn ich kann ordentlich einen Menschen nicht da wissen, wenn er unter Andren ist, geschweige als Glückliche vor Aller Augen nach dem Takt herumwalzen. Also mein Geliebter kann sich mit allen Damen der Welt todt walzen, wenn er nur dann für mich wieder auflebt.39

When Veit challenged Rahel to admit why she didn't partake of the jouissance of waltz vertigo, he unwittingly raised a larger philosophical question that challenged Rahel's own concept of ideal womanhood.

Rahel stood firm on this issue, insisting she felt nothing for she could not think (and this time, she could not avoid the implicit argument that the absence of thought induced by waltzing was the reason for her absence of feeling). Rahel also pointed out that she did not look into her partner's eyes and therefore she saw nothing and felt nothing while dancing. In her estimation, the man could experience the vertigo, the syncope and, like Werther, die from pleasure if he so desired, just as long as he revived himself for her afterwards! She goes further, hypothesizing that even if she did experience all these divine things in waltzing, the sensation would [End Page 213] be negated by the fact that all eyes were watching her as she danced. Her argument that the collective gaze of the non-dancers upon the dancing bodies would neutralize any sensual or romantic intimacy that the dancing might arouse allows her to place waltzing in the same category as older, more "polite" dances such as the minuet, whose proscenium style emphasized the power of the audience in the interpretation of the dance.

Veit bows to Rahel's insistence in his very next letter: "Ueber das Walzen bleibt mir wenig zu sagen übrig; Sie setzen meinen Gründen Erfahrungen, und meinen Vermuthungen Gründe entgegen."40 He is willing to grant that Rahel is an exceptional woman, yet he doesn't entirely renounce his earlier reasoning, considering that the argument still applies where others are concerned:

Walzen, wo "wild der Wahnsinn hin und her zu taumeln" scheint, und "sich doch im schönsten Takt gemessen dreht" . . . die heftigste Gattung des Tanzes ausmacht, und darum allein für gefährlich ausgeschrieen wird, weil die gewaltige Bewegung einen Sturm im ganzen Körper erregt, und alle Sinne und alle Leidenschaften durch die wohlthuende Erschütterung des Blutes in ein lebhaftes Spiel setzt.41

In January 1794, Rahel seems to have had a capitulation of sorts regarding the infamous debate about Werther-walzer. Her next letter to Veit is written with something of the breathless spirit of syncope as she describes her own experience of jouissance she calls Walzliebelust:

Horchen Sie also, heute ist—unsre letzte, rathen Sie.—Wissen Sie noch nichts?—nun seh' mal—er weiß es schon—wahrhaftig nicht?—na Tanzstunde, Tanzstunde, Tanzstunde—und nun kriegen Sie wieder was gewalzt. Respiriren Sie? Sie haben Recht. Werther hat Recht. Mlle. Levin hat Rech . . . Der Geheimerath läßt einen tüchtig verliebten Menschen, in dem er selbst die große Walzliebelust fühlt, den Einfall haben, daß er diese Lust wohl keinem Andern gönnen möchte; dieser Einfall ist nicht die schlichte Eifersucht, ist richtig und natürlich.42

Sputtering, teasing, gushing forth, Rahel relinquished herself to Veit's argument like a happily seduced partner. She laughingly consents to the "correctness" of the joyous force that looms in the vertigo of the waltz. She repeats, like a mantra, "the dance hour, the dance hour, the dance hour," as if to invoke with her words the repetitive hypnotic triple meter of [End Page 214] the waltz, its syncopated revolutions, its passionately overwhelming jouissance of revolutionary transformation, of vertigo. She has come to understand what people see in waltzing, particularly for those who, like Werther, are barred access to what they love and desire in life because of social "obligation and order." Rahel identified with the man in a hypothetically constrained social position, "dem der Weg mit Pflicht und Ordnung verlegt," and who, like Werther, was stimulated by Walzliebelust "wenn er sich im Walzen mit der Geliebten dreht, sie fest hält, und in der That sie noch am besten sieht."43

As a female German Jew, Rahel understood the frustrating limitations of social obligation and order. Her own intellectual dreams and aspirations were tied to her understanding of a revolutionary ethics of what she called "sociability." Sociability, according to Rahel was the essence of ethical action, law, and thought: it was a performance, a social choreography of everyday life based on equality, intellectual debate, and the open circulation of ideas and people regardless of class, ethnicity, or profession. Rahel eventually came to believe that the waltz embodied these ideals, although this was not her immediate response to the dance when she was learning it. Rahel performed her own ethics of sociability through the establishment of a salon where she invited all manner of people to participate in her literary and philosophical discussions, hosting princes and famous authors, her own Jewish siblings and friends, as well as actresses and others who were not of noble birth but whose personality and intelligence interested her. She spoke to and debated with everybody equally. Rahel's "sociability" was her counter-proposal against the patriarchal limitations of revolutionary fraternité: her ideal favored reconceptualizing the ideology of "liberty, equality, fraternity," that would be capable of incorporating women's intellectual participation in social leadership.

Though initially reticent, Rahel finally determined that waltzing had the capacity to promote the "sociability" that she strove for in her salons. In many regards, artistically and intellectually, in her life-long performance as salonnière and correspondent to a number of Enlightenment writers including Veit, Rahel sought intellectually to "partner" Goethe from a distance.44 That an intellectual and creative partnership with Goethe was part of Rahel's social choreography for a democratic revolution is evidenced most clearly in the second of five dreams she recorded in her journal and published posthumously. Perhaps not coincidentally, dancing played a major role in this remarkable dream, the only one of the five that did not end with an anxiety-provoking tragedy. The dream, in fact, culminates in laughter and an astonishing waltz.45 [End Page 215]

Dream of a Philosopher Waltzer

Ich bin so einzig, als die größte Erscheinung dieser Erde. Der größte Künstler, Philosoph, oder Dichter ist nicht über mir. Wir sind vom selben Element. Im selben Rang, und gehören zusammen. Und der den andern ausschließen wollte, schließt nur sich aus.

Rahel Levin Varnhagen, 16 February 180546

Dreaming, Rahel finds herself in a large Gothic hall in which "all the works of art of all time" were collected and where the artists themselves were all around her discussing and judging their own works in a kind of "last judgment of art!" She sees men of all different ages, facial expressions, and color, "from all nations which art, the power of imagination, and reality had ever shown me."47 Rahel describes how everyone was dressed differently, with and without beards, with and without turbans, with and without helmets; were even barefoot. Moreover, "[t]he noise was almost supernatural, because they all spoke and judged their works." The dream establishes a space of totalizing social diversity where women are conspicuously not present, and the artists become the adjudicators of their own creativity. Only "the sculptors, however, had bare arms, as the women now have." Some men carried their tools with them. Rahel describes how, for her, the artists were the significant works of art, and that the dream lasted for a very long time so that she could observe them with, she says, "infinite care." As with her own earlier analysis of herself as an art performance in the service of sociability (on a par with literature, philosophy, and painting), here Rahel dreams the artists are the "significant" art embodied. What interests Rahel about art, literature, and philosophy is how each performs.

