Before I begin welding my thesis together, I need to sharpen my definition of posture. I thought dance would be a good place to start. Now comfortably into my fifth semester of modern dance, I can think critically about the kind of language used to provide feedback. My professor often pushes us to “go too far”-the assumption: that our dancing will reflect our animated imaginations.
I re-discovered this idea that there’s a correlation between a person’s soul and their body in Barnard Professor Paul Scolieri’s essay, “An Interesting Experiment in Eugenics: Ted Shawn, American Dance, and the Discourses of Sex, Race, and Ethnicity.” Paul recounts the life of Ted Shawn, who obsessively swirled eugenic philosophy into his style of dance. Shawn was interested in phrenology, an 1800s science that determined a person’s character based on their cranial measurements. He wanted to eliminate ethnic and racial dances from stages and ballrooms. In the absence of having his own child, Shawn tried to produce a dance troupe offspring that would be the holiest culmination of qualities of mind complementing the build of the body.
By the end of Scolieri’s essay, I felt I had a strong grasp of how eugenic thought historically played into dancers’ conceptions of the mind and body. He delves into the history of eugenics, specifically highlighting how the science was a response to the late 1800s/early 1900s influx of immigrants. That said, I was still curious where the posture movement came from-and how it bumped heads with eugenic thought. After enquiring, Professor Scolieri explained that the posture movement had a number of influences, including the French musician and teacher Francois Delsarte; his ideas were integrated into classes in etiquette, acting, and dancing that young women took at the turn of the century. Moving forward, I will look into Delsarte and explore posture as an indicator of upward mobility and potential.