Elizabeth Claire on the tradition of dancing madness in put up-fright Paris.
After the violence of the Awe that had marked the French Revolution, when Parisian pleasure gardens multiplied to supply new areas of expression for the “frenzy to possess an even time” that characterized the “madness of Thermidor,” balls took heart stage in the brand new nocturnal tradition remodeling Paris. Louis-Sébastien Mercier described dancing as a “standard fury” that had every person “from effectively off to heart-broken” twisting about. This tradition of dancing madness would continue to assemble except the Restoration and coincided with the emergence of a (first) romanticism and a new plan of imagining the resolve of the couple in Europe.
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As the 18th-century salon tradition of bon mots gave formulation to the passionate abilities of the brand new social dances, their contagious vertigo grew to change into polemical. Below the reign of the Itemizing, for the length of the winter season of Republican 365 days VII (1798–1799), the brand new German “walsces” were your total rage. The first dance with a closed-couple abet to be adopted by an elite society in Europe, waltzing had already created effort in certain German-talking regions the save it became once promptly banned. The acceptance of the waltz in France merely elevated considerations. The German poet Ernst Moritz Arndt described the French “nationalization of this German dance” in moralizing phrases: The closed-couple abet, he acknowledged, allowed the male dancers to squeeze “the girl dancers as discontinuance as doable against themselves” whereas placing their arms “firmly on the breasts” of their companions.
In this turning dance, the familiar Contredanse figures disappeared because the couple evolved with easy, repetitive steps, improvising their route across the dance floor whereas negotiating a shared heart of gravity. Partners experimented with a vertigo whose centrifugal force and intoxication “exhausted” their our bodies and “heated” their imaginations. Thru contact, the replace of perspiration, and a rapidity that solicited the imaginations of the dancers embracing one one other, the lovely intimacy of the waltz became once acknowledged to create a ravishment that — essentially based fully mostly on the doctors who described it — menaced the health of a complete generation of formative years.
This “standard fury” of dancing became once described essentially based fully mostly on several medico-philosophical notions: enthusiasm, ardour, need (envie), madness, and a complete ensemble of phenomena connecting physique and soul, by which the mental faculty of the imagination accomplished a pivotal just. Mental health tablets (médecine morale) on the time thought about that the impressions of the imagination gave formulation to bodily expressions called “fearful sympathies” (sympathies nerveuses) and that these may perhaps possibly be transmitted from one individual to one other. Clinical doctors wrote about the force of the imagination to level to the collective contagion of innovative violence: a mental contamination linked to a deviant behavior produced involuntary imitation. Following the same logic, waltzmania became once understood as a lethal illness of deviant dancing transmitted through the imagination.
The advent of the German waltz in France coincided with the main publications of the brand new “Psychological and Political Sciences Class” of the National Institute of France as effectively because the 1802 advent by the Prefecture of Police of a Council of Hygiene in Paris. In the context of this political dynamic of early hygienism below the French Consulate, waltzmania came to be understood interior a genealogy of European choreaic contagions: the 11th-century memoir of the Dancers of Kölbigk, Tarantism in Mediterranean Europe, the Veitztanz maligned by Martin Luther and cases of the Danse de St. Man in Alsace and Rhineland for the length of the Wars of Religion, the Convulsionaries of Saint-Médard in the early 17th century, or even the cheerful Quaker dances taking save in the North American frontier.
Below the auspices of the brand new hygienism, the posthumous newsletter of the heterodox physician Paracelsus, “Les causes des maladies invisible” (1565), had a particular impact on the interpretation of waltzmania. Paracelsus wrote about the 1518 dance epidemic in Strasbourg, reworking his 1537 opinion of the reason of dance mania as printed in “The Seven Defenses”: In sum, the imagination strikes the heart and tickles the nerves, and it provokes a turbulent joy and contracts the muscles, inducing the dance. Paracelsus additionally invented the resolve of Frau Troffea, described as having trigger off the epidemic with her conjugal anger. The phenomenon essentially based fully mostly on Paracelsus, thus becomes a gendered one, since we are to tag that the chorea lasciva of the Strasbourg epidemic became once born from the female imagination. In the eighteenth century, a renewed interest for Paracelsian theories of the imagination followed the very mediatized scandal pertaining to the clinical practices of the Viennese physician Anton Mesmer, who cured Parisian females by touching them in very theatricalized suggestions (as reported by the Royal Payment in 1784). The scandal of Mesmer’s “animal magnetism” bolstered the premise, thereafter widely licensed, that the female imagination became once particularly at risk of contagion provoked by contact and theatrical gesture, that is to claim, “fearful sympathies.”