The space of the dream is a "hall that resembled a church" and the impression of the room that offered a mysterious light "remained large and joyful." At one point, Rahel is swept up by the crowd, into a smaller room in which

everyone was converging and shouting, "The ideal! The ideal!" Then all of a sudden, the artists respectfully drew back. "The ideal," many say quietly, hissing softly; and amazement palpitates through the room where we are: I, however, see in the middle a young man of about 20 years, in [End Page 216] ordinary clothes, without a hat, . . . holding his hands in front of him, forcefully casting down his eyes, who is fairly pretty, has red cheeks and, although he seems to be embarrassed, is trying to suppress his laughter. The others do not see this; but I call, it is a person, he lives; he cannot refrain from laughing: upon which the artists all again call "the ideal! It is the ideal! I go closer, try to look this man in the eyes, which he keeps covered, but he smiles more; I put my hand on his shoulder and say, I see that you are alive, you can't refrain from laughing; whereupon he raises his head, puts his arms around me, and we both begin to waltz in the happiest way. With great pleasure and quite without inhibition. Happily, the artists watch a little astonished, they step back . . . and my dream as well, for here it ended.48

Rahel situates herself as choreographer of this ideal dance: Rahel sees what others do not; Rahel touches what others draw back from; Rahel partners this pretty young man who cannot refrain from laughing; Rahel unites herself to "the ideal," mobilizing him to dance with great pleasure and quite without inhibition. An uninhibited Rahel animates the ideal by touching him so that he releases the expression of his jouissance. Thus she invites him to dance. In this dreaming, she presaged the circulation of her own literary creativity. Though in her lifetime her letters circulated only among friends—she published only infrequently and always anonymously—but she anticipated they would circulate throughout the world after her death, preparing manuscripts of her correspondence for publication with her husband Karl August Varnhagen von Ense.49

Asserting her equality before this ravishing "ideal," Rahel states that her visionary performance even completes the masculine "ideal" by socializing him. Rahel idolized Goethe, and this dream of waltzing with a figure we might suppose to represent him illustrated an embodied and animated intellectual and artistic partnership for Rahel. Thus in dancing partnership with the oeuvre of Goethe, Rahel puts her art into action, choreographing "movement and mutuality instead of exclusion and specialization."50 Rahel here dismantles the distinction between artist and non-artist (male and female) by articulating her own "call" to the "ideal." Rahel's dream dance posits the possibility that everyone is an artist—that everyone is socially responsible for articulating a creativity that could mobilize society to change. As Patricia Williams observes in her study of race, "to a very great extent we dream our worlds into being. For better or worse, our customs and laws, our culture and society are sustained by the myths we embrace, the stories we recirculate to explain what we behold."51 Rahel's dreaming [End Page 217] about dance and its potential to reveal and realize an ideal unveils a vision she shared with other women writers in northern Europe at the turn of the century: dancing held a significant place in the narrative strategies of women writers who imagined possibilities for an alternative future.52

Pregnant Medical Opinion

Le violon fait une utile diversion. On a rélégué l'antique menuet et la ronde naïve, remplacés par la savante contre-danse. La walse impétueuse, la walse que proscrivent Saint Preux et Werther (Passions du jeune Werther, l'ouvre le plus sentimentale dangereux que je connoisse) casuistes non suspects ici, annoncée par le titre éclatant s'empare du salon.

—P.J. Marie de Saint-Ursin Ancien premier médecin de l'armée du Nord53

A woman's uninhibited participation in the jouissance of waltzing, whether experienced as monstrous or divine, incited an incredible backlash particularly in aristocratic and medical circles. Whereas Rahel debated the intellectual, social, and artistic merits of waltzing, finally determining that waltzing embodied her philosophical ideal of a socially equitable world, doctors writing for the great medical institutions of Europe were increasingly determined, particularly after the revolution in France, to discourage women from waltzing by linking the ravishing dance to what they classified as pathologies of the female imagination.

In 1788, Dr. Benjamin Bablot published his Dissertation sur le pouvoir de l'imagination des femmes enceintes in which he traced from antiquity cases in which a woman's imagination bore a direct effect on the formation and deformation of the fetus.54 This creative "power" or "force" of the female imagination was what had allowed Pietro Pomponazzi (1462–1524), a Renaissance medical philosopher, scientifically to account for what had up until then been considered religious miracles, thus marking the beginnings of a shift from theological to medical authority over the mysterious workings of the female body and its creative expressions of "madness."55 The seventeenth-century evolution of this debate about the function of the female imagination and madness was recorded in the famous treatises of English physician Thomas Willis, who documented the nature of feminine illnesses in cases of demonic possession in France in the decade between 1660 and 1670.56 Rafael Mandressi's study of Willis' work points out how doctors sought to dominate the question of female madness by taking over the role of diagnosis in cases of potential demonic possession, thus co-opting [End Page 218] authority over what previously had been considered a spiritual matter for Catholic priests to resolve through exorcism or prayer. Cases of potential supernatural possession became increasingly diagnosed by physicians as a natural phenomenon of mental illness; a woman's injured imagination required medical rather than spiritual treatment.

As the eighteenth century progressed into what Jochen Schulte-Sasse defines as the "third stage" of development in the medical understanding of the imagination in Europe, the role of the diseased or injured imagination underwent a gradual process by which those aspects of the imagination that resisted "incorporation into the aesthetic" were defamed and identified as symptoms of madness.57 If the body's passionate, imaginative expressions were not classifiable as artistic, then they were revelatory of illness. With the exception of Rahel's perspective of a philosophy of sociability, waltzing was not considered artistic until it was represented in the ballet. This explains why Giselle could dance madness while being art, whereas women waltzing in social contexts were depicted by conservatives as succumbing to a real madness that presaged miscarriage, melancholy, or death.

In the example discussed by Bablot and his contemporaries, the aesthetic question of fetal resemblance and woman's role in procreativity centered on whether a pregnant woman's imagination, if stimulated by passions like waltzing or by unfulfilled desires like the unrequited love of Giselle and the Wilis, had the power to imprint false resemblances upon the child she bore. Marie Hélène Huet identifies this in her remarkable monograph on the history of the imagination as the result of a procreative mimesis considered to be "devoid of aesthetic intention" and therefore monstrous.58 Huet recounts how doctors like those discussed in Bablot's account had believed for centuries that stimulating a woman's imagination during pregnancy—for example, in cases of abuse resulting in excessive fright—had the power to mark the fetus precisely in the image of what had caused the mother's fear: if her husband were to strike her with a branding iron, the child would be born with the mark of the iron on the place in his body where the mother herself had been struck. Likewise, a woman's unfulfilled desires during pregnancy could cause birth marks. Another example that appears repeatedly in medical texts details how a woman's passionate contemplation of a painting or image during conception (her fantasizing about someone or something other than her husband) affected her imagination, and through her imagination's direct communication with the fetus, transformed the child's physique so that he was born to resemble the painting rather than the father. In short, the pregnant woman's imagination was considered to have the power to produce monstrous births. [End Page 219]

Huet's Monstrous Imagination addresses how the debate about conception and imaginationism initiated an epistemological shift in the philosophical and aesthetic status of the imagination in European culture. Huet argues that after the writings of Diderot, the imagination was "universalized as one of the basic forces of Nature" such that "the very enigma that imaginationism had tried to solve—the question of natural resemblance between parents and offspring—was itself the object of a radical epistemological investigation."59 The traditional medical belief recounted by Bablot relied on the assumption that a man's semen contained all the material necessary for the development of the child; the woman was considered a mere receptacle for the maturation of this material. Thus any interference by the woman's imagination altering this material during fetal development was considered an interruption to the natural process of resemblance.60 This line of thought, of course, burdened the pregnant woman and her imagination with sole responsibility for any deformation that the fetus might undergo.

