Critiquing American dancer Isadora Duncan's decision to abandon the ballet slipper and adopt a "natural" style of dance, Joanne Pearson looks at the ways in which Duncan is implicated in constructing notions of beauty and deformity, while participating fully in the fetishization of the female foot. "Time Wounds All Heels," an important contribution to theorizations of the body, provides an insightful discussion of the intersection of nature, culture, and beauty.

Time Wounds All Heels: Duncan, Ballet, and Bataille

Joanne Pearson

<1> Any study of the birth of modern dance draws upon the work of Isadora Duncan and for too long her dance has been placed in opposition to ballet. Even today the contemporary Duncan dancer reifies the image of Duncan as natural, harmonious, unique and rounded [1]. This opposition of free dance versus ballet presents a two-dimensional portrait of past representations of femininity. I aim to re-think Duncan's disdain for the pointe shoe and her belief that barefoot dancing would encourage a liberated movement that would in turn free "woman" from her disgraceful position in dance and society at large. That this did not entirely happen suggests that there is something about ballet that Duncan ignored. That ballet continues to enlist and attract thousands of young girls cannot be entirely due to false consciousness or masochism. Hence, this article draws attention to the other body of Isadora Duncan.

<2> I do not wish to traduce Duncan's image. Rather, I want to parry her claims that ballet was a tortuous art that deformed female beauty by drawing attention to the fact that she too could not escape the painful effects a lifetime of dance accrued upon the materiality of her body. This reappraisal will work hand in hand with recognition that ballet's goal is not to deform or debilitate the dancer but rather, like Duncan, it too has laid claim to fictions of "naturalness" and femininity. Underlying this critique of the binary opposition that is Isadora Duncan and ballet is a more important argument concerning the relationship between materiality and language that is couched in the nature/culture dialectic that Duncan, ballet and Georges Bataille all negotiate.

<3> I start from the premise that it is betwixt materiality and language that the dancing body is produced. This does not mean that dance is equivalent to language or that materiality is better explained by dance. Rather, in this article I explore a concept of the body and its parts as both mobile and caught: it challenges universalising norms and upholds them, and it utilizes the geometry of movement (ballet) while undermining it. The basis of my exploration is Duncan's feet, which performed two vital lines of enquiry into previous conceptualizations of choreographic embodiment. Firstly, her naked, unfettered feet mobilized social, political and cultural discourses of female bodies, bore witness to the possibilities of the body's (re)inscription and recognized both corporeal excess and incompleteness. Secondly, her feet went beyond the limits of ballet's normative ideal even though she also reified essentialist codes of femininity and reproduced primitivist notions of dance as innate. There is a double bind in Duncan's dance: on the one hand, it liberates those budding dancers who cannot conform to balletic rules, on the other hand, it explains that liberation in terms of a discourse that materializes bodies further. Therefore, I complicate readings of her performance as emancipatory in order to realize her dance as a negotiation between lines: between a highly disciplined and choreographed body, and the creation of a notion of the "natural," free dance.

<4> On closer inspection of the modern dance archive it is not long before we discover that other body of Isadora Duncan. At the Trocadero in May 1923 André Levinson witnessed the "inexorable ravages" taking their toll upon Duncan's body:

Yesterday, tortured, I sought those traits in her heavy face, the nape of her neck, and her massive thighs, revealed by an overly short tunic. Nothing survived of the malleable personality that so impressed us formerly. Her play appeared monotonous, impoverished, her march heavy, her running tired. [. . .] But time heals all wounds. It will erase the humiliating memory of such decrepitude and forever will change Isadora herself. Her legend will survive, because no other dancer will know the same apotheosis. (André Levinson 1977-8b: 15)

Overweight, overtired and overwrought with grief, Duncan presented an excessively undisciplined body. One that Levinson proclaimed would be healed in time by "buffoons who pirouette upon the printed word" providing "posthumous glorification" of the dead artist (Levinson 1977-8b: 14). And one that asks us to rethink the relationship between "free" dance and ballet, wholeness and deformity, natural and unnatural, upon which the dance archive is built.

<5> Even as early as Duncan's 1908 performance at the Duke of York's Theatre, Ruth St. Denis' first impression was "a shock of disappointment. She was then a little overweight, her arms hung limply at her sides, her hair was badly dressed as though she had done it hastily. She wore very little make-up, and in profile her face was not especially interesting" (St. Denis 1939, quoted in Bardsley 1979: 240). Likewise, an obeisant Levinson who had hitherto harangued Duncan's project, issued his coup de grâce as he described her arms "crucified as on an imaginary cross, the body weighed down, knees bent, legs broadly, brutally split apart" in positions that "achieve[d] a sad grandeur while treading close to the grotesque" (Levinson 1977-8b: 15). Time had wounded Duncan's feet (as well as Levinson's vision) such that she was seen to drag herself across the stage, and her Achillean weakness for alcohol meant that her overindulgent and excessive body seemed graceless and indecent. Her "natural" dance and re-presentation of beauty had culminated in a parody of balletic litheness and despite her claims that the ballerina's body was deformed through years of "unnatural" training it was in fact her own body that was seen to be tortured and "brutally split apart."

