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Paris Tips: Embracing Dance at the Cimetière de Montmartre

“As the Petals” by Lazell, 1916 (Inspired by Loïe Fuller and Isadora Duncan) Photos by Theadora Brack

Dalida bust by sculptor and pinup artist Alain Aslan (1997)

By Theadora Brack

Celebrating the upcoming rhythmic gymnastics at the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, here is a dance-related walking tour in Paris, with just a dash of  gossip for fun. Cendrillon, grab your slippers, veils, and tutus because this week we’re headed to a fête with a twist in the Cimetière de Montmartre. Follow my lead!

1. Dalida (18th Division)

On May 3, 1987, Yolanda Gigliotti, better known as pop idol Dalida (the female Elvis of France), took a handful of pills, put on her sunglasses and “left our world for another,” as the official fan website puts it. Try listening to her catchy “Itsy Bitsy Petit Bikini” song without dancing, singing along, and then hitting repeat. I’ve tried but no can do.

In addition to her grave, Dalida’s house is located at the end of rue d’Orchampt, while her bust is at the tip of rues Girardon and Abreuvoir in Montmartre. Pilgrims still visit all three shrines. Katy Perry’s fireworks got nothing on you, Dalida!

2. Louise Weber (31st division)

Famed terpsichorean Louise Weber, a.k.a. La Goulue (the Glutton) was Queen of the Can Can and a favorite muse of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. She earned her moniker for nipping drinks from her audience while distracting them with her pantaloons and little pet goat. “When I see my behind in these paintings, I find it beautiful!” she once quipped.

Dancers from all over the world leave their ballet slippers at Marie Taglioni’s Shrine,  Cimetière de Montmartre

3. The Vestris Family (5th division)

Dance master for Louis XVI, Gaétan Vestris was first to drop the mask during performances, and rely on expressive good looks alone. Vanity-inspired innovation, perhaps?  “There are but three great men in Europe—the king of Prussia, Voltaire and I,” was his favorite boast.

Fast forward: His son Auguste Vestris held court at the Paris Opera for decades, where he busted a sissonne (flying) move and made the people-pleasing gavotte his own. Even dancing queen Marie Antoinette was a fan!

4. Marie Taglioni (22nd division)

Marie Taglioni’s appearance in her father’s “La Sylphide” marked the arrival of the Romantics. Though she wasn’t the first to dance en pointe or don the muslin skirt (skimming the ankle much to the delight of every binocular-carrying fan!), she’s the one who made it her own. “Shorten your dress just a  little,” begged one admirer, according to a newspaper report in 1884.

Taglioni’s popularity launched her name into the lingo: the verb Taglioniser (to be slender and graceful). And most coveted coiffeur? À la syphide!

Vaslav Nijinsky at the Cimetière de Montmartre

5. Emma Livry (22nd division)

Though limelight stage lighting had the advantage of being a lot brighter than oil, it still wasn’t hazard-free. Taglioni protégé Emma Livry refused to soak her gauzy costume in fire-proofing because she abhorred the discoloring and feared it would weigh her down, but then tripped over a light, and set herself on fire. And now here she is!

6. Fanny Cerrito (29th division)

Riots erupted in Milan when Fanny Cerrito took the stage to challenge rival Taglioni. According to her choreographer husband, Arthur Saint-Leon, Cerrito was clearly the winner. “Taglioni’s leg encompassed a great deal of attention, while Cerrito’s leg magnified excitement.” Oh, la la.

7. Paul Poiret (Intersection 8th 9th + 11th)

Courtier Paul Poiret (Le Magnifique) not only draped favorite client Isadora Duncan in diaphanous chitons made of Dijon-colored chiffon, but also performed with her at his infamous Ballets Russes-inspired tented backyard shindigs.