In 1798, ten years after Bablot's Dissertation sur le pouvoir de l'imagination des femmes enceintes, a discovery by the well-respected and prolific French medical philosopher Georges-Louis Leclerc de Buffon was cited by Dr. Louis-Charles-Henri Macquart in an article on "Imagination" in the Encyclopédie méthodique.61 Buffon's discovery of a "systême organique" (Organic System) of reproduction was considered to signal the end of imaginationism as a reigning principle in the scholarly medical debates.62 Macquart's article on "Imagination," classified under the rubric of "Hygiène," cited Buffon as observing reproduction in animals where the semen and another similar "liqueur séminale" (seminal fluid) from the female ovaries in fact came together in "la réunion réciproque" (reciprocal union) to create and form the fetus and its organic components (head, arms, organs).63 Buffon's claim of reciprocal male-female co-creation implied that in the case of monstrous births, for example, the impact of the female imagination on the fetus was not necessarily the sole cause of deformation; monstrous births, according to the Organic System, resulted from a pollution of the joint seminal matter induced by the entrance of alien molecules which Buffon had observed as existing everywhere, "surtout dans des amandes" and, as he put it, "même dans le jus de la viande rotie."64

Buffon's discovery of this reciprocal union of male and female seminal matter introduced into medical discourse the possibility that women and men were equal collaborators in determining a child's resemblance, and thus by implication, the mother was considered important as more than a mere receptacle for the maturation of a man's semen. She formed with [End Page 220] her husband the very substance of the child. Uncannily, Buffon's Organic System described at a micro-level of reproductive biology the same kind of reciprocal cooperation necessary between a man and woman in the creative act that generated the experimental mechanics of the waltz's prise-fermée.

For the first time in the history of elite social dance in Europe, the choreography embodied and symbolized a mutual interdependence between a man and a woman in the shared act of creation. In contrast to previous couple's dance forms like the minuet, whose pedagogy and choreography reinforced individual obedience to autocratic authority and reverence to the king's ideal image, waltzing required a degree of improvisation (albeit limited) that allowed for choreographic invention on the part of the dancers as they navigated the ballroom floor. The social rupture inaugurated by this dance represented not merely a shift in the physics and artistry of coupleship; on a larger social scale it also marked the end of a paternalistic feudal order and announced the birth of the modern romantic couple as an autonomous social force in European society. The independence, intimacy, and cooperation of the couple became paramount to the choreographic endeavor.

A second look at Macquart's article on "Imagination (Hygiène)" in the Encyclopédie Méthodique reveals that it is followed by a second article, "Imagination (Pathologie)," written by the French physician Jean-Joseph de Brieude. Interestingly, Brieude dedicates nearly a third of his article about the pathology of the imagination to a discussion about literature, poetry, music, painting, and the amateur arts which included dancing. He makes much the same argument as Goethe did about the jouissance of waltzing, but to different effect: Brieude notes that habitual reading of literature and poetry, for example, was destructive to the senses. He described how the imagination, once stimulated by the kind of contact produced by artistic forms, would destroy men's capacity later to be satisfied by an "always less seductive" reality:

La jouissance par l'imagination est incomparablement plus vive. . . . L'usage des sens n'est plus la même, l'on touche par les yeux, par les oreilles les objets qui nous affectent: & ce tacte est voluptueux.65

For Goethe's hero, to experience waltz-vertigo with a partner other than one's husband was to ruin oneself thereafter for the pleasures of marital life. For Rahel, the vertiginous intimacy of waltzing embodied a democratic perfection she dreamed of attaining in her philosophical artistic practice of [End Page 221] sociability. For Brieude, once the imagination was "touched" voluptuously by such artistic endeavors, one's spirit was ruined for reality: in other words, Brieude argues, one went mad.

The pathological seduction of the imagination by art reappears in Brieude's monograph on the causes of tuberculosis a few years later. In 1803 he published his Traité de la Phthisie Pulmonaire in which he discussed the extreme symptoms that resulted from the stimulus of the imagination caused by activities such as waltzing, which he described as:

ce n'est autre chose qu'un attouchement voluptueux, auquel on cherche à ajouter une impression morale, mystérieuse, afin d'exalter l'imagination. Je me rappelle avoir été temoin, plusieurs fois, des suffocations convulsives, des crachemens de sang, des hurlemens, des extinctions de voix subites, opérés par ces attouchemens, et par l'imagination frappée en même-temps.66

According to Brieude, the arousal of the imagination through the jouissance of waltzing (what Goethe and Rahel considered sublime) now engendered not only madness but tuberculosis.

Interestingly, much in the way that Rahel herself argued to convince Veit of her opinion about waltzing, Brieude concluded his article about the pathology of the imagination by claiming authority for his argument in personal experience. He also suggest that he was not alone in this experience, for:

[l]es médecins qui ont pu observer froidement l'agitation extrême des esprits, dans les premiers jours de la révolution de Paris, du 12, 13, 14 juilliet 1789; & qui ont ensuite été des témoins des funestes effets dans l'intérieur des familles, peuvent seuls avoir une idée de la force de l'imagination et des passions.67

This remarkable statement bears witness to the link philosophers and physicians alike made between the trauma and social disruption caused by the violence of the revolution, its destructive impact on families, and the traumatic "power of the imagination" contained by artistic representations that "touched" the imagination and amplified its contagious capacity for destruction. [End Page 222]

Imagination Miscarried, L'envie des femmes

Une femme grosse, dit Hippocrate . . . qui désire ardemment manger de la terre, du charbon ou quelque substance de cette nature, si elle ne satisfait pas son envie, met au monde un enfant qui porte à sa tête les marques de ces substances [. . . ] Les femmes [modernes] maintiennent cette croyance pour jouir d'une liberté qu'on ne pourrait pas leur accorder sans un prétexte aussi spécieux.

