Category Archives: Dance

The Furlana: a Blessed Dance Craze

La vraie Furlana papale‘ by Théo Noletty, published by Philippo, Paris 1914, illustrated by Clérice Frères.

Traditionally the furlana was an Italian folk dance from Friuli, a region between Trieste and Venice. Dating back to the 17th century it became popular on the European continent in the first half of the 18th century, thanks to Couperin and Rameau. Pietro Longhi the painter of Venetian 18th century everyday life immortalized the furlana in one of his typical genre scenes.

la biu bella furlana
Left, Peasants dancing the Furlana by Pietro Longhi (1702-1785). Right, ‘La piu bella Furlana‘ by Alfredo Barbirolli, published by Au Ménestrel Paris in 1914, illustrated by René Péan.

By the end of the 18th century the furlana was passé. Apart from an opera or two in which the furlana was staged, nobody cared about the dance anymore, let alone knew how to dance it. It was a rather cheerful tune though if the version from Amilcare Ponchielli‘s opera La Gioconda is anything to go by.

And then all of a sudden at the eve of the Great War, in the spring of 1914, the furlana became the dance craze! It was extremely short-lived and lasted but a few months. But in that fleeting period it had the ambition to replace the tango which had invaded Europe around 1912. As the story goes we have to thank Pope Pius X for this fad. Pius X was strongly opposed to modernist interpretations of Catholic doctrine. He advocated traditional devotional practices, and of course abhorred the sensual and shocking tango.

pope furlana2
Left, Pope Pius X carefully watches a couple dancing the Tango. From L’Illustration.Right, ‘Friuli‘ by Bonincontro, published by Bornemann Paris in 1914, illustrated by Pousthomis.

Allegedly Pope Pius X, in a reaction to the dangerous vogue of the tango, had invited two young members of the Pontifical aristocracy to perform the notorious tango in a strictly private audience. Having witnessed these ‘ridiculous barbarian contortions’, Pope Pius X advised young people to adopt the delightful Venetian dance instead of the devilish tango. It was a (chaste) dance that he had often seen in his youth, where physical contact went no further than clasped hands. This papal advise was repeated in Rome’s Il Tempo newspaper.  And before long the furlana became the vogue in Rome, soon to be followed in Paris.

furlana venetie
Left, ‘La Giocosa Furlana‘ by L. Durand, published by Dupuis, Paris in 1914, illustrated by Léon Pousthomis. Right, ‘La Furlana‘ by Emile Doloire, published by Delormel, Paris in 1914, illustrated by Clérice Frères.

It is in that very short period of time, between the spring of 1914 and the outbreak of WWI, that every self-respecting dance teacher, every composer and every publishing house had to quickly concoct ‘the real’ furlana. A Venetian dance teacher claimed he had succeeded in recreating the original furlana after an interview with an octogenarian. It looked like this:

forlan gedanst2
The Furlana, reconstructed by the Venetian Professor Galante. La Revue Musicale S.I.M. april 1914.

At the same time a Roman dance teacher was quick to tell of his good fortune to discover an ancient dance manual explaining all the original movements of the furlana.

furlana X
Left, ‘La Furlana‘ by Paul Fauchey, published by Adolph Furstner in 1914, illustrated by Hippolyte Fournier. Right, ‘La Furlana‘ by Attic, published by E. Joullot, illustrated by Pousthomis.

In Paris as well, all in the music business were frantically claiming their importance in the furlanamania. One publisher tried to lure his potential clientèle reassuring them that the furlana could be danced everywhere: ‘La Furlana, nouvelle danse Vénitienne approuvée par sa sainteté le Pape Pie X, et pour cette raison adoptée dans les salons aristocratiques et mondains’. Another one boldly retraced the origins of the furlana to an ancient gondolier dance.

furlana bloem
Left, ‘Célèbre Furlana Venitienne‘ by Saratosga, published by Bons Auteurs, Paris, illustrated by Paul Dubois. Right, ‘Furlana Jolie‘ by Maria Rosset, published by Rosset, Paris 1914, illustrated by Clérice frères.

Parisian stylish dance teachers hurried to scrape together some movements in order to create a new choreography. Some of these teachers succeeded in attaching their name and theory to the published music. The best known of them was the elegant Duque (Antonio Lopes de Amorim Diniz) a Brazilian who abandoned a career in dentistry to become a dancer and dance teacher in Paris.  Duque was responsable for another dance craze: the maxixe. But this is for a later post. For now we’re off to Venice, going to dance with a gondolier!

La vrai Furlana‘, published by Edouard Salabert, Paris 1914. Photograph of L. Duque by Henri Manuel.

The Dolly Sisters: Art Deco Gold Diggers

Gold Diggers illustrated by Boullaire
Gold Diggers‘, a foxtrot by Raoul Moretti, published by Salabert (Paris, 1923) and illustrated by Boullaire

Gold Diggers is an appropriate title for the foxtrot danced by the Dolly Sisters. They surely knew something about gold digging, not as in ‘gold mining in Klondike’ but as in sweet-talking sugar daddies. The Dolly Sisters were hot during the jazz age and everybody wanted to be seen with them, even royalty.

The Dolly Sisters in their flamboyant costumes

Jenny and Rosie Deutsch had immigrated from their native Hungary to America where they began performing on stage at an early age. They were identical twins and they accentuated this by synchronising their movements and by wearing identical costumes. The Dolly Sisters soon became famous both in Europe and in the States. They had a penchant for plumes, jewellery, money, and older men but above all for gambling.

dollies gypsy
The Dolly Sisters in gypsy costume.

