In light of my recent work Unstable, where I have been experimenting with proximity between my body and the audience, I have been further investigating into relationships between audience and performer. My initial search brought me to a text by Liepe – Levinson (1998) who attempts to address the dynamics of desire between performer and spectator in a strip club setting. This prompted me to re-watch Serpentine, a dance work that has been known to titillate audiences because of Fuller’s quiet thread of erotic intention.


An initial point to consider, supported by Potter (2019), is that even though the material within the work takes on a form of its own and is seemingly ‘innocent’, the voyeuristic gaze of the audience is satisfied for two reasons. Firstly, the body in motion is female. Secondly, the silhouette of her body underneath the material teased an appearance of skin, which was enough to keep spectators excited. Originally, the work was seen more by male audiences, but overtime, Fuller began performing the work to female audiences in women’s only spaces. It became more and more apparent that her body was eroticised regardless of the sex of the audience, and from this, Serpetine was continually revised. She became increasingly risky with the work, playing on the physical and hypnotic binary; conceal / reveal, to deliberately titillate audiences more than before.

Erotic Dance

Interestingly enough, when the proximity has been reduced between audience and spectator, as it is in lap-dancing or strip club stage shows, the audience behave differently. For instance, Liepe – Levinson (1998) suggests that female onlookers do not consume dancing males in the same way that male onlookers consume dancing females. Females laugh, don’t often become aroused, and desire the gaze of the dancing male. Whereas a man would remain very serious (no awkward laughing) and would consider his level of arousal an indicator of how good the dancer is. There was one similarity, however, and that is; both sexes desire to be desired. In some instances, the spectator wants to be part of the performance, both men and women desire to be seen by the performer and by the other spectators. To be a part of the performance, and this can be something as small as simply being acknowledged by the performer, ignites an exhilarating thrill that is lit up by fear of exposure.

On another thread, there is still room for more exploration in asking what motivates the performer to want to offer their body for spectators to consume? For the performer it can be a process of simple or complex gratification that satisfies their need to please and their wanting to self-express. If the performer knows this, then they are more likely able to satisfy a general audience, whose motivation to watch dance links to their need to BE pleased (erotic intention or not). It is a space for audiences to pleasurably pass time as they uncode their chosen medium of performance. Saying that, one size does not fit all, so if the spectator was watching an intricate piece of dance, three things would have to be considered, such as; intelligence, concentration and their general interests. Those three parameters can be applied to erotic dance or modern dance.

This is my first post of 2020 so I want to wish you a very Happy New Year. I hope it is filled with lots of live performance, increased bodily awareness, work / life balance and overall happiness. At least that is what I am aiming for myself.

Rowena x

I will be back with more notes next week, but in the meantime, you can see my daily updates by following me on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook


Esslin, M. (1987) The Field of Drama: How the Signs of Drama Create Meaning on Stage & Screen.

Liepe-Levinson, K. (1998) Desire, Mimetic Jeopardy, and Performing Spectators

Potter, S. (2019) Looking Backward: Loïe Fuller and the Virtual Erotics of Spectatorship