Tag Archives: gymnastics

“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.