Figure 1: Photographic reproduction of a drawing of Isadora Duncan by F. A. von Kaulbach, Munich 1902

<6> Primarily, Duncan's dissembling of the balletic body as one that was unnatural, sterile, deformed and ugly founded itself upon her feet. In St. Petersburg 1903, a year before her arrival, Duncan was heralded in the newspapers as the "amerikanskaya bosonzhka, the American barefoot dancer" (Goldman 1977-8: 33). Her bare feet became her trademark, and at her first ballet lesson Duncan claimed that when she refused to go en pointe she was immediately placed outside the balletic covey. "When the teacher told me to stand on my toes I asked him why, and when he replied 'Because it is beautiful,' I said that it was ugly and against nature, and after the third lesson I left his class, never to return. The stiff and commonplace gymnastics which he called dancing only disturbed my dream. I dreamed of a different dance" (Duncan 1927: 22). Duncan apparently released the foot from its swathes of indecency and deformation, and their bareness symbolized the freedom that she sought throughout the rest of her body: "My heavy shoes were like chains; my clothes only hindered me. So I took everything off" she proclaimed (Duncan "I was Born in America" 1981: 24). A glance at Fritz von Kaulbach's promotional illustration of Duncan in her early days encodes meanings of freedom, but we note her nakedness is symbolized through unfettered feet (Figure 1).

<7> At the time of Duncan's dance a cult of bare feet treaded many different paths. Janet Lyon has argued that although the appeal of bare feet was prevalent at the beginning of the twentieth century, to which she is sympathetic, she feels "alive to the uncanny aesthetic appeal of shoes, even the most pointy, pinching, and imprisoning of shoes" (Lyon 2001: 273). I agree with Lyon that we must challenge the dismissal of fancy footwear (specifically in the context of dance) and not view it as "little more than the pedal symptoms of a tortured unconscious and false consciousness" (Lyon 2001: 273). Duncan, on the other hand, conceived ballet shoes as just such a symptom of the dissolution, fragmentation and mechanization of the modern world. In making a stand against ballet, Duncan believed she was attacking industry and technology; yet her discourse was profoundly modern. Levinson wrote that "the naked feet of the dancer served as a revolutionary emblem. She was barefooted like the sans-culottes in 1793" (Levinson 1977-8b: 18). Elsewhere he stated that "[t]his 'flat-footed' or, as the Romans called it, 'planipes' dance did not use leaps or movements on point, but allowed for great variety of certain kinds of runs and steps." Furthermore, because she did not dance in point shoes her head and arms were allowed to "freely thrust back or [were] bent forward: her hands, independent of the movement of her arms" (Levinson 1977-8a: 8-9). This description assumes, of course, that a ballerina is always en pointe and ignores the fact that when her feet are flat on the ground she too can thrust her hands and arms.

<8> This "daring American" and "intrepid amazon," as Levinson described Duncan, "made a clean sweep of time-honored tradition." Moreover, "[i]t was not only the reasoned discipline of classical [European] ballet that was trampled by her white feet. It was the gentle effect of the social and intellectual conventions upon which civilized society lives. She freed herself not only from tights and corset, the equipment of the ballerina, but from all fetters capable of constraining the full scope of her sovereign whim" (Levinson 1977-8b: 16). Surely the dancer's unfettering of the body would reject any notion of sovereignty, particularly in its instigation of a democratic body and movement? Or, perhaps, Duncan's body conveyed an imperialist agenda? Moreover, considering their bareness it is unlikely that her feet would be "white" for long. For Levinson, Duncan's clean and "white" feet offset any charges of indecency attached to her overly transparent costuming. It also inscribed a certain racialized discourse upon her body that Duncan was also keen to augment. Paradoxically, Duncan simultaneously drew attention to her feet, but their so-called "whiteness" made them disappear, as Richard Dyer argues: "Whites must be seen to be white yet whiteness as race resides in invisible properties and whiteness as power is maintained by being unseen" (Dyer 1997: 45). Therefore it is important to remember that Duncan's grounded barefoot dancing would definitely have dirtied her feet, undermined her call to purity, and recognized the material effects of dance.

