VI. Some Kinetoscopic Dance Films
An example of Victorian soft-core, & the "peep show" value of the kinetoscope cinema, is James H. White directing & William Heise filming Fatima's Couchee-Couchee Dance also known as Fatima, Muscle Dance (1896).
The "muscle dance" doesn't really mean that she looked like a bodybuilder; it was only that the term "bellydancer" had not yet been coined & "muscle dance" was one of the first terms to distinguish this Turkic-inspired dance. The backdrop provided for her dance, with castenets, seems inappropriate, evoking a farm yard.
In retrospect Fatima Djemille would be credited as America's first popular bellydancer. She came to world fame at the Columbia World's Exposition in Chicago in 1893. Fatima's Couchee-Couchee Dance was her first film, today famed as perhaps the first film to be censored with blind-out tags to cover body parts, done by a censorship committee in Chicago in 1907.
This film is also known as Fatima, Muscle Dancer, or by the shortened title Couchie Dancer, which gets it confused with her two later films.
She reprises her performance for American Mutoscope in Fatima (1897) much later known as Fatima's Belly Dance, filmed at Coney Island where she performed for years.
This was a "wilder" version which induced censors to insert a picket fence to hide part of her body, making it presumedly the first film in history to be censored. She reprised her dance again for Lubin in Fatima, Couchie Dancer (1903).
Precursor to the tango, the "French apache dance" was a sadomasochistic love-dance popular in the genuinely dangerous Bowery dance halls.
In A Tough Dance (1902) we see a couple who billed themselves as "Kid Foley & Sailor Lil."
They dressed in "fashionable rags" to convey the down & out nature of the lives of apache dancers.
Their performance ends with the dancers in close embrace falling to the floor & doing barrel-roles to the front of the set.
Fougere (1899, but copyright 1902) stars vaudevillian Eugenie Fougere, a comic dancer.
She prances center stage in front of a backdrop that looks like like a ceiling of clouds but is probably supposed to be breakers, & her skirt-lifted prance is supposed to look like she plashing through the waves as they crash upon the shore.
She hops about, apparently blown by a wind, making sure to show plenty of her undies as she skips away like a retard.
Essentially this is a couchie-couchie dance posing as comedy. Unless, gods preserve us, Eugenie thought she could really dance!
A Nymph of the Waves (1900, but copyright 1903) is one of the more unusual dance films of the era, combined with the genre of trick film.
Dancing & whirling goes the lady in the long skirts, very sexy & frolicsome, momentarily on tippy-toes -- all done atop the waves by means of a double exposure.
The dancer is vaudeville performer Catharina Bartho. The film was created from the footage of an earlier film, Mlle Caterina Bartho (1899) documenting the dancer's "speedway dance" performed at Victoria Roof Garden, New York.
She makes sure to show a lot of leg & a garter from under her flouncy dress, as after all it's essentially burlesque.
The dance film was double-exposed with a second even earlier film, William K. L. Dickson's Upper Rapids from Bridge (1896) shot at Niagara Falls. The combined result is regarded as one of the earliest works avante gard cinema.
A Boston-born bellydancer stars in the similar Turkish Dance, Ella Lola (1898), a three-minute peep show anonymously filmed, in imitation of Fatima's couchee-couchee dance at Coney Island.
Her talents are limited to twirling, so her skirt rises up, & it's easy to imagine she started this act at home for mom & dad when she was four years old, & really never got any better even though she made a long career of it.
The same burlesque dancer stars in Ella Lola, a la Trilby (1898), preposterously pretending to be a literary adaptation from the fantasy novel of hypnotism by George du Maurier Trilby (1894), via stage melodramas about the titular young beauty Trilby falling into the power of the hypnotist Svengali.
No context for this association is actually provided; it's just hooch dance by Ella Lola, kicking up her legs can-can style, showing the full length of leg from under her voluminous costume.
It's a pretty sexy dance really, at under a minute, & by pretending she's hypnotized it's possible to fantasize that she's a sweet innocent thing rather than a couchie-couchie dancer whose performed burlesque for a living.
Also anonymously directed is Karina (1902), less than half a minute of a vaudeville can-can dancer. She's shown in voluminous skirt hanging to the floor, which she often lifts to reveal her legs & much more in bodysock.
Dance, Franchonetti Sisters (1897) immortalized another three vaudeville gals, obviously not trained as dancers though manic enough to be entertaining.
The Franchonettis wear frilly knee-length dresses & kick up their legs head-high, turn sommersaults, do the splits, & clunk around like clutzy children, concluding with ring-around-the-rosies set of can-can high-kicks showing plenty of pantaloon.
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