How far have we come?: Bicycles and dancers, endless what they say about our time, and what they free us up to do. A rider on the road passes and we do not think emancipation, we do not think image of women’s rights, we do not think oh she is relieved to be uncorsetted, or thank god for her seven pounds off her skirts. But that is what is passing by right there in front of us. Little freedom express, little quiet joy. You will find a similar phenomena when you go to the ballet and look at those ballet dancers and think oh poor her, ouch toe shoes, or oh this ballet is all about fairies not strong women. Did you think not strong? Did you think bounded? Think again. Consider them again. Did you know that the one to the right of the stage left a small stifling town and traveled the world? Did you know that the one behind her dodged a restless life she will never have to know? And a third went to a big city and that alone changed her for life? Beyond that, think of them now again–and I mean the real cyclists and professional dancers of our time, not the softer amateurs or the tutu-clad-but-only-nearly-there dancers–as representative of time, as occupying the forward margins of what we push for with faster and better, passionate and expressive of what our best guess is as to what aliveness might be, as to how the whole work of us might tick through the simplicity of two wheels or the slight elevation and freedom from friction offered by paper mache toe shoes.
Did you know that the first 50 bicycles manufactured in the U.S. were made in a sewing machine factory in Hartford, Connecticut? Did you imagine the bicycle saying move over to the Singer? This is how it was for a moment in Hartford, in a little city known for safety, known for insurance, sure enough. Move over sewer machine thing, said the two wheeled thing. And the women, I like think, just laughed and right there started shortening their skirts as they kissed the sewing machine good-bye. Factually, this may not be true–I have no idea what the ratio of bike to sewing machine production is in the U.S today. But, nice to think about…bikes taking over the sewing machine factory. Occupy, occupy, occupy. But dancers in the 1890’s, their skirts were already getting short, they were already finding their own little freedoms as wrapped up as they may have looked in tutus.
Think of the coincidence that around the same time that bicycles were literally taking off, Edgar Degas was sculpting The Little Fourteen-Year Old Dancer. He was also ferociously repeating paintings and sculptures of just the body underneath the tutu, or even in the brothel. The body at work, but at the same time, the body freed. Away from Degas, played out over the years and on other stages, the tutu got shorter and tighter. Eventually, we got to leotard ballets, in some ways where Degas started, just the body in all of its beauty, at work and at play. Next time you see a cyclist ride by, next time you visit the ballet, think free, and tomorrow even more. Emily Gresh