<9> Elizabeth Kendall argues that "[i]n Isadora's dances, the feet describe the rhythmical patterns of the music -- the waltzes, mazurkas, or marches: the ribs give expansiveness to the musical phrase -- more depth, more impact, more space; and the head and arms gently acquiesce" (Kendall 1977-8: 31). Thus, ignoring Duncan's own fetishization of her solar plexus, critics have continued to focus on her feet as her resource for the dance, and the glorification of those feet was meant to de-sexualize the audience's desire for bareness. Even Michel Fokine recognized her bare feet in terms of the release from technique that he envisioned in ballet. "Duncan proved that all the primitive, plain, natural movements -- a simple step, run, turn on both feet, small jump on one foot -- are far better than all the richness of ballet technique" (Fokine 1961, quoted in Goldman 1977-8: 35) [2]. Does this obsession with Duncan's supposedly beautiful feet substantiate Sigmund Freud's notion that "the foot owes its preference as a fetish -- or a part of it -- to the circumstances that the inquisitive boy peered at the woman's genitals from below, from her legs up?" (Freud 1964: 155) Was Duncan aware of her foot's sexuality? Did she capitalize, circumvent or deny the immorality attached to feet? If, as Freud claims the relationship to the fetish is one of affection and disavowal how did Duncan negotiate this contradiction and the complex relationship feet have with the female body?

<10> Clearly, the bareness of Duncan's feet has led to a certain mythologization of her art that she herself promoted. In considering ballet against nature and ugly she conceived her dance was "natural" and beautiful, as if it were even possible to have "natural" dance. She certainly did not recognize ballet's claim to the "natural" body, particularly in its promotion of the ballet slipper as a second skin, which, as every ballerina knows, does not feel at all like skin. That ballet slippers are often imagined as predominantly Caucasian skin-colored (pink or off-white for female ballerinas, although male dancer's shoes are usually black) has been regarded as ballet's creation of a seamless and fleshy line from toe to thigh. Moreover, Duncan's flat-footedness supposedly gave her access to freer running, but it would be a mistake to argue that the ballerina is not capable of some swift and liberating runs in point shoes. Likewise, those "leaps characteristic of ballet" are not so difficult to achieve with bare feet, and my own experience of watching the Duncan dancers of San Francisco reminds me that leaps were indeed constitutive of their dance practice. Perhaps not as high as a ballerina with momentum behind her, but I believe elevation can be achieved in Duncan dance and with it the appearance of lightness.

Figure 2: text

<11> However, Duncan persistently disparaged ballet's deformation of the foot in her controversial and simplistic association of ballet with Chinese foot binding:

The beauty of the human form is not chance. One cannot change it by dress. The Chinese women deformed their feet with tiny shoes; women of the time of Louis XIV deformed their bodies with corsets, but the ideal of the human body must forever remain the same. The Venus de Milo stands on her pedestal in the Louvre for an ideal; women pass before her, hurt and deformed by the dress of ridiculous fashions; she remains forever the same, for she is beauty, light, truth (Duncan 1909: Preface).

Sculpture was of particular significance to Duncan's approach to the body. Of the dancing Maenad in the Berlin Museum, Duncan demanded that dance critics acknowledge the fact she "wears neither corset nor tights, and her bare feet rest freely in her sandals" (Duncan "Letter to the Berlin Morgen Post" 1981: 34). We can, of course, criticize her statement that the body is not materialized through dress, as her entire project consisted of a re-materialization of the body through the performance of a more loosely clothed body. We locate in this statement a repetitive fixity upon the ballerina's foot despite the fact Duncan seeks to escape it. Since Duncan, feminists have persistently stressed that ballet slippers are tools of torture designed (by men) to fetishize the dancer as nymph while debilitating her in the process. In 2001 Gerri Reaves draws the same parallels between X-rays of bound Chinese women's feet and an X-ray of a ballerina's foot en pointe (Figure 2). Thus, the dichotomy between Duncan and ballet continues to be left unchallenged, as does her tenuous argument that ballet deforms the body (Reaves 2001: 253). The fact that foot-binding breaks and deforms the toes, which Reaves' X-rays show, causing a severe restriction of movement is quite different, I would argue, from the ballerina's support of her body weight upon her toes, such that her feet are strengthened. Ballet's increased potentiality for movement is often passed over when set in opposition to Duncan's barefoot dancing, in favor of simple readings that leave the materiality of the "freer" dancing body un-theorized. Close attention to the X-rays shows that, in fact, they are quite different. Although ballet does indeed have very specific effects upon the feet (one would argue so does the wearing of modern shoes), those effects can potentially be reversed over time, whereas foot binding is permanent.