Edgar Degas at the Cimetière de Montmartre

8. Vaslav Nijinsky (22nd division)

“Our children would be dancing geniuses,” Isadora Duncan mused to Ballets Russes Vaslav Nijinsky by way of a marriage proposal. Unfortunately, he turned her down, because—rumor has it—he didn’t want his children dancing like her! When asked the secret to his airy, floating leaps, Nijinsky would say only, “You have just to go up and then pause a little up there.”

9. Edgar Degas (4th division)

“The dancer is an excuse to paint pretty fabric and depict movement,” wrote Edgar Degas, who painted his beloved petits rats (ballerinas in training) for nearly fifty years. “People call me the painter of dancers, but I really wish to capture movement itself.”

Dig Degas? Don’t leave Paris without a spin around the Musée d’Orsay. After touring the cemetery, hop on the “95” bus. You’ll find the bus stop on rue Damrémont, just around the corner from Dalida’s Bambino studio at 10 Rue Damrémont and Toulouse-Lautrec’s atelier at 7 rue Tourlaque.

Still feel like dancing?  At the Cimetière du Pere Lachaise, you’ll find still more: Jane Avril, Isadora Duncan, Loïe Fuller, Cléo de Mérode, and Alwin Nikolais (to name but a few) await you.

Keep on dancing and a-prancing!

Nuit d’Arlequin Parfum by Lorenzy-Palanca (1900) T. Brack’s collection

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44 thoughts on “Paris Tips: Embracing Dance at the Cimetière de Montmartre

    • What kind words!! Enjoy the trip preparation phase. It’s never too early to pack and create an agenda—in my book!! T. (Yes, add the Cimetière de Montmartre to your Paris list. For the love of Edith Piaf and Oscar Wilde, the Cimetière du Pere Lachaise is also worth a stroll. T.)

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  1. Merci, merci beaucoup pour ce tour merveilleux, Mlle Babs!!! I has a cassette of Dalida (alas, no longer, and no cassette deck, either) given me in 1982 by my cousin in Genova. She was wonderful!!!

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  2. Theadora, your posts are always so beautiful and so fascinating! Thank you for the lovely Parisian strolls and journeys. I love the old eau d’ toilette labels and advertisements, too. ~ Lily

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    • Lily, your words are always so thoughtful!! Thanks for that. Yes, I have a mad penchant for collecting old perfume bottles and labels. Especially the well-loved ones. It keeps growing by the day. If the price is right, I can’t resist. I’ve had to buy old display cabinets for the lovelies. Presentation is everything. Wink!! T. (Do you collect?)

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      • Theadora, I have only a few, so although I don’t collect, I appreciate. The ones I have are lovely. And yes, presentation is like attitude, isn’t it? : ) ~ Lily

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  3. Yes, fascinating for sure. And always and adventure. The photograph of the ballet slippers on the grave was especially poignant and beautiful. I will think about that image, long after my eyes leave the computer screen view. I appreciate your following, too.

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    • Thank you, Ruth!! As you know, I’m a fan of your photography. Your recent “Phantom’s Revenge Riders Fly Towards the Full Moon” shot was amazing!! Let’s not forget to pay homage to Flat Ruthie’s worldwide adventures. The posts make me smile every time. Bravo!! Theadora The first time I spotted the shoe shrine, I wept. And wept. I discovered Taglioni and Dalida on the same cold November day (All Saints Day). That was a great day.

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  4. My husband and I spent the better part of a day at this cemetery, enjoying all the magnificent tombs, the masses of flowers (it was springtime) and the many strolling and lolling cats, including one green-eyed minx on Hector Berlioz’s grave! Merci, Theodora!

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    • Thank you!! The Montmartre Cemetery cats are stunning, really. They’re so expressive. Of course, the cats would pick Hector Berlioz! Did you spot the little cat food boxes scattered throughout the cemetery? Maybe I’ll add a few cat shots to the post. Enjoy the weekend!! Theadora

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      • Non, I missed the cat food boxes! We will have to look for them on our next trip…Have a good weekend too!

