Thesis (Ph.D)

Dancing Modernisms: Rhythmic Bodies Articulating Cultures of Modernisms (1909-1929)


This thesis explores the issues that arise from posing the question: how could the silent dance-body articulate cultural ideas in the early twentieth century, a period which witnessed a dramatic turn of expression in dance, literature and the arts that was retrospectively designated as modernist? In this thesis I read these bodies as they are traced in images and discourses around dance, movement and the body. I argue that interrogating specific examples of the radical, new dance aesthetics and examining the meanings produced by their dance-bodies is key to understanding the new attitudes to dance, health and gender that emerged in the early twentieth century. I begin with the ballet-bodies of Vaslav Nijinsky’s unique choreographic vision and examine how these bodies might ask questions about modern identities through their new ballet forms. I then move to the free-dance of Isadora Duncan and address its challenge to the traditional ballet-body, analysing how Duncan’s dance makes connections between the primitive in neo Hellenism and the modern in the female self. The active body of the quotidian New Woman then brings the focus of my thesis to the movement-bodies in the practices of Madge Atkinson’s Natural Movement and Molly Bagot Stack’s system of 'artistic body training'. I evaluate the community of individual women represented in these practices as they move through traditional gender constraints in a collective driven by utopian energies. My case studies here suggest a re-definition of the Hellenic and the co-option of modern science and technology lie at the base of this rhythmic movement paradigm, thereby revealing the paradoxes in such utopian responses to the dystopia of modernity. My aim with this thesis is to foreground how the rhythmic, moving body articulates the profundity of the cultural changes in the early twentieth- century, with a particular focus on how this manifests in Britain, and exposes the often-contradictory impulses behind new visions of the human body and its role in cultural and social practices.

DOI (Digital Object Identifier)

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Ash, Sue Gwenllian


Supervisors: Goody, Alex; Whatley, Sarah

Oxford Brookes departments

Department of English and Modern Languages
Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences


Year: 2020

© Ash, Sue Gwenllian
Published by Oxford Brookes University
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