<12> Duncan's severe analogy of ballet with foot binding was inscribed with certain racist discourses of an uncivilized and impure Far East. On this point, Duncan is not easily aligned with Maud Allan who capitalized upon Western culture's eroticization of the East in her Salomé dance of 1908 [3]. Duncan's appeal to a universal, trans-historical, aesthetic ideal of female beauty in the form of the Venus de Milo, negates her own very culturally specific enterprise. Neither does it take account of the Venus de Milo's body. Anyone who has seen the statue will note that she appears twisted and contorted as if she has been caught short? A.W. Lawrence notes the statue is in a "peculiarly contorted attitude," her "face has been cut with a fifth century severity," her body "has been placed in a later and more complex attitude," and her "popularity may be further due to the supple and twisted pose" (Lawrence 1972: 237). It is this contradiction between flexibility and deformity, apparent in the Venus de Milo's body as she endeavours to hang on to her drapes while armless, that is important for re-membering the contortions that Duncan made invisible in her discourses of beauty. As a twisted sister, Venus suggests a turning upon Duncan's feminist discourse and recognizes the flexibility and contortion of the ballerina's body. That Duncan's body never achieved sameness, always gaining and losing weight, and that her feet were inscribed with modernity's discourses recognizes her entrapment in culture's materialization of the body. Consequently, in the context of a feminist disavowal of restrictive practices, Duncan's attack on Chinese practices serves to legitimate her profoundly American dance.

<13> Sigmund Freud's reference to such practices would also outrage contemporary feminists. "[T]he Chinese custom of mutilating the female foot and the revering it like a fetish after it has been mutilated" is "as though the Chinese male wants to thank the woman for having submitted to being castrated" (Freud 1964:157). Neither Duncan nor Freud takes into account a controversial desire for bound feet or that one may feel a sense of empowerment from undergoing a deformative procedure. After all, ballet's use of point shoes is not intended to cripple the dancer's feet and neither did Duncan's dance fully escape balletic lines. The complexity surrounding the liberation felt by the ballerina despite her damaged feet has much in common with amputation fetishes or body dysmorphia. It would be unwise to conclude that the rare cases of body dysmorphics that seek out amputation of a limb are engaging in a sexual fetishism. The recent media attention upon operations performed at a hospital in Scotland suggest that individuals who are strongly compelled to lose a leg feel a sense of liberation and freedom as amputees they were never able to achieve with whole bodies. This challenges Duncan's discourse on beauty and women's liberation from body modification and asks us to rethink the relationship between identity, freedom and normative discourses of the body.

<14> Therefore, perhaps making the foot ugly and disdainful is in proportion to its seductiveness, as Georges Bataille suggests throughout "The Big Toe" (1986). Duncan's association of ballet with ugliness works in the sense that she taps into a general debasement of the foot which is in accord with Bataille's belief that "[t]he human foot is commonly subjected to grotesque tortures that deform it and make it rickety. In an imbecilic way it is doomed to corns, calluses, and bunions" (Bataille 1986: 21). However, Duncan's desire to simultaneously get her feet dirty and to signify them as moral and virtuous problematizes the cultural codification of bare feet.

<15> In terms of dance movement, Duncan's un-balletic foot may have gained her expressive freedom but she forfeited swift accuracy of movement. As Rainer Heppenstall maintains, "[i]f you want precision, speed and beautiful line -- which is to say, if you will have dancing -- then you must get it through all the rigors of the classical Ballet technique" (Heppenstall 1983: 285). Despite the unfairness of Heppenstall's dismissal of Duncan he does make a valid point about being en pointe. For him "human bodies should sweat and ache, in the Classroom, and even become, for ordinary human purposes, constricted, reduced, perhaps, even ugly, so long as movement in the Theatre is more beautiful, sheer and compulsive" (Heppenstall 1983: 282). Heppenstall's privileging of ballet as Superhuman, effects a reading of the dance form in terms of its heavenly aspirations, an aspect Duncan sought to undermine through her feet, but he also suggests a certain freedom of movement in ballet that Duncan never mastered. Which is not to say that Duncan did not also present another kind of freedom. It cannot be denied that the confinement of the feet in ballet shoes results in a mobilization of the body beyond ordinary limits of speed, pushing it further and faster than barefoot dancing was ever able to achieve. Thus, a simple opposition of Duncan dance as free and ballet as akin to Chinese foot binding does not hold.

