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Sisters of Salome


Toni Bentley (View Bio)
Hardcover: Yale University Press, 2002.

Sisters of Salome

Toni Bentley danced with Balanchine's New York City Ballet for ten years. In this book, she brings to bear her insights on dance as an expression of female sexuality through her retelling of the lives of erotically fascinating and famous women dancers: the mythic Salome, Maud Allan, Mata Hari, Ida Rubinstein, and Colette. This is an important contribution to the study of women's history and sexuality and the history of dance.

A 2002 New York Times Notable Book

"Well-researched and well-illustrated." — Sunday Times (London)

"No other historian has told the story of the femme fatale in nineteenth-century culture so well and so engagingly. Bentley brings four memorable women to life — women who seized the mythic role of Salome and used it creatively and powerfully." — Charles Rearick, author of PLEASURES OF THE BELLE EPOQUE

"In order to calculate the startling impact this cultural phenomenon had on Victorian sensibilities, the author recounts the personal stories of the four extraordinary women who embodied and embraced the freedom represented by Salome and her uniquely empowering striptease. [A] fascinating slice of popular culture." — Booklist

"First the frame: this book breaks the Yale mold. No crusty academic tone, this daring, playful work reads like a trade book. The seductive and colorful author's photograph on the back flap surprises readers expecting a certain kind of product from Yale. Next the substance: this book traces the cultural influence of Oscar Wilde's 1893 play Salome. The idea that the heroine of a Wilde play could induce freeúthinking women at the beginning of the 20th century holds real interest for scholars. Through chapters on Colette, Maud Allan, Mata Hari, and Ida Rubinstein — 'crazy' women of the day‹the author explores a fresh take on how, little by little, sisters started doing it for themselves. Defiantly throwing caution to the wind, the femme fatale has her way in these engaging vignettes." — Virginia Quarterly Review

"Bentley weaves a fascinating story.... Intriguing, sensitive, and well-written.... With informative background on the Wilde and Strauss creations, this book not only explores th ancient myth on stage and in real life but also sheds light on how the four principals creatively used the role of Salome both for artistic purposes and personal power or liberation. Well-chosen illustrations; excellent documentation." — Choice

"Bentley has written a lively book that ties in performance art, high and low culture, and the policing of women's sexual expression in an accessible manner." — Library Journal

"A highbrow survey of what generally passes as a lowbrow art, SISTERS OF SALOME locates the origins of what we know as modern stripping in the Salome craze that held Paris in its vise grip at the turn of the century.... Bentley's is not a history of an idea but a study of this Eastern femme fatale's relationship with her four avatars.... Bentley has a light touch and makes no attempt to box her rebels in. Nor does she force them on one another; she has disassembled this phenomenon so that we read each one straight through.... The detail is delicious, and as revealing as a Dance of the Seven Veils.... The history of the dance itself is no less fascinating.... Bentley goes a long way toward speaking to that ancient conundrum: why is it that men suit up for battle, while women...find their power enhanced when they take it off?" — The New York Times Book Review

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