Nicolas Chambon, "Envie des femmes enceintes," Encyclopédie Méthodique68

In the articles by Macquart and Brieude and the argument proposed by the French society of doctors who edited the Encyclopédie méthodique, the malign moral and pathological implications ascribed to waltzing solved anxious questions about creativity, expression, and unfulfilled desire in women. To underscore this concern, at the end of Brieude's article on pathologies of the imagination the editors refer their readers to an associated article in the Encyclopédie méthodique written by Chambon and treating the subject of "Envies des femmes enceintes" (Desire in Pregnant Women). Chambon's article discusses how this envie, which he says "women define as the immoderate desire to satisfy a craving, a passion, a movement of hatred or anger," caused malformations of the fetus, thus affirming Benjamin Bablot's earlier argument.69 In Pariset and Villeneuve's article on "Danse" in the Dictionaire des Sciences Médicales (1814), they cite the classic De arte gymansticà (1672) by Girolamo Mercuriali to support the distinction they draw between the health benefits of the aristocratic dances and the health dangers of modern dances such as waltzing, stating that waltzing nourished pathological stimulation of the imagination and allowed the female body to give way to the empire of immoderate desires.70 Although Pariset and Villeneuve approve of dancing in moderation as a healthy exercise even for pregnant women, stating that "il est [sic] des femmes qui dansent jusqu'aux derniers momens de leurs grossesses, et qui ne sont nullement incommodées," the waltz remained a special case in which individuals suffered from "des éblouissemens, des vertiges, des nausées et même des vomissemens accompagnés de l'état de malaise et de prostration."71 The anxieties expressed in medical writing revolved around a composite concern: that the envie aroused in women's imaginations through the act of waltzing [End Page 223] would corrupt their minds and disturb their reproductive capacity. Villeneuve and Pariset categorically recommend that women abstain from the dance while menstruating and "surtout" during gestation.72

The articles on hygiene and pathology of the imagination, the cross-referenced article on "Envie des femmes enceintes" in the Encyclopédie méthodique, and the inclusion of an entry titled "dance" in a dictionary of medical science, are exemplary in that they condense and illustrate the construction of a field of knowledge and a semantics that allowed medical philosophers treating the female body to link moral prohibitions to scientific authority in an attempt to modify cultural expression. This medical literature bears witness to an elite class of practitioner-philosophers whose attempt to comprehend and control women's pleasures and desires was not limited to the sick-room, but extended to the public arena where women presented themselves as co-authors of a new age of social choreography. Waltzing women's participation in this new aesthetics of social mobility and their eagerness to negotiate egalitarian partnerships with men in public spaces, while often irreverent of traditional class divisions, aligned them with a notion of social radicalism that many considered responsible for the destruction of aristocratic rule in France. By taking part in a revolution against performance structures like the minuet that had codified courtship and marriage according to the aristocratic system of mimesis of the royal male body, the waltzing woman—with her vertiginous aspirations and eagerness to "lose herself" in the dance—not only destabilized the gendered nature of leadership, but physicalized the idea and the possibility of extracting oneself from any prescribed role or prescribed stance in the world.

If we consider the early waltz an example of a social dance "mania" that nonetheless preceded the medical establishment's understanding of hysteria as a mental illness, we can begin to untangle how the politics of revolution and the Romantic promise of democracy as embodied and articulated in the early waltz may have been at the heart of the social and medical backlash that wished to keep women from accessing this release from their vie quotidienne. It wasn't just any idea embodied in danced movement that physicians considered dangerous to a woman's imagination (and by association, her maternity): aristocratic medical philosophers and revolutionary physicians alike suspected that the democratic idea of sexual equality might destroy the fabric of family life, just as women had been perceived to have done by participating in political gatherings during the revolution in France.73 This medical discourse of the late eighteenth century set the stage for Charcot's work in the 1830s. Waltzing was already held scientifically to account for initiating a collective cultural epidemic, a dance-mania [End Page 224] that aligned women's dreams and creative initiative with the horrors of revolution and reified the threat that both would destroy society.

Not surprisingly, given what McCarren's work illustrates about the relation between hysteria and the French Romantic ballet of the 1830s and beyond, the discourse of contagion attached to the waltz expressed its main concerns about waltzing's pathological effect on the female body. The afflicted woman portrayed in the medical discourse was always young, naïve, initially virtuous, and fragile. Unlike her professional counterpart of the 1830s, this idealized female body-at-risk was not a papillon (ballerinacum prostitute), but rather a pregnant or at least potentially pregnant young woman of the "polite" classes. Pitting the promise of pregnancy against the seductive promise of waltz-vertigo, medical physicians begged parents to keep their daughters from succumbing to this dangerously infectious dance. Even moderate doctors like Pariset and Villeneuve nonetheless drew the line with dancing when it came to the "gestating" woman and waltzing. Their anxiety centered on the threat of miscarriage, whether the result of simple vertigo, or as in the case of Brieude and St. Ursin, tuberculosis, melancholy, and even madness.

While women like Rahel, who sought a revolution in sexual relations for modern society, turned to the waltz with albeit cautious fervor, medical science and intellectuals like Michael Kelly and Lord Byron framed the female waltzer as a perpetually childless woman on the brink of insanity, courting death for her own pleasure and social advancement. This masculinist discourse conjured a feminine ideal that unfortunately continues to dog women dancers to this day, despite Isadora Duncan's liberated dancing and her famous (if ultimately tragic) maternity.74 Women who imagined sexual equality and sought to pursue the embodiment of democratic ideals were construed by the medical discourse as self-destructive, easily destroyed by their passions, and threatening the future of "the family way" as they insisted on dancing with death.

If we are to take Rahel at her word about waltzing, the literary production of her oeuvre adds a haunting irony to this eighteenth-century portrait of the waltz as a dance of death: publishing little and always anonymously while she was alive, in the last five years of her life Rahel oversaw her husband's preparation of her oeuvre for posthumous publication. Only in death would Rahel finally be permitted to identify herself with her art and grant her woman's words a belated place in literary history. In the end, even when she admitted the powers of jouissance in waltzing, she never retracted her conviction that the man could die of pleasure if he so chose, yet she would retain her reason. [End Page 225]

Elizabeth Claire

Elizabeth Claire holds a Ph.D. in Performance Studies from NYU/Tisch School of the Arts and teaches as a Guest Lecturer in contemporary dance and dance history in the Performing Arts Department at Washington University in St. Louis. She is the Artistic Director of MADE in France, a summer study abroad program for Movement Arts & Design in Europe ( She lives in Paris where she continues to choreograph and perform with the contemporary object-theater company Au Cul du Loup. Her current historical research on the early waltz and women's health in Europe is the inspiration both for a scholarly book project, as well as a performance project entitled "Valse Vertige."


