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Mata Hari’s Dance in the Context of Femininity and Exoticism

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15603/2176-0985/mandragora.v15n15p58-67



Alexandra Kolb1


Abstract: The Dutch dancer Mata Hari (alias Margaretha Geertruida Zelle) has achieved an iconic status within 20th-century dance history, partly due to her execution as a German spy in 1917. Although she lacked significant dance training, she successfully performed her works, primarily in eclectic oriental styles, before European audiences. My discussion considers Mata Hari’s contributions against the backdrop of the pre-WWI European dance scene. It specifically explores the ideological and aesthetic framework within which she was embedded as a female artist in the context of related concurrent dance trends. Drawing on feminist theories, orientalism and postcolonialism (Edward Said), the paper examines how Mata Hari’s on- and off-stage personae conformed to certain stereotyped images of women whilst al so subverting social conventions.

Key words: Mata Hari, orientalism, nudist dance, feminism.


1 Alexandra Kolb is the Chair of the Dance Studies programme at Otago University in New Zealand, having received her doctorate from Cambridge. She trained professionally in dance in Düsseldorf and at John Neumeier’s Academy of the Hamburg Ballet. Her research interests include European dance and literature in twentieth century modernism; dance, politics, and globalisation. She has contributed to several international journals, and her book on Performing Femininity (Oxford) will be published shortly.


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