<16> Once we admit to a certain liberation of the body within ballet's "lines of flight" (re-signifying a term from Deleuze and Guattari [1987]) we should also bear witness to a particular deformation of the foot contained within Duncan's dance. Not simply, as I have been arguing, that her dance was never free from ballet but more directly through the wounded heel that provided the basis upon which the Duncan repertoire was built. Due to Duncan's long and sustained tours and projects in various countries Duncan's sister Elizabeth mostly ran the School for Life she established to train and educate girls. It is her authoritative versions of Duncan's dance that have been largely passed on. Of Duncan's sister Elizabeth, Maria Theresa writes of her methodological approach to dance: "[l]ong before anyone else had done it, Elizabeth did it. In this way, the dances which Isadora taught us, Elizabeth caught on paper." However, Maria Theresa adds, "[o]f course, Elizabeth could not dance. She had a slight limp. She never got up to demonstrate." Therefore, the textuality of Duncan's dance resides in a defective foot, and it is clear that Elizabeth compensated for her disability through a combination of language and hand gesture: "She would move her hands when she explained the movements" (Duncan 1976 quoted in Bardsley 1979: 232-3).

Figure 3: Vanity Fair, January 1987, p. 36 relives its December 1922 issue.
(The Isadora Duncan Collection, Performing Arts Library and Museum, San Francisco.)

<17> Contrary to Elizabeth's use of language, Debra Goldman argues that Duncan was unable to record her own movements because such words that seek to distil her contribution to dance would constrain her body, for "[s]he could no more compartmentalize the components of her art than she could perform onstage in a thin tunic and bare feet and then put on a corset afterwards" (Goldman 1977-8: 40). As a counterpoint, it is "revealing" to remember the 1922 Vanity Fair photograph of Duncan wrapped in so many layers of clothing (perhaps there is a corset underneath for this appears to be a very different presentation) that only two thirds of her face is visible (Figure 3). The significance of this image lies in its concealment of her body under heavy folds of material. Do these contradict the transparency of her body's meaning that she sought to convey? Is this an example of false consciousness or did Duncan actively seek out alternative representations of female beauty? The image shows that Duncan was not always dressed anachronistically, that she too invested her image with the current fashions. Consequently, it is important to recognize that Duncan's image of diaphanous tunics and bare feet was entirely constructed. That Duncan sought wholeness, but was undermined by Elizabeth's lack of wholeness, allows for a certain deconstruction of ballet and "free" dance that has ramifications for the modern dance archive and representations of the liberated female body.

<18> Consequently, ballet (deformity) and Duncan dance (wholeness) cannot be so simplistically separated. In an imagined conversation Duncan gives a clue as to how the non-normative dancing body she guarded her art against haunted her movements:

Terpsichore: "And -- she calls that dancing! Why her feet move more like the lazy steps of a deranged turtle"
Duncan: "O ye immortal Gods, who dwell on high Olympus and live on Ambrosia and Honey-Cakes and pay no studio rent nor baker's bills thereof, do not judge me so scornfully [. . .] I have thrown aside my sandals that my feet may touch your life-giving Earth more reverently and I have had your sacred Hymn sung before the present day Barbarians and I have made them listen and find it good." (Duncan 1909: 19).

Ironically all that barefoot dancing probably produced the kind of calloused feet we are used to seeing in turtles. Furthermore, to be "deranged" is in fact one of the most accurate descriptions of Duncan's dance. While the connections between dance and hysteria were never far from Duncan's performances, so too, her re-choreographing of femininity was about disturbing the order and arrangement of the body in space, throwing the ballet into disorder. Thus, in Duncan's perception of Terpsichore's criticism there is an admittance of a certain damage done to her "natural" feet and recognition that the rows and lines of ballet (derange comes from Old French "desrengier," and "reng" means row) are not eradicated but disordered.

<19> To counteract her imaginary critics, who expose her as a deranged and disordered dancer, Duncan celebrated the revelation of the foundational foot. Yet Duncan's exposure of her feet was an act of immodesty as well as an attempt to bring them new aesthetic status. In an article in the Observer dated 12th July 1908, Austin Harrison described the "whole artistic world la[id] at her feet" and the dancing of "The Isadorables" as testimony to the naturalness of Duncan's teaching: "There is not one awkward action with either hands or feet. They come on like rippling light tossed waves" (quoted in Bardsley 1979: 241). Clearly, Duncan's feet cannot be easily pinned down. Does not the fetishism attached to her feet and the strong reactions from critics concerning moral decency indicate a deliberate seduction on the part of Duncan? Feet and femininity are often collapsed, and the degree of contrast between the exposed and shoed foot is a determining factor in the sexualization of women. Thus, was Duncan so acutely aware of the odiousness attached to feet throughout many cultures that she too despaired of claiming virtue of their bareness? Did her flattened feet perform a direct opposition to the balletic grand narratives of ascendancy and if so did her flat-footedness obviate the possibility of lightness in her dancing? Bearing in mind that Duncan's freeing of the foot from ballet shoes consecrated a further reformation of the foot on moral grounds, how far did she reify dominant discourses concerning their indecency?

