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Postcards of Exotic Dancers From the 1890s


These postcards are a beautiful example of the hedonistic imagination of the late 19th century.

These postcards from the Charles H. McCaghy Collection show exotic dancers from the 1890s and demonstrate how not only the word ‘exotic’ has changed over time, but also how the imagination of desire has too. It appears that there used to be much more imagination in the exotic narrative, and as a result more fantasy than mere sexuality.

With a little shortsightedness, a robust physique, fleshy legs sheathed in stockings and theatrical costume provoked the viewer’s desire. But the sensuality of those dancers required more from the public than what they do nowadays; they needed, at least, a little imagination, and almost mythological, to be able to understand the costumes and the narrative that they deployed.

Each one of these women of la dolce vita was a well-worked person with a protagonist’s look that was essential, even perhaps a little innocent, and whose power was knowing the standard of feminine liberty of their time. The exotic then was more narrative than it was sexual. The women of the night of the end of the 19th century were fantastical characters who knew they were such, and their charm was reserved for those who also knew how to cross from mythology to desire and perhaps back again.



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