This research was developed thanks in part to a post-doctoral grant from the Région Ile de France and the Institut Émile du Châtelet that allowed me to collaborate with Remi Hess at the Université de Paris 8 in 2006. I have also benefited from the considerable guidance of Georges Vigarello who directed my post-doctoral research in 2007–08 under the thématique "Corps, Individu, Société," at Paris' Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales and the Centre Edgar Morin. I would also like to thank Hans Adler, the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies, and fellow panelists of "Creation and Procreation: Towards a Medical & Cultural History of the Imagination" for making it possible for me to present an early version of this work at ASECS Atlanta in 2007. Thank you to Heidi Thoman Tewarson and Marcos Pujol for their consultation on the German translations. And finally, my heartfelt gratitude to professors Barbara Browning, Felicia McCarren, Barbara Cantalupo, Rafael Mandressi and Joseph Roach for their personal and professional correspondence, intellectual guidance and nuanced feedback on aspects of this work over the years.


1. William Combe and Thomas Rowlandson. The English Dance of Death, from the designs of Thomas Rowlandson, with metrical illustrations by the Author of 'Doctor Syntax', vol. 2 (London: R. Ackermans Repository of Arts, 1815), 137.

2. Felicia McCarren, Dance Pathologies: Performance, Poetics, Medicine (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998), 3.

3. McCarren, Dance Pathologies, 20.

4. Remi Hess, La Valse, une romantisme révolutionnaire (Paris: Métailié, 2003), 47; Sarah Davies-Cordova, Paris Dances: Textual Choreographies in the Nineteenth-Century French Novel (London: International Scholars Publications, 1999), 7–9.

5. "One danced, effectively, a little bit everywhere: on the stone pavement, still red from the blood of the guillotine, in the Carmélites convents, at the Marais, in the seminary of the Saint-Sulpice, in the house of the former Carmes Déchaux, under the same walls that retained the sinister cries of the condemned, the music making audible their deafening cacophony." Raoul Charbonnel, La Danse: Comment on Dansait, Comment on Danse. Technique De Mme Berthe Bernay. Notation Musicale De Mm Francis Casadesus et Jules Maugué. Illustrations de M. Valvérane, (Paris: Garnier Frères, 1900), 229.

6. Rudolf Braun and David Gugerli, Macht des Tanzes, Tanz der Mächtigen, Hoffeste und Herrschaftszeremoniell 1550–1914 (Munich: Beck, 1993), as cited [End Page 226] in Remi Hess "La Valse," Musique, villes et voyages (Paris: Cité de la Musique, 2006), 97–98.

7. "This love for the waltz, and the nationalisation of this German dance, is entirely new. It is only since the war that, together with smoking and other vulgar habits, it has become common." Ernst Morris Arndt, Reisen durch einen Theil Teutschlands, Ungarns, Italiens und Frankreichs in den Jahren 1798 und 1799 (Leipzig, 2nd ed., 1804), as cited in Eduard Reeser, De Geschiedenis van de Wals (Amsterdam: H. J. W. Becht, n.d.), 25–26; also in translation as The History of the Waltz, trans. W.A.G. Doyle-Davidson (Amsterdam: H. J. W. Becht, n.d. [1947?]), 28. When referring to Reeser's text I will cite from the English translation of the original Dutch; Reeser's extensive quotation of original sources (in his 60-page thesis he cites approximately 30 primary sources on the waltz) is consistently cited in the original language in both published versions.

8. "What do they really know, those who think they know everything? They believe Appiani is wounded,"—Appiani waltzes, is therefore—"worse than dead." Rahel Levin Varnhagen, "Briefwechsel zwischen Rahel und David Veit," Rahel-Bibliothek, vol. 7 (Leipzig: F. A. Brockhaus, 1861), pt. 1:78.

9. Reeser, The History of the Waltz, 16.

10. Paul Nettle, "The Birth of the Waltz," Dance Index 5.9 (1946): 212.

11. Remi Hess, La Valse, révolution du couple en Europe (Paris: Métailié, 1989). Hess' controversial history of the waltz (translated into German, Italian, Japanese, and Portuguese, but not English) represents the most thorough research on the social history of waltzing written in Europe since Curt Sachs's 1933 Eine Weltgeschicte des tanzes (translated into English by Bessie Schönberg in 1937 and into French by L. Kerr in 1938). La Valse (1989) has been criticized by some French dance conservationists who detected factual inaccuracies in Hess' work. See Jean-Michel et Yvon Guilcher, L'histoire de la danse, parent pauvre de la recherche (Collection: Cahiers d'ethnomusicologie régionale) (Toulouse: Conservatoire Occitan, 1994), 1–93. In defense of Hess' thesis, revised and corrected in its second edition (2003), sorting through the myriad false claims (both intentional and inadvertent) which have been published under the loosely monitored and, until recently non-academic, genre of European dance history remains a daunting task, demanding years of labor and the collaboration of a team of dedicated individuals fluent in at least German, English, Italian, Spanish and French. At the time of his work's original publication, Hess was the only academic in France who had taken a bona fide interest in the history of the waltz. As has been observed by many recent pioneers of dance studies in the United States, especially those publishing in the 1980s and 1990s before the discipline had coalesced, one often worked in frustrating academic isolation. Hess' La Valse has withstood the criticism and remains a seminal text in the francophone social history of dance. The debate sparked by his work and the influence of American, German, and British dance studies research following a performance studies model has inspired a renaissance in dance history in the French universities. This can be seen in recent initiatives such as [End Page 227] the creation of research laboratories at the CNRS like the Atelier d'histoire culturelle de la danse based in Paris.

12. Franz M. Böhme, Geschichte des Tanzes in Deutschland (Leipzig, 1886; reprint, Wiesbaden: Breitkopf & Härtel, 1967) as cited by Paul Nettle in "The Birth of the Waltz," 212.

13. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, as cited by musicologist Mosco Carner in The Waltz (London: Max Parrish & Co., 1948), 17.

14. "The word Walzen is sung in a genuine waltz-song, when the clown enters singing and dancing: "'Bald singen, bald springen, Bald saufen, bald ranzen, Bald spielen, bald tanzen, Bald walzen umadum, Mit heissa, Rum, Rum.'" Nettle, "The Birth of the Waltz," 217.

15. The Times (London) 16 July 1816: 2. Also cited in Arthur Henry Franks, Social Dance: A Short History (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1963), 69.

16. Russia's Catherine the Great forbade the "fatal contagion" of waltzing in her court, citing the bad example of what had happened in France and suggesting that the waltz, if it spread to Russia, might contaminate her empire with revolutionary politics. See John T. Alexander, Catherine the Great: Life and Legend (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989). Czar Paul banned waltzing when he banned the wearing of round hats at court, but later changed his decree at the whim of his mistress. See Lincoln Kirstein, Dance: A Short History of Classic Theatrical Dancing (New York: G. Putnam & Sons, 1935). Alexander I loved waltzing and during his reign it became fashionable in Russia. The case of the waltz in Russia has gone largely unresearched in the dance literature I have found, and thus deserves further investigation.

17. Michael Kelly, Reminiscences, vol.1 (London: Henry Colburn, 1826), 200. Also cited in Mosco Carner, The Waltz (New York: Chanticleer Press, 1948).