<20> Duncan went to great pains to justify the exposure of her feet, for when an audience member did not agree that the bare foot was beautiful, Duncan replied, "Madam, [. . .] the expression and intelligence of the human foot is one of the greatest triumphs of the evolution of man. [. . .] I refer you to my most revered teachers, Mr. Charles Darwin and Mr. Ernst Haeckel" (Duncan 1983: 262). Even today a sharp distinction is maintained between Duncan's feet and those of the ballerina, and the differences between the two dance forms are rested upon them. Annabelle Gamson, a soloist dancer who recreates many Duncan dances, states that the "attention given to the foot is very Isadorian":

The heel touching the ground is what gives the foot its human quality. All those Greek statues of young women adjusting their sandals draw attention to the heel. Isadora released the foot from its bindings (the point slipper), giving the naked foot back to the leg. And in focussing on the heel and away from the forced point, she accented the descent -- the moment of repose. This is a very humanistic concern (Gamson 1997-8: 50).

Gamson suggests that ballet's deprecation of the heel is an attempt to make sameness of the leg wherein the foot becomes a pointed extension in order to circumvent the dancer's rootedness to the ground, and this theory still pervades our ideas of ballet. Writing about point slippers, Gerri Reaves states that in their "shape, flexibility, material, and, often color, the shoe's purpose is to disappear -- to cloak and render invisible the body part it enfolds, protects, and extends. Ballet at its best deceives us. The slipper slips; it lies. The body's integration of the slipper and the resulting unfragmented dancer's line [. . .] ironically are dependent on the shoe's invisibility, even disintegration" (Reaves 2001: 252). Thus Duncan's exposure of her feet has been seen as a making visible what was once invisible even though the stress upon their whiteness could be said to make them invisible again. However, it should be remembered that in practice the distinction between Duncanesque feet and balletic feet does not easily hold because in the years since Duncan's emphasis upon revealing the foot, ballet has combined with her ideas to distinguish the foot's flatness and the dancer's gravity. Further, if as Reaves argues, the ballet slipper is meant to be a performance of the 'natural' then surely there is a case for hypothesising that Duncan's feet can be read as a performance of the "unnatural"?

<21> Duncan's discourse on flattened feet substantiates Georges Bataille's cultural theory of the big toe as "the most human part of the human body" because unlike the extended toe in apes, the big toe "is applied to the ground on the same plane as the other toes" (Bataille 1986: 20). Although Duncan was concerned with emphasising the heel, Bataille suggests that the big toe's groundedness and its close association with the earth contrasts with the desire for elevation and so leads to the foot's general debasement. "Man's secret terror of his foot is one of the explanations for the tendency to conceal its length and form as much as possible. Heels of greater or lesser height, depending on the sex, distract from the foot's low and flat character" (Bataille 1986: 21). The fact that a ballerina, en pointe, rests her whole body weight upon the big toe corroborates Bataille's argument, but it also gives a certain strength and emphasis to the big toe that he himself substantiated. The Surrealist photos of big toes, which interrupt Bataille's text, supplementing it like footnotes, are redolent with a certain phallicization and fetishization of the big toe that is evident in culture [4].

<22> Clearly, all toes are not equal and the big toe literally sticks or projects out of Bataille's text and performs his contention that the big toe is phallic. The Surrealist photos further fragment the body and pivot the foot's sexualization and debasement upon this protruding toe. This is a close-up of the body that confirms Maureen Turim's insight into cinematic close-ups of shoes. Shoes are linked "by association to the bare foot or big toe" and they ground "filmic enunciation in the earthy and the sexual, encouraging spectatorial participation in shoe fetishism. The close-up can give us shoes that stand in for the body, but it almost always charges them with excess and supplementarity" (Turim 2001: 63). However, the close-up of film may not wish to get too close. In the recent film comedy Shallow Hal (Farrelly Bros. 2002), which explores the excesses of the female body and the tensions between image and identity, the protagonist's confidant is distressed and threatened by his girlfriend's second toe that even protrudes beyond her already phallicized big toe. This is a side of this beautiful woman's body he finds inimical to representations of femininity.

