Loïe Fuller was born in 1862 in Fullersburg, a small town just outside of Chicago. A verbally precocious child, Fuller began performing in her teens, first as a temperance speaker and later as a member of the buffalo Bill troupe, touring American on the vaudeville circuit. Her various dramatic roles included cross-dressed ones, such as the lead in the fast-paced melodrama Little Jack Sheppard, but it is as a “serpentine” or skirt dancer that she became well-known. In the 1890s Fuller created an extraordinary sensation in Paris with her manipulations of hundreds of yards of silk, swirling high above her and lit dramatically from below. She embodied the fin-de-siècle images of woman as flower, woman as bird, woman as fire, woman as nature. One of the most famous dancers of her time, Fuller starred as the main act of the Folies Bergère, inspiring a host of contemporary fashions and imitators. Fuller’s serpentine motif is also visible in much of the decorative imagery of Art Nouveau.
The video below shows Fuller’s choreography and lighting techniques, though the dancer in the video is not Fuller herself.