18. Kelly, Reminiscences, 204–05.

19. I am indebted to Barbara Browning for her feedback as my dissertation director at NYU/Performance Studies ("Women, Waltzing & Warfare: The Social Choreography of Revolution in the Long Eighteenth Century," 2004), and for ideas she developed about social perceptions of dance as a phenomenon of cultural contagion. See Infectious Rhythm: Metaphors of Contagion and the Spread of African Culture (New York: Routledge, 1998).

20. For a reading of hysteria in the ballet Giselle, see McCarren, "The Madness of Giselle," in Dance Pathologies, 49–112.

21. "In this delirium, their gazes confused, absorbed one in the other; knee against knee, their hands interlaced, body to body, I nearly said mouth to mouth, they describe multiple circles . . . look there Madame, lost, without movement, without voice, the breathless bosom, and decide if it is a struggle or a dance from which a woman departs, thus exhausted." P.J. Marie de Saint Ursin, "Lettre Sixième: du luxe privé-de la walse" in L'ami des femmes, ou Lettres d'un médecin, 2nd ed (Paris: Barba libraire, 1805), 59–60.

22. For a reading of the minuet as a structuring performance in the socio-political implementation of monarchic power in France, see Norman Bryson, [End Page 228] "Cultural Studies and Dance History," in Meaning in Motion, ed. Jane C. Desmond (Durham: Duke University Press, 1997), 55–80.

23. P.J. Marie de Saint-Ursin, L'ami des femmes, ou, lettres d'un médecin concernant l'influence et l'habillement des femmes sur leurs moeurs et leur santé, etc. (Paris: Barba librairie, 1804).

24. Eduard Reeser suggests in his De Geschiedenis van de Wals that the waltz arrived in France from Alsace in approximately 1790. Remi Hess notes that the waltz was already being danced alongside the Carmagnole and other non-aristocratic dances during the revolution in La Valse (1989) and La Valse (2003). See also, Davies-Cordova, Paris Dances, 7–9.

25. Today we call this locked embrace the "open" ballroom position in order to distinguish it from the even closer close-hold of the tango milonguero style invented in the first half of the twentieth century in which tanguero and tanguera press the upper half of their bodies together, leaning in and sharing weight through the full contact of their torsos.

26. Ruth Katz, "The Egalitarian Waltz," What Is Dance? ed. Roger Copeland and Marshall Cohen (New York: Oxford University Press, 1983), 521–32. See also Hess, La Valse (2003).

27. Salomo Jakob Wolf, Beweis daß das Walzen eine Hauptquelle der Schwäche des Körpers und des Geistes unserer Generation sey, Deutschlands Söhnen und Töchtern angelegentlichst empfohlen, 2d ed. (Halle: Johann Christian Hendel, 1799 [1792, 1st ed.]).

28. "l'amour n'est plus que le délire des sens; guerrier féroce, il attaque avec impétuosité, déchire sa proie" ("love is no longer anything but a delirium of the senses; a ferocious warrior he attacks with impetuosity, tearing apart his prey") P.J. Marie de Saint-Ursin, "Lettre Sixième: du luxe privé-de la walse," L'ami des femmes, ou Lettres d'un médecin, 1st ed. (Paris: Barba libraire, 1804), 60.

29. The waltz, "like all species of spontaneous movement pushed to a certain degree" and "composed mainly of uninterrupted successions of circular movement," was "capable of weakening and diminishing the intellectual faculties, by calling an excessive quantity of nervous fluids and vital spirits towards the inferior parts of the body." Pariset and Villeneuve, "Danse," in Dictionaire des sciences médicales, vol. 8 (DAC-DES) (Paris: Panckoucke, 1814), 4, 6.

30. "There are certain types of dances such as the waltz, the sauteuse, etc.," which are known to induce shock and "signal accidents of an even worse nature." Pariset and Villeneuve, 4.

31. "—I just don't find the jouissance in it." Rahel Levin Varnhagen to David Viet, 17 December 1793, Rahel-Bibliothek, 7:1.78. In her biography of Rahel Levin Varnhagen, Heidi Thomann Tewarson explains that Rahel's posthumous complete works were published by her husband Karl August Varnhagen under the title Rahel Bibliothek: "Born in 1771 as Rahel Levin, she adopted during the 1790s the ethnically neutral surname Robert while traveling (probably to avoid the humiliating regulations Jews faced on journeys). . . . For two thirds of her life, then, she was known as Rahel Levin or Robert. . . . And as [End Page 229] Rahel, not Levin or Varnhagen, she entered history and literary history as well as the hearts of so many anonymous readers. In this study the name Rahel is used, notwithstanding the trend in feminist criticism toward using surnames." Heidi Thomann Tewarson, Rahel Levin Varnhagen: The Life and Work of a German Jewish Intellectual (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1998), 14–15. I follow Tewarson's example.

32. Rahel's observation that "—the jouissance which almost all people describe, half of them as so dangerous and the other half as so heavenly," acknowledges an open debate between Romantic intellectuals who idolized the new dance and medical philosophers such as Jean-Joseph de Brieude who cautioned that the "jouissance by the imagination" endangered women's health. Rahel Levin Varnhagen to David Viet, 17 December 1793, Rahel-Bibliothek, 7:1. 78; and Brieude, "Imagination," in Encyclopédie méthodique (Méd./Tome VII), 489.

33. Hess, La Valse (2003), 45.

34. "Yes, I waltz. Five Mondays ago, we established a dancing hour at home —since the third [Monday], I have been waltzing, and [am] not bitter; and do you believe that one retains one's reason with this unhealthy turning? —I just don't find the jouissance in it; —which almost all people describe, half of them as so dangerous and the other half as so heavenly; or one must be so in love, like Werther, that one cannot even grant others a waltz with one's girl because one finds it too delicious? —according to my experience, I swear I know no other such thing, intense pain not excluded—during which one cannot think anything and just as little can one feel (the "therefore" I wish to leave out), as with this German pivoting." Rahel Levin Varnhagen to David Viet, 17 December 1793, Rahel-Bibliothek, 7:1.78.

35. Yet it is a delight—namely as an incessant occupation, because you must constantly be occupied not to fail; but that becomes so mechanical that you finally don't think anything or see anything—except the room in the most grotesque circling." Rahel Levin Varnhagen to David Viet, 17 December 1793, Rahel-Bibliothek, 7:1.78.

36. "I am one of the maddest and most tireless waltzers. . . . I also feel nothing of weakness . . . for me it is a religious service, a kind of thanksgiving, and maybe also a sacrifice, for surely it does weaken me." Rahel Levin Varnhagen to David Viet, 17 December 1793, Rahel-Bibliothek, 7:1.78–79.

