Dance of the Seven Veils  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

In several notable works of Western culture, the Dance of the Seven Veils (usually described as danced by Salomé) is one of the elaborations on the historical and biblical tale of the execution of John the Baptist.

According to ten verses of Matthew 14, John was imprisoned for criticizing King Herod Antipas' marriage to Herodias, the former wife of Antipas' "brother" Herod Philip I. Herod offered his niece a reward of her choice for performing a dance on his birthday. Herodias persuaded her daughter to ask for John the Baptist's head on a platter. Against his better judgment, Antipas reluctantly acceded to her request.

Historically, Herod Antipas and Herod Philip I are known to have been half-brothers.

The historian Josephus lists the stepdaughter's name as Salomé and provides other details enriching the story in later Christian legend. He provides a name for the dance and states that the purpose of the dance was to inflame Herod with incestuous desire, thereby inducing him to grant her wish for John's death.

Cultural References

In the Oscar Wilde play Salome and Strauss opera Salome, the dance remains unnamed except in the acting notes, but Salome's sexual fascination with John seems to motivate the request—though Herodias is portrayed as pleased. The most famous music for the "Dance of the Seven Veils" comes from near the climax of the opera.

The visual content of that scene (about seven minutes in length with standard tempi) has varied greatly depending on the aesthetic notions of the stage director, choreographer, and soprano, and on the choreographic skills and body shape of that singer.

The Russian ballet dancer Ida Rubinstein, under the private tutalage of Mikhail Fokine, debuted in 1909 with a single private performance of Oscar Wilde's Salomé, stripping completely nude in the course of the Dance of the Seven Veils.

More recently, the 2004 production starring Karita Mattila at the Metropolitan Opera made her surname the accepted New York term for changing the color of pubic hair to blonde, because of the visual focus of the scene.

At that extreme were various early 1990s productions (in London and San Francisco) starring American soprano Maria Ewing, who left hers black and clearly wore nothing.

American soprano Catherine Malfitano also appeared nude at the conclusion of the dance a 1990 Berlin production. This production is available for sale on DVD.

This dance has also inspired imitation in the world of burlesque and striptease, with Sally Rand adapting it to her distinctive style.

The phrase "doing the Dance of the Seven Veils" is a metaphor for an elaborate presentation of information, especially one whose stages proceed more from area to area than through increasing degrees of detail. It generally gives the impression that ultimately Salome does not reveal everything.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Dance of the Seven Veils" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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