<23> I would argue that despite Duncan's refusal to be filmed she was engaged in a projection of the foot, and a close-up of it, as metonymically standing in for her dancing body. Her feet were both necessary and excessive, articulating Derrida's concept of the "dangerous supplement" of writing, and attempted to re-write and make present femininity. However, the supplement both "adds itself, it is surplus" and "supplements. It adds only to replace" says Derrida, and this recognizes that Duncan's body was both necessary to and in excess of the discourse of modern dance (Derrida 1974: 144-5). Moreover, if we imagine Duncan's feet in terms of supplementarity, always bearing in mind the excess of the foot in terms of cinematic close-up, then we operate a reading strategy that allows a contradictory movement of both sameness and difference between signification and dance.

<24> Duncan's "podo-linguistics" (a term used by William A. Rossi in The Sex Life of the Foot and Shoe [1989: 32]) could be described as supplemental to the "deficiency and infirmity" of speech, even though, I have argued, deficiency and infirmity paradoxically marked her dancing (Derrida 1974: 144). To speak about Duncan dancing, is not simply a deficient coding of her body on infirm grounds but is a re-inscription of balletic language with all its perceived deficiency and infirmity back into her dance. The logic of supplementarity does not give us the actual experience of the position of "woman" or for that matter the liveness of the performance, only the representation of the experience. What is the position of woman? Can she stand on her own two feet? That Bataille draws attention to the circumscription of feet as lowly implies that attention to the horizontal plane might yield certain insights into Duncan's "derangement" of "woman." Duncan's accentuation of the foot's flatness and contact with the ground was further emphasized by her love of dancing on lawns in order to feel the earth between her toes. Significantly, Bataille's essay claims that the ideal foot is also one that derives "its sacrilegious charm from deformed and muddy feet" even if man despises the fact that his foot is in the mud (Bataille 1986: 23, 20).

<25> If, as Bataille argues, there is a dichotomization of head equals clean light, feet equal dirty darkness then does not Duncan's podo-linguistics perform a challenge to modernist discourses that privileged illuminated clarity in dance (for example Loïe Fuller)? It is interesting to read Rosalind Krauss's interpretation of Bataille's text in the context of Duncan's re-orientation of the dancing body. "In the anatomical geography of Bataille's thought the vertical axis emblematizes man's pretensions toward the elevated, the spiritual, the ideal" and Bataille "insists on the presence -- behind the repressive assumptions of verticality -- of lowness as the real source of libidinal energy. Lowness here is both an axis and a direction, the horizontality of the mud of the real" (Krauss 1985: 80) [5]. It would be tempting to simply conclude that Duncan danced on a horizontal axis in opposition to ballet's vertical one; however, I have been complicating such a binary, just as Bataille seeks to deconstruct heads and feet, elevation and groundedness.

<26> Duncan's application to naturalness was undermined by the political importance of her feet as beautiful extensions of an American landscape: rooted in the land, supple, highly evolved, strong and adventurous. She trod a fine line that exposed the contradictory coding of women's feet, causing uneasiness in the audience that was adept at mythologising her as clean and white, when in reality her feet must have been quite dirty. Critics were quick to stress the purity of her naked feet and put paid to associations of Duncan's feet with dirt, dust and debris. "For though Miss Duncan be bare of feet and legs, of arms and shoulders, there is in her and in all that she does a pervading suggestion of chastity and of a singular and virginal innocence" (H.T. Parker 1982: 58). Likewise, André Levinson records that "she walked the bare stage barefoot, naked herself beneath her silk tunic (the inevitable concession to decency). Certainly she deplored hypocritical constraint. [. . .] Her bare soles trod virgin ground from the outset" (Levinson 1977-8b: 16). Countering the anxiety that Bataille describes, it was important that Duncan's feet maintain decency if the baseness of the foot's sensuality was to be kept at bay. Bataille argues that whether or not the foot is deformed is inconsequential as feet are always encoded with baseness and ignominy. The seductiveness of the big toe is in direct proportion to "the ugliness and infection represented by the baseness of the foot, in practice by the most deformed feet" (Bataille 1986: 23).

