Art History, Artists, Dancers

The Serpentine Dance and Loïe Fuller

The Serpentine Dance is a form of dance that was very popular in Europe and in the United States during the 1890s, it was a staple of shows and early films.

This dance is an evolution of the burlesque skirt dance. The skirt dance was a reaction against the “academic” forms of ballet by incorporating versions of folk dances like can-can.

Photo credit: Dance Heritage Coalition

The new Serpentine Dance was originated by American dancer Loïe Fuller, who have never danced professionally. She discovered, by accident, the effects of stage light cast from different angles on the gauze fabric of a costume she had assembled for her performance in the play Quack M.D., and developed the new form in response to the audience’s enthusiastic reaction. During the dance, she held her skirt with the hands and waved it around revealing her from the inside.

The Serpentine Dance was a very frequent subject of early motion pictures. There are two particularly well-known versions. 1) Annabelle Serpentine Dance of 1894, is a performance by Broadway dancer Annabelle Whitford from Edison Studios. 2) Lumière brothers film made in 1896 is a performance by Loïe Fuller (below).

Resurgence of public interest

    • Electric Salome is Rhonda K. Garelick’s study of 2009 which demonstrates her centrality not only to dance, but also modernist performance.
    • In 1997, Marcia and Richard Current published a biography entitled Loïe Fuller, Goddess of Light.
    • The philosopher Jacques Rancière devoted a chapter of Aesthesis (his history of modern aesthethics) to her.
    • Stéphanie de Giusto directed the movie La Danseuse (2016) about the life of Loïe Fuller, with the actresses Soko as Loïe and Lily-Rose Depp as Isadora Duncan.
    • Fifteen years of my life is Fuller’s autobiographical memoir, published in English by H. Jenkins (London) in 1913.


  • Her dance attracted the attention and the respect of many French artists as Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Auguste Rodin, Stéphane Mallarmé and even of some scientists as Marie Curie.
  • She supported other pioneering performances as Isadora Duncan.

    Fuller painted by Toulouse Lautrec. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


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