37. "From your observations about waltzing I conclude positively that you were not in love with the person with whom you waltzed. You have forgotten that a person who completes a waltz and is not dizzy, in this moment only thinks about and can only think about the person whom they are holding; that the great closeness, and the constant interlocking of the eyes, and the forgetting of all other objects, connected with the—for the body—pleasurable movement of the dance, awakens all the feelings of which Werther speaks. . . . Anyone who is quite serious considers his love as universal [. . . and] is truly deprived the moment his beloved also finds desire in waltzing with another." David Veit to Rahel, 24 December 1793, Rahel-Bibliothek, 7:1.95. [End Page 230]

38. Hess, La valse, révolution du couple en Europe (1989).

39. "I have waltzed with a person of whom I am fond and also in waltzing found no jouissance for au contraire one doesn't look one's partner in the eye; at least I—I do not see so close, and because one moves in such a way—and I feel nothing because I don't think; now one needs, I know it well, sometimes only to see in order to feel, but I do not see when I waltz. —and were I to see—and were I to feel—and were I to love—and were I however happy, when I waltz, all these divine elements would be neutralized by the company in which one always waltzes; for I cannot properly know a person there when he is among others, let alone as a happy woman waltzing around to the beat before everyone's eyes. Therefore my lover can waltz himself to death with all the women of the world, if only he then revives himself for me." Rahel Levin Varnhagen to David Viet, 3 January 1794, Rahel-Bibliothek, 7:1.101–02.

40. "About waltzing there remains little for me to say; you counter my reasons with experiences and my conjectures with reasons." David Veit to Rahel Levin Varnhagen, 16 January 1794, Rahel-Bibliothek, 7:1.119–20.

41. "Waltzing where it seems as though 'madness tumbles wildly to and fro' and 'yet turns orderly to the most beautiful beat,' . . . constitutes the most boisterous and potent form of dance and for that alone is decried as dangerous, because the forceful movements awaken a storm in the whole body, and all senses and all passions are set into a lively game by the pleasant agitation of the blood." David Veit to Rahel Levin Varnhagen, 16 January 1794, Rahel Bibliothek, 7:1.120.

42. Listen then, today is—our last, guess.—you don't know yet?—now let's see—he knows already—truly not?—well dance hour, dance hour, dance hour—and now you'll get something waltzed. Are you breathing? You are right. Werther is right. Mademoiselle Levin is right. . . . The Counsel allows a heartily in love person, in that he himself feels the great Walzliebelust, to have the idea that he doesn't wish to share this desire with any other man; this idea is not pure jealousy, it is right and natural." Rahel Levin Varnhagen to David Viet, 6 January 1794, Rahel-Bibliothek, 7:1.142–43.

43. Rahel identified with the man in a hypothetically constrained social position "to whom the path is barred with obligation and order," and who, like Werther, was stimulated by Walzliebelust "when in waltzing, he is turning with the beloved, holds her tight, and in fact sees her even better." Rahel Levin Varnhagen to David Viet, 6 January 1794, Rahel-Bibliothek, 7:1.143.

44. This model would fit what Catherine Clément describes as the traditional model of "courtly love" between the Troubador poet and his intellectual partner, with whom the poet could not have any physical relation (she was always kept at a distance, for being married, she gave her body to her husband and her love and intellectual companionship to the poet). The poet becomes the disciple of his mistress, who socializes him at her court. He, in turn, produces poetry. In Rahel's version, she is the poet's mistress but she is also the poet (or by extension, the choreographer). There is a more developed complexity in Rahel's model, for the poets socialize one another: the master becomes the disciple and [End Page 231] the poet a dancer. For a discussion of the evolution of romantic love and the role of syncope in the waltz, see Catherine Clément, La Syncope, philosophie de ravissement (Paris: Grasset et Fasquelle, 1990), or the English translation by Sally O'Driscoll and Deirdre M. Mahoney, Syncope: The Philosophy of Rapture (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1994).

45. I am indebted to Heidi Thomann Tewarson for pointing me to this dream in our discussion of Rahel's oeuvre and for discussion of the dreams in her biography of Rahel, as well as her own insightful reading of Rahel's choice of the waltz. All of the following citations of Rahel's dream, unless otherwise noted, are taken from Tewarson's English translation in Rahel Levin Varnhagen, 135–36. The full version of this and all Rahel's dreams are reprinted in: "Im Schlaf bin ich wacher," Die Träume der Rahel Levin Varnhagen, ed. Barbara Hahn (Frankfurt: Luchterhand, 1990).

46. "I am as unique as the greatest manifestation of this earth. The greatest artist, philosopher or poet is not above me. We are of the same element. In the same rank, and belong together. And he who would want to exclude the other excludes only himself." Rahel Levin Varnhagen to David Viet, 16 February 1805, Rahel-Bibliothek, 7:2.260. See also Tewarson's translation in Rahel Levin Varnhagen, 134.

47. Tewarson, Rahel Levin Varnhagen, 135. Emphasis mine.

48. Tewarson, Rahel Levin Varnhagen, 136. Emphasis mine.

49. Karl August Varnhagen von Ense "painstakingly collected, copied, edited, and published or prepared for publication a substantial part of the thousands of letters Rahel had written and received throughout her lifetime," and yet recent research has revealed that "Rahel took an active part in the preparation of both the Buch des Andenkens (Book of Remembrance) and the Briefwechsel zwischen Rahel und David Veit (Correspondence between Rahel and David Veit), probably during the last five years of her life." Tewarson, Rahel Levin Varnhagen, 3; 8.

50. Tewarson, Rahel Levin Varnhagen, 137.

51. Patricia Williams, Seeing a Color-Blind Future: The Paradox of Race (New York: Noonday Press, 1998), 16.

52. This is evidenced particularly in British women writers of the period: Frances Burney and Jane Austen are among the women authors for whom social dancing was considered a significant creative act of sociability in the sense that Rahel invokes. Austen and Burney could re-imagine the future and express those notions publicly through the non-verbal maneuvers of their heroine's ballroom performances. I discussed an example of this in Burney's writing at the Montreal 2006 ASECS conference with a paper entitled "'La danse depuis le singe'—English Ladies Dancing and French Lords-a-Leapin' in Fanny Burney's Evelina."

53. "The violin makes a useful diversion. One has relegated the antique minuet and the naïve round dances, replacing them with the knowing contradance. The impetuous waltz announced by the explosive title, the waltz that Saint-Preux and Werther proscribed (The Sorrows of Young Werther, the most dangerous sentimental literary work that I know) here unsuspecting [End Page 232] Casuists, takes over the salon." P.J. Marie de Saint-Ursin, "Lettre Sixième: du luxe privé-de la walse" in L'ami des femmes, ou Lettres d'un médecin, 1st ed, 62–63.

54. Benjamin Bablot, Dissertation sur le pouvoir de l'imagination des femmes enceintes, dans laquelle on passe successivement en revue tous les grands hommes, qui, depuis plus de deux mille ans, ont admis l'influence de cette faculté sur le foetus, & dans laquelle on répond aux objections de ceux qui combattent cette opinion [Dissertation on the power of the imagination of pregnant women, in which is discussed successively the work of each of the great men over the past two thousand years who have admitted the influence of this mental faculty on the development of the foetus, and in which dissertation we also respond to objections by those who disagree] (Paris: Croullebois et Royez, 1788).

