Dancing barefoot

The kylix is a broad and shallow cup used for drinking wine, though today it looks more like a fruit bowl. It was decorated not only on the outside but also on the interior circle of the base called the tondo, where the image became visible only when all the wine was drunk.

Not unrelated to their function, the scenes depicted on these cups often evoke the world of symposia. The tondo of this kylix shows two female figures, perhaps hetairas. One of them is seated on a foldable stool and plays the aulos, a shrill sounding wind instrument, while her companion dances with castanets (krotalons) in her hands.

Attic red-figure kylix from the 5th century BC, British Museum, 1867,0508.1063
© The Trustees of the British Museum / CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

Both wear light, transparent chitons and jewellery. The outlines of their bodies are clearly visible beneath the folds of the drapery marked by straight and wavy lines. The woman on the right wears not only earrings, but also a necklace indicated by dots around her neck. The vase painter paid close attention to detail: a delicate line on the musician’s face emphasises that she is blowing into the instrument, while the bare foot of the dancer is highlighted by a quirked line indicating the ankle’s curve.

Isadora Duncan in the theatre of Dionysos in Athens, 1904
© The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, New York, United States, b14790259


The cover photo shows Isadora Duncan (1877–1927), one of the most influential figures in modern dance. Breaking with rigid ballet technique, she championed self-expression and danced freely, with bare feet and light robes evoking ancient Greek clothing. This photo was taken in the theatre of Dionysus in Athens.

The title of this post was borrowed from Patti Smith – her song, too, evokes an ecstatic state induced by the power of dance.

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