<27> A close-up on Duncan's feet, their sensual nakedness, their fetishism, their virginity, their ignominy and yet their promotion of evolution, meant that they were inscribed with conflicting discourses of beauty and deformity that ambiguously materialized them. Such ambiguity suggests the conflict of axes integral to Bataille's "anatomical geography" and is most evident in Levinson's statement: "Rather than voluptuousness, there was something ascetic, almost monkish, in Isadora's feet dirtied by the dust of the stage, flattened and deformed by rough contact with the floor" (Levinson 1977-8b: 19). Thus, Duncan was still unable to escape that concept of deformation she relegated to the balletic foot, suggesting that there is no such thing as an entirely free and natural pedic form in dance nor is ballet a prison of false-consciousness. Bodies are never excluded from a process of materialization and cultural construction. When we consider the physiological effect a lifetime of ballet choreography has upon the ballerina's everyday movements, forever walking, standing and climbing stairs in that idiosyncratic splayed fashion then we can challenge the notion that dance is a play of fictions, a form of virtual gesture, under which is an unconstructed materiality. Such a dichotomy of natural/material versus artificial/virtual, carved out for the sake of understanding dance does not always hold. The simple reason being that there are those ballerinas with inadequate arches who recover an accentuated foot through prostheses under their flesh-colored tights. Ironically, they are considered fakes and illusionists, while those with physiologically modified feet are the natural and the authentic. This example, alone, challenges Duncan's simple opposition between natural dance and artificial dance [6].

<28> Silicone prostheses (predominantly used in breast enhancement) attest to the foot fetishism inherent in all forms of dance [7]. Neither was Duncan a stranger to such eroticism. I do not dispute that she drew attention to a less contrived foot through barefoot dancing, but to argue that ballerinas are always en pointe when in fact much of their movement re-emphasizes the groundedness of the flat foot by virtue of the pointedness, simply binarizes ballet and free dance. It ignores those moments in ballet when walking, running and striking the ground with the flat of the foot occur, and it negates the possibility of Duncan raising and lightening her body despite her lack of pointe shoes. There is some merit to the argument that ballet shoes extend the length of the leg into a pointed tip, but there has been a phallocentric application of that tip that ignores a ballerina's flat-footedness.

<29> In conclusion, Duncan's exposition of the importance of feet for shaping the space in which a female artist moves actually legitimizes foot fetishism as an important textualization of the body and its codification of woman. Understanding her dance has rested upon a binary that relegates ballet to a position of abjection, impurity and ugliness. However, from Hans Christian Andersen's The Red Shoes to the liberation felt by body dysmorphics post-amputation, there is some merit in the argument that severe modification of the foot, coupled with a desire for awkward footwear engenders a peculiar sense of freedom. Anyone who witnessed the Montreal company La La La Human Steps, dazzling world wide audiences with their dance Salt in 1999-2000, will know that there is a fast and furious corporeal message emitted from the ballerina's pointe shoes. This message would challenge Duncan's claim that female beauty and freedom can only be grounded on unmodified, bare feet. Duncan added footnotes to ballet: extending the disciplinary boundaries of dance, overrunning the text of femininity and overstepping the marks made by pointe shoes. I would argue that ballet continues to add footnotes to the modern dance archive, making combinations with free dance that move female bodies beyond certain limits. This is about bringing ballet and Duncan closer together through recognising the powerful materialising effects of culture and language upon all bodies, rather than keeping them apart under the illusion that some bodies are more culturally constructed than others.


[1] The following is taken from a letter dated 21 October 1999 written by Mary Sano. It accompanied an invitation to all friends of Duncan dancing to attend a celebration dedicated to the memory of Mignon Garland, a Duncan dancer who founded the Isadora Duncan Heritage Society (author's collection). "Some things in nature, like small rounded stones on the beach, make me think of dancing. This harmonious rounded stone is not possible to create or reproduce artificially. Each stone has its own unique shape and history. It looks so simple, yet so perfect and natural. In Duncan dancing, I find all these qualities in each movement and dancer. In order to master this natural dancer form, we need to discover the movement which we already have in our bodies, and to not try to invent new steps." [^]

[2] Clearly, Duncan dance intersected with ideas in Russian ballet that was to effect Fokine and Diaghilev's transformation of the Ballet Russes. [^]

[3] Janet Lyon combines the projects of Loïe Fuller, Isadora Duncan and Maud Allan as pioneers of barefoot dancing without attention to the racism and primitivism that divides them (Lyon 2001:276). [^]

[4] These are reproduced inside another edition of Bataille's text. See Bataille 1995: 87 - 93. [^]

[5] Krauss uses the hairier Boiffard toe image for the cover of her book and again on page 100. She reads Bataille's text but, oddly, not the images apart from a passing comment that they are "still straight," p. 101. [^]

[6] This information came to me as a surprise during a BBC Omnibus documentary "Jennifer Saunders at the Barre" screened in early 2000. During the episode one ballerina stated that one of the most significant aspects in auditioning was the accentuation of the arches and revealed that those ballerinas who felt inadequate in this respect often placed silicone in their tights in order to deceive the casting directors so as to secure a job. [^]

[7] Particularly in ballet when we witness the sur le coup de pied movement of caressing the ankle with the other foot as if it were the neck of a lover. [^]

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