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Dancing Girls

Lipsius discourses on public prostitutes in the theatre. Telethusa and Quinctia were probably Gaditanian damsels who combined the professions of dancer and harlot. These dancing girls were called saltatrices. Ovid in his Amores, speaks of dancing women: 'One pleases by her gestures, and moves her arms to time, and moves her graceful sides with languishing art in the dance; to say nothing about myself, who am excited on every occasion, put Hippolytus there--he would become a Priapus.' Dancing was in general discouraged amongst the Romans. During the Republic and the earlier periods of the Empire women never appeared on the stage, but they frequently acted in the parties of the great. These dancing girls accompanied themselves with music (the chief instrument being the castanet) and sometimes with song. In the Banquet of Xenophon reference is made to their agility and intelligence--

Immediately Ariadne entered the room, richly dressed in the habit of a bride, and placed herself in the elbow-chair ... Then a hoop being brought in with swords fixed all around it, their points upwards, and placed in the middle of the hall, the dancing-girl immediately leaped head foremost into it through the midst of the points, and then out again with a wonderful agility ... I see the dancing-girl entering at the other end of the hall, and she has brought her cymbals along with her ... At the same time the other girl took her flute; the one played and the other danced to admiration; the dancing-girl throwing up and catching again her cymbals, so as to answer exactly the cadency of the music, and that with a surprising dexterity.

The costume of female acrobats was of the scantiest. In some designs the lower limbs of the figures are shown enveloped in thin drawers. From vase paintings we see that female acrobatic costume sometimes consisted solely of a decorated band swathed round the abdomen and upper part of the thighs, thus resembling in appearance the middle band adopted by modern acrobats. Juvenal speaks of the 'barbarian harlots with embroidered turbans', and the girls standing for hire at the Circus; and in Satire XI he says, 'You may perhaps expect that a Gaditanian singer will begin to tickle you with her musical choir, and the girls encouraged by applause sink to the ground with tremulous buttocks.' This amatory dancing with undulations of the loins and buttocks was called cordax; Plautus and Horace term a similar dance Iconici motus. Forberg, commenting on Juvenal, says, 'Do not miss, reader, the motive of this dance; with their buttocks wriggling the girls finally sank to the ground, reclining on their backs, ready for the amorous contest. Different from this was the Lacedaemonian dance bíbasis, when the girls in their leaps touched their buttocks with their heels. Aristophanes in Lysistrata writes--'Naked I dance, and beat with my heels the buttocks.' And Pollux, 'As to the bíbasis, that was a Laconian dance. There were prizes competed for, not only amongst the young men, but also amongst the young girls; the essence of these dances was to jump and touch the buttocks with the heels. The jumps were counted and credited to the dancers. They rose to a thousand in the bíbasis.' Still worse was the kind of dance which was called `eklaktisma, in which the feet had to touch the shoulders.[1]

Gifford, commenting on the passage in Juvenal, remarks that

the dance alluded to is neither more nor less than the Fandango, which still forms the delight of all ranks in Spain, and which, though somewhat chastised in the neighbourhood of the capital, exhibits at this day, in the remote provinces, a perfect counterpart (actors and spectators) of the too free but faithful representation before us. In a subsequent line, Juvenal mentions the testarum crepitus, the clicking of the castanets, which accompanies this dance. The testae were small oblong pieces of polished wood or bone which the dancers held between their fingers and clashed in measure, with inconceivable agility and address. The Spaniards of the present day are very curious in the choice of their castanets; some have been shown to me that cost five-and-twenty or thirty dollars a pair; these were made of the beautifully variegated woods of South America.

[1. Pollux notes, 'The `ekláktismata were dances for women: they had to throw their feet higher than their shoulders.' This kind of dance is not unknown in more modern times. J. C. Scaliger writes, 'Still, nowadays, the Spaniards touch the occiput and other parts of the body with their feet.' Bulenger mentions the Bactriasmus, a lascivious dance, with undulations of the loins.]

Julius Caesar Scaliger says, 'One of the infamous dances was the díknpma or díknoûothai, meaning wriggling the haunches and thighs, the crissare of the Romans. In Spain this abominable practice is still performed in public.' Martial also states that these dances were sometimes accompanied by the cymbal--'For my page wantons with Lampsacian [Priapeian] verse, and strikes the cymbal with the hand of a Spanish dancer.' Again he speaks of the wanton dancers from Cadiz who were skilled in the art of licentiously undulating their loins; and of Telethusa's lascivious gestures and agile posturing in the Gaditanian fashion to the sound of the castanets.[1] Vergil also alludes to this kind of dancing with castanets. The Thesaurus Eroticus, under 'comessationes', describes them as naked dancing-girls who with tremulous loins and obscene movements provoked the lust of their spectators, whilst the tractatrices were softly kneading and pressing the limbs of their masters and soliciting an erection with their apt touches. Martial and Juvenal make copious reference to this subject. These tractatrices were female slaves whose business was to knead and make supple by manual pressure all the joints of their master's body after his bath. The effeminate refinement of the Roman voluptuaries is well shown by the fist of attendants given in the Erotika Biblion, which includes as 'toilet accessories' jatraliptae (youths who wiped the bather with swansdown); unctares (perfumers); fricatores (rubbers); fractatrices (massage-girls); dropacistae (corn extractors); alipilarii (those who plucked the hair from the armpits and other parts of the body); paratiltriae (children entrusted with the cleansing of all the orifices of the body, the ears, anus, vulva, &c.); :and picatrices (young girls who attended to the symmetrical arrangement of the pubic hair).

[1. Joan Baptista Suarez de Salazar mentions the fashion amongst the Roman nobles of obtaining harlots from Cadiz for their guests' entertainment.]

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