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  5. I’ll be browsing tomorrow T an finalizing the list. We leave Sunday! We’ll be in your fair city Monday morning 🙂 Can’t wait! How is the weather?! So excited!

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    • Bon Voyage, Shira!! Enjoy the food markets. I’m looking forward to your reports. Don’t forget to pay homage to Julia Child at the kitchen-equipment specialist E. Dehillerin! It’s located at 18 Rue Coquillière (Métro: Les Halles). Julia’s photograph is behind the cash register. Enjoy! Enjoy! Enjoy! T.

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  6. you’re doing excellent work t. ……..i couldn’t return my emails right away…..there was something about texas that juiced my creativity….i recommend it.

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    • Thank you. You’ve been in a zone. Yesterday’s “Both Sides of a Dream” post was lovely. I especially loved your description of flying: “Last night I dreamt that I was flying through the air, high above the world, tangled and bound in a wrapping of shredded sheet music. Black chords, long stave’s and striped bars tripped off the pages left behind me like a ladder to nowhere; folded flying melodies unsung in the wake of my passing.” Beautiful. Haunting. T.

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  7. Offenbach’s can-can music is blasting the walls out! I’ve wearing every petticoat I’ve ever owned. Red satin ribbons fasten my dancing shoes fast to my twinkling toes. I’ve just read your post and I’m inspired to dance, dance, dance. Once again you’ve rocked my world Theadora. Tomorrow’s my birthday. Husband has asked me what I desire. “A trip to Paris to drink champagne with Theadora”. Virginia

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    • Dear Virginia, Bon Anniversaire!! Bon Anniversaire!! Ah, yes. What a wonderful thought. I just threw on Jacques Offenbach’s Can-Can on the Victrola and cranked up the volume. I’m now twirling, too. It’s now high time to pop open a bottle of bubbly and sing out a toast. Enjoy the day!! As always, thank you for the sharing your prose and enthusiasm. It’s contagious. It’s gift. Happy Birthday!! Big hugs, Theadora

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      • Thank you Theadora for the birthday wishes. It means a lot to me. Enormous bear hugs to You. Virginia

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  8. You continue to add to my collection of places to visit. I agree a stop at the Museum D’orsay is well worth it. as usual you bring your photographic eye to each adventure – a treat for us all

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    • Thank you, Thom!! I feel the same way about your FAB New York, New York site. I love your tours. Today’s nod to the American Museum of Natural History and Zabar’s was pretty darn terrific. Both are favorite spots. I love black and white cookies. Dangerous!! T.

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  9. I have recently become acquainted with Loie Fuller via a director’s cut of Top Hat with Fred and Ginger. What an amazing dancer and just a damn fascinating woman. I think there is a museum in southern Washington state or somewhere that has a permanent exhibit for her. Great post. I keep adding to my list of things to do in Paris.

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    • Thank you, Jill!! I’m with you. I’m a huge fan of Loie Fuller. Have you read Rhonda Garelick’s “Electric Salome” book? I highly recommend it! By the way, I really enjoyed your recent nod to Ginger Rogers, Top Hat, and Loie Fuller. Gorgeous post! So the “feather” dress is at the Smithsonian. Interesting!! I’ll have to visit. Enjoy the weekend, Theadora (Also, thanks for the museum tip. I’m off now to find it.)

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  10. Such a beautiful post! I did a mini-tour of the dance-related sights in Montmartre (except Dalida, I’ve always run out of time for her). It’s such an amazing way to tour that part of the city! On my last trip, I also visited the museum at the Opéra, and got to see the many beautiful paintings of dancers like Taglioni who made Paris and ballet synonymous for beauty and grace.

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    • Thanks for the Opéra tip!! That’s a great one. After visiting the Montmartre Cemetery, it’s then possible to take the “95” bus to the Opéra. It’s a straight and scenic shot. So keep your camera handy! Plus, Galeries Layfayette and Printemps are located kitty-corner to it. Krista, your photographs were beauties!! T. (Add Dalida to your list. You won’t be sorry!!)

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