One thing life teaches is that change is a constant. Nothing remains the same.
The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus was the first to arrive at the concept: “There is nothing permanent except change.” He thereafter influenced among others Plato, Aristotle, and Nietzsche.
So do not be shocked with that which is to about to be shared.
The ballet has been respected as the most sensuous of dances. In major cities, a black tie affair to evidence that respect.
A new building to house the Paris Opera Ballerina was constructed in the mid 1860’s. The audience portion the same as today. Silent respectability. Behind the stage, another story. A brothel!
Erin Blackmore is an historical writer of consequence. She frequently writes for the History Channel. She also has had her works presented in major publications world wide.
Her writing versatile. She covers every subject well.
In 2018, Blackmore wrote about sex and the Paris Opera Ballerina: Sexual Exploitation Was the Norm For the 19th Century Ballerina. The story of wealthy men who turned the famous Paris Opera Ballerina into a place of ill repute.
Charles Baudelaire was a famous poet in the first half of the 19th century. He wrote, “Dance is poetry with arms and legs.” So it was and so it is. However for twenty years beginning in the 1860’s, the ladies practiced their “poetry” on their backs with their arms and legs spread. “Money, power and prostitution mingled in the glamorous…..backstage world of the Paris Opera.”
The Paris Opera Ballet, founded in the 17th century, was the world’s first professional ballet company. Preeminent then and through today.
In the 19th century, it raised the bar for dance. On the backs of exploited young women.
Women entered the ballet as young children. Trained, trained, and trained some more. Laborious the making of a ballet dancer. Most who achieved “success” found it only in small walk on rolls. The young ladies were often malnourished and dressed in hand me downs.
The young girls were called the “petite rats” of the ballet. Vulnerable to social and sexual exploitation.
A struggle. First was opera dance school. Hopefully followed by becoming an apprentice in the Opera. A “long term contract” took forever to attain, if at all.
Most were exploited by the Paris Opera’s wealthy male subscribers. Nicknamed “abbones.” Such wealthy men did not subscribe for the music, but “for the beautiful ballerinas who danced.” Behind the scenes, “sexual favors from the women they ogled on stage.”
When Charles Garnier designed the Paris Opera House in the 1860’s, he included a “separate entrance for season ticket holders.” The building included a “lavish room” called the “foyer de la danse.” The play room for the wealthy who had financed the room. It was located directly behind the stage.
Touted as a place where the ladies warmed up, its actual purpose was use by male patrons.” The place where they socialized and propositioned ballet dancers.
The ballet attire of today is tight and body forming. Sensuous without question. Sensuous in the 1860’s, though in a different fashion. Generally skirts not form fitting at all.
Due to their social status, abbones were free to socialize with the ladies.
“Epic scenes took place back stage.” It was “a kind of men’s club where they could meet and greet other power brokers, make business deals, and bask in a highly sexualized atmosphere.”
The dancers were subject to scrutiny and harassment. Expected to submit to the subscribers, noblemen and important financiers, whose money supported the majority of the Opera’s spending.”
For a girl from a poor background, a “rich man was their only chance at stability.”
A few dancers were able to get along on their merits rather than assistance by an abbones. However they were still looked down upon as suspected prostitutes.
In the 1870’s and 1880’s, Edgar Degas was an influential Parisian who could not afford the “backstage.” However his “affluent friends” secured him backstage passes so he could sketch the dancers in their natural habitat. On occasion even capturing glimpses of their real world.
Life was not easy for most of the dancers. Degas was able to pick up on it. His portrayal of the dancers were “marked by the hateful promise of every vice.” Some Degas fans thought it unfortunate that his subjects were marked by the sordidness of the “sexual harassment that was baked into ballet.”
I do not agree. The dark visible in certain spots and suggested immorality may very well have made Degas the success he was rather than just another artist. He saw things perhaps no other could.
Enjoy your day!