55. See Pietro Pomponazzi, De naturalium effectuum causis sive de incantationibus (1567; reprint Hildesheim: Georg Olms Publishers, 1970).

56. I thank Rafael Mandressi for his guidance and for his course on the history of medicine at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales. For writing on the medical history of the imagination, see Rafael Mandressi, "Demonios en el cerebro: los médicos de Loudun, las fronteras de lo natural y el saber neurofisiológico en el siglo XVII," Relecturas de Michel de Certeau ed., Luce Giard et al. (México et Bogotá: Universidad Iberoamericana, Universidad Javeriana – Cátedra Michel de Certeau, 2006), 39–75; "Les médecins et le diable: expertises médicales dans les cas de possession démoniaque en France au XVIIe siècle," in Chrétiens et Sociétés 13 (2006): 35–70; and La demeure des Intelligences : une histoire du cerveau (Paris: Éditions du Seuil, forthcoming, 2008). See also Koen Vermeir, "The 'physical prophet' and the Powers of the Imagination, Part I: A Case-Study on Prophecy, Vapours and the Imagination (1685–1710)," in Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 35.4 (2004): 561–91; and "The 'physical prophet' and the Powers of the Imagination, Part II: A Case-Study on Dowsing and the Naturalisation of the Moral (1685–1710)," in Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 36.1 (2004): 1–24.

57. Jochen Schulte-Sasse. "Imagination & Modernity: Or the Taming of the Human Mind," Cultural Critique 5 (1986–87): 29. Schulte-Sasse dates this third phase as beginning with Early Romanticism and progressing through to the Historical Avant-Garde of the 1920s. During this third stage of medicine's understanding of the imagination, Schulte-Sasse notes that the literature about the imagination was dominated by British publications with the important exceptions of Vom dem Einfluss by Johann Jakob Bodmer and August Wilhelm Schlegel's Essay on Imitation.

58. Marie-Hélène Huet, Monstrous Imagination (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993).

59. Huet, Monstrous Imagination, 76–78.

60. The minuet's choreographic principles were based on a straightforward mimesis of the dancing body of the king and thus articulated this idea of [End Page 233] "natural" resemblance: at its origins, an ideal embodiment of minuet choreography would approach as identically as possible the danced model offered by Louis XIV, "father" of the aristocracy and of France.

61. "Imagination," Encyclopédie méthodique, Médecine, contenant : 1º l'hygiène, 2º la pathologie, 3º la séméiotique et la nosologie, 4º la thérapeutique ou matière médicale, 5º la médecine militaire, 6º la médecine vétérinaire, 7º la médecine légale, 8º la jurisprudence de la médecine et de la pharmacie, 9º la biographie médicale, c'est-à-dire, les vies des Médecins célèbres, avec des notices de leurs Ouvrages, par une société de Médecins, Tome VII (Paris : Vve Agasse, 1798), 465–91. Dr. Louis-Charles-Henri Macquart is listed in Alain Ségal's history of medicine in Reims, "Les célébrités issues de l'ancienne Faculté de Médecine de Reims ont-elles justifié sa renommée?," as Louis-Charles-René Macquart (1745–1818), "Docteur de Reims le 18 Décembre 1769, fils du Médecin de la Charité Henri-Jacques Macquart, lui-même ancien Docteur de Reims en 1752."

62. Macquart, "Imagination," Encyclopédie méthodique (Méd./Tome VII), 471.

63. Macquart, "Imagination," Encyclopédie méthodique (Méd./Tome VII), 471.

64. "particularly in almonds," and "even in the juice of roasted meat." Macquart, 471–72.

65. "The jouissance by the imagination is incomparably more alive. . . . The use of the senses is no longer the same, by the eyes, by the ears, one is touched by objects that really affect us: and this contact is voluptuous." Brieude, "Imagination," Encyclopédie méthodique (Méd./Tome VII), 489.

66. "nothing other than a voluptuous touch to which is added a mysterious moral impression that exalts the imagination. I recall having witnessed, several times, convulsive suffocations, spitting of blood, screaming, the subject losing their voice, that resulted from the operation of such voluptuous touching and the imagination being struck simultaneously." Brieude, Traité de la Phthisie Pulmonaire, par Brieude, Membre de la Société de Médecine de Paris, Membre de la ci-devant Société Royale de Médecine, de l'Académie Royale de Médecine-Pratique de Barcelone; l'un des Auteurs de la partie médicale de la nouvelle Encyclopédie, Tome Premier (Paris: chez Levrault, 1803), 32–33.

67. "[t]he doctors who have clinically observed the extreme agitation of the mind, as occurred during the first days of the revolution in Paris, the 12th, 13th, 14th of July 1789; and who afterwards were witness to the grievous effect on the constitution of families are the only ones who can have an idea of the force of the imagination and the passions." Brieude, "Imagination," Encyclopédie méthodique (Méd./Tome VII), 489–90.

68. "If a pregnant woman, said Hippocrates …, who ardently desires to eat soil, coal, or some other substance of this nature, does not satisfy her desire [envie] she gives birth to an infant whose head bears the mark of these substances. . . . [Modern] women maintain this belief in order to enjoy a liberty that, without such a specious pretext, one could not otherwise accord them." Chambon, "Envies des femmes enceintes," Encyclopédie méthodique (Méd./ Tome V), 885; 888. [End Page 234]

69. Chambon, "Envies des femmes enceintes," Encyclopédie méthodique (Méd./Tome V), 888.

70. Mercuriali, as cited by Pariset and Villeneuve, "Danse," Dictionnaire des Sciences médicales, 8:5–6. Although this reference would seem to us anachronistic, it was typical in medical discourse to cite ancient medical philosophy to prove contemporary medical observations and arguments.

71. Although Pariset and Villeneuve approved of dancing in moderation as a healthy exercise even for pregnant women, stating that "[t]here are women who dance up until the very last moments of their pregnancy, and who are not at all incommoded," the waltz remained a special case in which individuals suffered from "dizziness, vertigo, nausea and even vomiting accompanied by a state of malaise and prostration." Pariset and Villeneuve, 4–5.

72. Pariset and Villeneuve, 5.

73. Over the course of the nineteenth century, and even as early as 1815 on the continent, developments in how the waltz was danced altered its "democratic promise": if the Vienna Congress marked the historic moment in which the aristocracy acquiesced to the inevitability of the waltz (danced side-by-side with the minuet at this event), the gathering in Vienna also initiated a genteel transformation of the dance which evolved (the man led, the woman followed, one waltzed more sedately and on demi-pointe), such that the enticing vertigo lost some of its menacing quality. By 1840, young dancers seeking a raucous, disruptive social dance turned to the polka, beginning a "polka craze" met by the institution of the "polka police"—also known as the police de plaisir – in Paris.

74. See Ann Daly, Done Into Dance: Isadora Duncan in America (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995). [End Page 235]

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