“Tight Class” to Teach Unconscious Grace: 1888

delsarte dancers

The Latest “Fad”

A new Boston cult that is just making its appearance here is what is called a “tight class,” which has no reference whatever to the effects of alcohol. These classes are trained by a young woman, who is the exponent of the Delsarte theory in America, and who has been through a course of training under Mlle. Delsarte in Paris. The theory is that as the whole body is but an instrument of the mind every part and member needs to be trained to the most perfect freedom. Not one person in a hundred can make a gesture with the unconscious grace of a child or an animal for “the simple reason that an arbitrary volition is so impacted in each muscle that one controls every sinew artificially without knowing it.” The idea of these “tight classes” is to break up this artificial control, and they derive the name from the fact that they wear tights while practicing, which is done under the eye of the young female exponent of the art.

Miss Stebbins has trained hospital nurses who declare that they have gained such suppleness of movement and control of their bodies that they are far more efficient and can do their work with much less fatigue to themselves. But, as usual, the society girls in Boston were the ones who devoted themselves to this new art. They have no end of time and money to throw away, and must have something new to amuse themselves with.

So they have donned the close-fitting costume, and “unconscious grace,” “leopard movements” and “panther freedom” are the very latest necessity to any young woman who objects to considering herself a contemporary of Adam. The effect is very interesting. At balls or receptions at the Hub, the free play of movement among the young women results in the most enchanting poses, and fills the stranger female with despairing envy. It is through the reports of these that the idea made its way to New York, and it is now in order for the “lithe, savage stride” and the “artless freedom” to make its appearance on the avenues on sunny afternoons. There is also a young woman, a professor of elocution, who advertises as her specialty the teaching of the “Bobolink Warble” and “Baby Cries,” so when the young woman of the present day comes completed from the hands of the various teachers she ought to be ready for anything.

Oregonian [Portland, OR] 12 April 1888: p. 6

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: François Delsarte was a musician and teacher who tried to replace the stereotyped acting and gestures of the French stage with real human emotion and movement: the so-called “Delsarte Method.”  It became popular in America in connection with rhythmic dance and gymnastics—ideas utterly foreign to Delsarte’s original conceptions. The Mlle. Delsarte referred to in the article above is probably Delsarte’s eldest daughter, Marie, who was mentioned in the 1892 press as arriving in the United States to “unteach false notions,” possibly those such as were taught by Miss Stebbins. Genevieve Stebbins studied with Delsarte’s protégé, American actor James Steele MacKaye, wrote  books on physical culture, and opened Delsarte schools in Boston and New York. Her work inspired Isadora Duncan and the modern dance movement.  Mrs Daffodil feels that Stebbins has much to answer for.

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2 thoughts on ““Tight Class” to Teach Unconscious Grace: 1888

  1. Joe Williams

    Hi, Mrs Daffodil. My name is Joe Williams, and I have some research that is valuable to this subject. Delsarte is my specialty. There were quite a few misconceptions about the arrival of Delsarte’s daughter, and what she had expressed as teachings different from her father. Those misconceptions have been passed along across a few generations of researchers, so have become part to the traditional knowledge, unfortunately. The word gymnastic did not mean only athletic activities or tumbling in that day, but was a word that covered any form intentional “exercise”, and so the Delsarte Gymnastics were the same exercises that Delsarte taught to relax and free the body for expression. in January of 1894, the Rev. William Rounseville Alger wrote for Werner’s magazine, this paragraph, part of a much larger essay on the origin of the “Delsarte Gymnastics.” Alger was one of the first students of Steele Mackaye upon returning to the US after studying with Delsarte, and was one of the first proponents of the system. — “When Mme. Geraldy denied that her father taught gymnastics, her meaning was that he did not teach any of those coarse and violent exercises usually employed in a gymnasium to develop the muscular system. Mr. P. W. Adams, who was sent to New York to interview her for a Boston newspaper, when she asserted that her father did not teach gymnastics, said to her: “But when a pupil came to him whose organism was stiff and unyielding, did he not prescribe for that pupil certain very fine and exact movements, for the purpose of freeing and preparing the instrument of expression?” She replied, “Oh, yes; certainly he did.” Well, that is precisely what is meant by “aesthetic gymnastics.” And so there is no real, only a seeming, difference between Mme. Geraldy and myself on this point. Delsarte was not the director of a gymnasium. But he was an artistic teacher of artists, and he devised an artistic set of exercises for perfecting the condition of the body as an instrument of artistic expression. Mrs. Stebbins herself, in her little book entitled ” Society Gymnastics,” categorically says, “Delsarte instituted a system of relaxing exercises and a system of energizing exercises” to free the parts of the body and perfect its integral action. Her whole book is a concise and lucid exposition of these exercises and their influence. Herein she states exactly the truth, and it unquestion ably establishes my original assertion. “

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