Loie Fuller – Grandmother of Dancing Wings

Lois Fuller – Dancing with Wings

In 1902 Frederick Glasier took photos of the internationally acclaimed dancer Loie Fuller. Glasier was an extraordinary photographer who focused on the world of the performing arts from the 1890s – 1930s. He’s famous for his stark and gritty circus images and is a pioneer in capturing action shots.  In 1902 he shot this series with Lioe, who by that time, was an internationally known dance artist.

Loie Fuller was known for her signature spinning dances. They were performed with voluminous skirts mounted with sticks reaching to her hemlines. Like our modern dance wings, she spun and maneuvered the fabric to create different shapes in the air.  Her main innovations in this art form were her use of the new electrical lighting effects. The colors would shift and change as she performed, which made her costume appear to transform as she danced. 

Below: Loie Fuller as Glorine, photo #5 of a series shot by F. W. Glasier in 1902.

Lois Fuller Backbend With Flowing Fabric

Loie Fuller – Dance Empresario and Technician

Throughout her career, she innovated groundbreaking new costume styles and lighting effects.  Loie patented many of these effects in the US and in France. She could transform from a flower to a flame, with changes in the shape of her arms, and the color of lights. It was spellbinding for viewers new to electric lights and the effects this new medium could achieve.

Loie’s act was often copied during her lifetime. Her dance and lighting were so striking and modern, that they went on to inspire generations of dancers in a wide variety of genres.

Loie’s legacy lives on today in the world of belly dance through the use of wings. Today, dancers use wings to expand the body and take up space, especially on stage.  Dancing wings are affordable and easy to source. 

In these photos, Glasier captured the beautiful and unique quality of movement in Loie’s repertoire. In the photo below, you can see many details about her costume.  Notice how her sticks are actually curved, the volume of her dress, and that the fullness drops from her shoulder and neckline.  

Circus: The Photographs of Frederick W. Glasier: Slideshow: Slide 11

CIRCUS: The Photographs of Frederik W. Glasier

This book focuses on the photographer F. W. Glasier’s work in the world of vaudeville, variety theater, and circus entertainers and culture between 1890 – 1925.  The history is intriguing and the images are simply stunning.

“Circus: The Photographs of Frederik W. Glasier” includes a collection of images printed from the surviving glass plate negatives located at the Ringling Museum of Art in Florida.

Glasier’s extraordinary photography elevates and humanizes his subjects. Through the grit and hardship of circus life, these images capture great dignity in pathos, and beauty discovered amid the tawdry side-show environment.

The photography is stunning, the subject matter rare, and circus history is an underrepresented corner of the entertainment world.

Upcoming Talk:  “The Belly Dance Historian’s Tool Box” in The Bellydance Bundle 2023

Looking for more dance history?  This fall I’m presenting a nuts-and-bolts talk on “doing” original art history as part of the Bellydance Bundle 2023.

“The Belly Dance Historian’s Tool Box” is a multi-part slide-history talk. I use case studies from my own original research, primary sources, and well-known publications by acclaimed belly dance authors. Includes a useful handout filled with useful links to archives around the globe.  Find out more about the Bellydance Bundle 2023 here.

Happy Costuming and Dance,
Dawn Devine ~ Davina
October 2023


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By Davina

Davina ~ Dawn Devine is a belly dance costume designer, dance instructor and author of more than a dozen publications on Middle Eastern dance.