National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; Paul M. and Christine G. Wick Fund
Born Fullersburg, Illinois
In the 1890s, Loie Fuller’s genius was to create an electrifying style of dance that harnessed technology with the emerging physical culture movement. She became famous for her Serpentine Dance, an undulating performance enacted amid dazzling visual staging.
For this dance, Fuller clothed herself in a voluminous, transparent costume consisting of 500 yards of thin China silk and bathed herself in multicolored stage lighting of her own design. Critics reported that the dance regularly swept audiences “into an emotional frenzy” that required twenty or more encores.
Touring made her internationally famous, and consumers everywhere lined up to buy Loie Fuller hats, shoes, and petticoats. She became a star of the Folies Bergère, and her Fire Dance sparked a sensation at the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1900.
A modern dance pioneer, Loie Fuller paved the way for such other women dancers as Isadora Duncan.