In 1804, P. J. Marie de Saint-Ursin, one among the most prolific physicians to handle the hazards of the brand new closed-couple dances, printed his “L’ami des femmes: Du luxe privé. De la wales” (“A Friend to Ladies: On Interior most Luxury. On Waltzing”), a clinical text devoted to Madame Bonaparte and written in a literary prose destined for a female readership. He cites the erroneous effects of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s unusual, “The Sorrows of Young Werther,” which begins with an opulent waltz shared between Werther and Lotte, and the occasions of the Revolution that “deformed” young females’s morals in France. Marie de Saint-Ursin describes the waltz as a “battle” of the sexes that, through “the confusion of the senses” and the “degradation of enjoy,” upsets “females’s desires” and destroys the bonds of marriage. As the male dancer embraces the waist of his accomplice “with a fearful arm,” the couple pivots, “gazes merged, wholly absorbed in one one other, they hint a large number of circles in a deliver of delirium.” This observe, essentially based fully mostly on the physician, became once to blame for a “traditional contagion” of dance mania in France. Varied doctors thought about that just by looking out at a waltz, the “fearful sympathies” of a young lady may perhaps possibly be activated, placing her in a deliver of contagious mania by which she risked sacrificing her mental health.
In this political length marked by hypothesis and the emergence of a new elite, the imperial aristocracy, the academic clinical world took a enthusiastic interest in health complications stemming from social practices linked to the buildup of non-public wealth (“luxe privé”). City sicknesses treasure these of the females cured by Mesmer were categorized as fearful ailments particular to the female physique. Faced with the excessively passionate dancing standard in the Parisian pleasure gardens, the clinical institution, in the interest of public health, alerted families about the likely contagion of the “perpetual” spinning dances that would also strike their daughter’s imaginations and induce madness. Clinical doctors and moralists feared the brand new form of the closed-couple dancing nonetheless additionally the liberalization of the final public balls that allowed for unprecedented social diversity interior high society exactly at a moment when tensions pertaining to females’s save in the imperial regime were unresolved.
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In this sort, the waltz participated in a sociomedical and philosophical debate centered on the powers of the female imagination and the request of republican motherhood, and these tensions were echoed in the in actuality knowledgeable press. In the clinical lexicon, a connection became once established between the vertigo of the waltz and the “exaltation” or “placing” of the female imagination; the contagious character of the dance became once correlated to “enthusiasm” or a form of bodily and emotional “extra.”
In the French dance mania, physicians noticed the distressed passions of females waltzers and thought about this to blame for a “reversal of the pure articulate of things” and the assemble of “mannish females” attracted by masculine ambitions. They denounced the “very-vexing consequences” precipitated by the “involving and magnetic contact” of waltzing: vertigo, premature menstruation, syncope, spasms, miscarriage, the spitting of blood, tuberculosis, surprising loss of life, clitorimania, and other “counterfeit pleasures.” These ills contradicted the “pleasures of maternity” that Louis-Jacques Moreau de la Sarthe and other physicians posited as a pure phenomenon. If marriage were to serve as a foundational part of new society, as urged by the 1804 Civil Code, the exaggerated pleasures of the waltz ran contrary to this recommendation.
In the wake of the Revolution and its fervor, the correct channeling of the collective imagination regarded very crucial for the agreeable orchestration and governing of a new imperial “social physique.” The overall public balls remained an ambivalent deliver in this regard: On the one hand, they were controlled areas and were monitored by municipal and protection force forces, but they additionally legitimized a framework for the transmission of passionate practices that were at risk of effort the social articulate, particularly when it came to gender members of the family. The circulation of clinical discourse on waltzmania had the carry out of rendering pressing, in the title of public health, the anxiety of the involuntary transmission of waltzing and its particular jouissance. The aim became once to contain away from a honest contagion of the “perpetual dances” that would also consequence in a collective female mania imprinted with innovative republican suggestions, that is to claim, a chorea lasciva that, by keeping female citizens away from the deliver-condoned crucial to breed, can also destabilize the imperial venture itself.
Elizabeth Claire is an affiliate professor of gender historical past on the CNRS. She teaches the Cultural Historical past of Dance on the EHESS and is currently finishing a manuscript on clinical theories of the powers of the imagination and social dancing in Europe after the French Revolution. This text is excerpted from the book “Cultures of Contagion.”
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