The best known of their sugar daddies was Harry Selfridge, who founded the first ‘shopping is fun’ department store in Oxford Street, London: Selfridges. In his later life he became so besotted by the Dolly Sisters that he catered for their every wish. He bought them diamonds, flew over their favourite food and sat next to them at the gambling table, his wallet wide open. This would eventually hasten the downfall of Harry Selfridge: he lost his entire fortune and his beloved department store.

The Dolly Sisters’ exuberant partying lifestyle came abruptly to an end when Jenny was injured in a car accident. She never recovered from it and sadly hanged herself in 1941. Rosie retired from public life and also tried to take her own live. She passed away in 1977.

The Dolly Sisters were wildly famous during their heyday, but it was not an enduring fame. Now this is interesting. We still know Greta Garbo, Maurice Chevalier or Charlie Chaplin, but not the Dolly Sisters. Maybe long-lasting fame has to do with persistence and talent. The Dolly Sisters’ career span was rather short. As for their talent we can get a glimpse of that in a recently published YouTube fragment. They are performing in a pantomime of a traditional children’s tale Babes in the Woods, although not in their usual identical costumes.

In an iconographic way the Dolly Sisters simply breathed Art Deco. Their ornate costumes and lavish acts are the quintessential image of the Roaring Twenties as can be seen in some of our Dolly Sisters sheet music covers.

Dolly Sisters, illustrated by de Valerio
Dolly Sisters‘, foxtrot by Samuel Pokrass, published by Salabert in Paris (1927), illustrated by de Valerio
Charleston Dolly, illustrated by Jack Roberts
Charleston Dolly‘, by Howard Mc Knight. Published by Lucien Brulé (Paris, 1926) and illustrated by Jack Roberts
dolly sisters maurice chevalier
Three covers illustrated by Loris with Maurice Chevalier between Jenny and Rosie. ‘Steppin’ in Society‘ (1926), ‘Sweet Georgia Brown‘ (1926), and ‘Waitin’ For The Moon‘ (1925), all published by Francis-Day, Paris.

Furthermore statuettes, porcelain figurines and boudoir dolls accompanied the Dolly Sisters’ rage and success. In 2012 a bronze and ivory statuette of the twins by Chiparus sold for almost 350.000 € .

Large bronze and ivory statuette of the Dolly Sisters, by Demetre Chiparus
figurine dolly sisters
Goldscheider figure group, the Dolly Sisters, 1925


Boudoir dolls of the Dolly Sisters, courtesy of Frau Wulf,

The twins also inspired László Moholy-Nagy for his modernist photomontage Olly & Dolly Sisters. Moholy-Nagy transforms their normally cheerful disposition by a vast emptiness using light, monochromatic colours and simple geometric shapes.

Laszlo Moholy-Nagy olly & dolly sisters
Olly & Dolly Sisters by László Moholy-Nagy, circa 1925, Gelatin silver print (The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles)

Circassian Beauties Dancing The Polka

Two Circassian Polkas‘ composed by Khue Lindoff, published by Leoni Lee & Coxhead (London, s.d.), illustrated by John Brandard

Circassia used to be a country in the North Caucasus until, in the early 1860s, the Russians won the Russian-Circassian war and ethnic cleansing followed. Sochi, famous for the 2014 Winter Olympics, was its capital. Circassia was legendary for its beautiful women. On the above cover of Victorian sheet music John Brandard depicts two of them dancing ever so lightly the popular polka.

Diderot wrote in his Encyclopédie: ‘Circassian women are renowned for their charms and rightly so.’ Apparently he was quite the connoisseur. ‘They are blessed with white skin, rosy cheeks and raven hair’. So they must have looked like Snow White.

Circasian Polka
Detail from the ‘Circassian Polka’ (composed by Khue Lindoff)

Even Voltaire adds to the mystique of the attractive Circassian women: ‘The Circassians are poor, but have beautiful daughters; and indeed, it is in them they chiefly trade. They furnish beauties for the seraglios of the sultan of Persia, and others who are rich enough to purchase and to maintain this precious merchandise.’ Our enlightened philosopher explains that the girls were trained in the art of seduction as Caucasian geishas: ‘These people bring up their children in virtuous and honourable principles, to flatter the male part of the creation; to master the art of effeminate and lascivious dancing; and lastly how to heighten by the most voluptuous artifices the pleasures of their disdainful masters for whom they are designed.’

P. T. Barnum’s troupe with on the left side two Circassian Beauties.

Romantic tales of beautiful white sex slaves in the Orient inspired the circusman in P. T. Barnum. He tried to buy a real Circassian slave for his freak show, but in vain. So he started exhibiting Circassian Beauties of his own making. He hired local, light-skinned girls with a weird bushy hairstyle that was skillfully created with a comb and some beer. He told his audience that these young Caucasian women had escaped from a Turkish sultan’s harem where they had been enslaved after their kidnapping. A contemporary journalist compared their afro hairdo with a boll of a ripened dandelion. Soon Circassian Beauties became common in sideshows all over America. Their success lasted until the early 20th century. On stage they wore oriental trousers and slightly revealing dresses. They often sat cross-legged sucking a hookah, thus tintillating the male audience.

Circassian Beauties
Circassian Beauties

The merchandising included the sale of exotic photographs with tropical plants and animal skins as decor. Also offered were pseudo-biographical pamphlets of the women. These stories held an explanation for the ladies’ excellent English skills and how they lost ‘their native tongue’.

To be a genuine Circassian Beauty your stage name needed at least one Z: Zalumma Agra (the first Circassian Beauty ever displayed on stage), Zoe Meleke, Zobeide Luti, Zolula Legrand, Aggie Zolutia, Zula Zarah, Zolrebia Tisseah, Zoe Zuemella, … According to British sheet music they could also dance Ze Polka!

Reading: The Circassian Beauty and the Circassian Slave: Gender, Imperialism, and American Popular Entertainment by Linda Frost