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  • Shifting:Worker Culture and Life Reform in the Madzsar School
  • Tyrus Miller
Petőfi Literary Museum—Kassák Museum, Budapest, Hungary. Curator: Judit Csatlós, with assistance from Anna Juhász June 23–November 4, 2012 doi:10.1017/S0149767713000041

This recent exhibition in Budapest assembles a fascinating documentation of the life and work of Dr. Alice Madzsar-Jászi (Photo 1), who, from her first opening of a dance school in 1912 to her untimely death in 1935, wove an intricate path through the cultural, political, and artistic avant-gardes of modern Hungary. At the turn of the century, just ten years before Madzsar launched her school, Isadora Duncan had made her solo debut in Budapest, where her improvisation to Strauss’s “Blue Danube Waltz” had affected the Hungarian audience like “an electric shock” (Duncan 1927: 74). Madzsar was one of the key figures to channel that early modernist shock into the collective body electric in an increasingly diversified set of dance-related body practices, including free dance, movement culture for women’s health, avant-garde theater, worker’s sport, recitation choruses, and collective spectacles (Photo 2).

Her dance and movement school, which was open from 1912–1937, introduced a synthetic mix of ideas and practices, from the therapeutic gymnastics propagated by Bess Mensendieck, to a characterology of movement oriented toward bodily beauty and health, to current European dance thought such as the methods of Rudolf Laban and Émile Jaques-Dalcroze. Notably, Madzsar’s school was part of a broader flourishing of dance and body culture taught by Hungarian women, including the orchestric pedagogy of Valéria Dienes, whose school was active from 1912–1944, and Olga Szentpál, whose school spanned the years from 1917–1951. Moreover, Madzsar, like Dienes and Szentpál, disseminated her thought not only through her school, but also in writing aimed at a wider public. Most importantly, she published a major study in Hungarian in 1927 as A női testkultúra új útjai (New Directions of Women’s Body Culture) and posthumously in French in 1936 as La culture physique de la femme moderne Madzsar 1927 and 1936.

Alice Madzsar is also a fascinating figure for her intimate proximity to two men at the center of early twentieth-century Hungarian political and intellectual life: her brother, the sociologist, historian, and founder of the Radical Party, Oszkár Jászi, and her husband, József Madzsar, a polymathic figure who was a remarkable physician and public health expert, director of the Budapest city library, a leader in the Radical Party, a syndicalist, and eventually a social-democrat and communist activist (he died in the USSR in 1940, a victim of Stalin’s terror).

Oszkár Jászi, as founding editor of the influential sociological journal Huszadik Szazád (Twentieth Century), was a key figure in the modernist intellectual awakening in the period up to the end of World War I, which included other such luminaries as the philosopher and literary critic György Lukács, sociologist Karl (Karóly) Mannheim, economist Karl Polányi and his brother Michael Polányi, art critics Lajos Fulöp and Charles de Tolnay, poet and film theorist Béla Bálazs, composer and musical ethnographer Béla Bártok, and artist Anna Lésznai (who was Jászi’s first wife). The groups and salons to which Madzsar thus had entry or to which she was linked by close contiguity include Lukács’s famous Sunday Circle, the modernist painting group “Nyolcok” (“The Eight”), the sociologically oriented Galileo Circle, and the transformative modernist literary journal Nyugat (The West). Jászi himself advocated an anti-imperial republican politics and a Central European multinational alliance of “Danubian” countries; for his expertise on the vexed questions around national minorities and national self-determination posed by the collapse of the East and Central European empires, he served for a short time in the republican government of Mihály Karólyi as [End Page 124] Minister of Nationalities. After the fall of the Karólyi government to the Hungarian Soviet Republic in the spring of 1919, Jászi went into exile, eventually coming to the United States in 1925.

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