Edgar Degas - The Dancing Class

by Alexandra Tuschka


When Degas visited the Paris Opera, his interest was not satisfied when the dancers walked off the stage. He also wanted to look behind the scenes, to meet the dancers and admire their discipline and grace, to see their training, to inspect the dance halls.

He was lucky that thanks to a good friend he was allowed access to these things.

In this painting, the teacher Jules Perrot - a small, graying man is standing in the dance hall with his hands resting dominantly on the stick. With this he beats the beat on the floor during the lesson. The teacher is talking to the ballerina in front of him, who is listening to him attentively. The other dancers are already beginning to stretch - the lesson is about to end.

Degas was a good observer - so in addition to this present communication in the middle ground, we also find many more subtle gestures. On the left, a girl is scratching her back, another, next to her is adjusting her earring. The one in front has her arm propped at her side and is fanning herself.

In a second version of the theme, things are livelier. We immediately recognize the Jules Perrot on the right. Today he has put on a red shirt. He, the ballerinas and their mothers are watching the "Attitude" (atityd ) - a pose in which the dancer stands on one leg and stretches the other back gracefully.


Degas did not want to freeze the movement, but to see it completed in the mind's eye. For him, the liveliness evident in it offered comfort. In a letter to his friend Henro Rouart in 1886, he wrote "If the leaves of the trees did not move, how sad the trees would be..."


Edgar Degas - The Dancing Class

Oil on canvas, c. 1874, 85 × 75 cm, Musée d'Orsay in Paris