Date of Award

Winter 12-15-2014

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department

Romance Languages and Literature: French Language and Literature

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



My dissertation examines the theorization of dance as a poetic language by philosophers, poets, choreographers, and dance critics from 1750 to 1914. I demonstrate how late eighteenth- and nineteenth-century thinkers were preoccupied with the notion of an emotional, spiritual, or poetic essence that could not be captured through verbal communication. They believed this essence could be successfully conveyed by gesture and danced movement. Using poems, ballet libretti, iconography, aesthetic treatises, and dance reviews, I investigate how dance came to be viewed as a poetic language in French intellectual circles and popular culture. I focus on both texts and performances in order to unpack discourses on dance as a poetic language in eighteenth-century theories of language and nineteenth-century poetic movements, including Romanticism, Parnassianism, Orientalism and Symbolism. These discourses inscribe the dancer's body with ambiguity in the realms of gender, sexuality, and race, even as they proclaim the dancer a poet, who writes dynamic and ephemeral poetry through movement in performance. In order to transcribe this corporeal poetry, authors Théophile Gautier, Gérard de Nerval, Charles Baudelaire and Stéphane Mallarmé incorporated dance rhythms and imagery into their poetic works in the hopes of recapturing the transport they experienced as spectators of renowned dancers Marie Taglioni, Carlotta Grisi, Amalia Ferraris, and Loïe Fuller. These dancers incarnated otherworldly beings and exotic others in ballets such as La Sylphide (1832), Giselle (1841), La Péri (1843) and Sacountâla (1858), culminating in the controversial ballet L'Après-midi d'un faune (1912) choreographed by Vaslav Nijinksy, a work that attempted to fulfill Mallarmé's Symbolist ideal of the Spectacle futur while ushering in Modernist aesthetics. Understanding how philosophers, poets, and critics grappled with the idea of dance as a poetic language ultimately sheds light on larger questions of language, performance, and translation faced by scholars of literary theory and dance studies today, as bodies continue to move through gender, sexuality, and culture.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Tili Boon Cuillé

Committee Members

Stamos Metzidakis, Julie Singer, Rebecca Messbarger, Pannill Camp


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