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Girlkultur (Berliner Cabaret #AtoZChallenge)

G (AtoZ Challenge 2019)

The kicklines of girls consisted of 10 to 20 women who performed fast, perfectly coordinated dance steps. Not a novelty, since kicklines had been performing since before the advent of cabaret, by the 1920s they were extremely popular in Germany. They became the sparkling expression of the New Woman, as well as a more global outlook on life.

The Girl: the glamorous face of the New Woman

The kicklines of girls offered a radically different image of women which was almost the opposite of the passive, shy, demurred woman of before the war. This New Woman exuded strength and energy, had aspirations and sought personal success.
Her power didn’t come from her sexual allure. Women who performed had longed been associated with a form or other of sexual exchanged, on and off the stage. But the Girls were presented as always chaperoned, always watched over and therefore always behaving. Their charm didn’t reside in sex-appeal, but in a shocking modernity. The girls incarnated what was understood as a new breed a woman and an new female culture: the Girlkulture.

Chorus Girls demontrating their assets for the producer
1927 – Chorus Girls demontrating their assets for the producer

This new image of womanhood had emerged during the war years, when many jobs that were once reserved to men had been covered by women. When the war ended, women didn’t silently go back to the home and the family. Many continue to work, usually in white-collar position as secretary, typist or department-store salesperson. Popular culture and advertisement soon saluted the New Woman as self-assured, matter-of-fact girl who created her own life and possessed a large degree of independence. She earned money, pursued a career and engaged in many activities once reserved to men. The girls of the kickline were this kind of woman: modern, independent and hard-working.

But was this an accurate representation of women?
Away from the spotlight and the glamorous popular culture, the reality was that white-collar women were often dissatisfied. They received low pay, worked long hours at repetitive tasks and had no chance for a career advancement, since they were expected to leave the job once they got married. Far from creating equality, the promiscuity of the workplace often exposed women to sexual harassment.
At a closer look, this is exactly what the Girl represented: they were rigorously choreographed, they never expressed their individual personality; they worked long hours and lack a true chance at a career since they were often dismissed in their early twenties. In interviews that were probably prearranged (and so, once again, didn’t expressed the individual genuine ideas) girls expressed the hope to find a rich man who would marry them… and so get them back to the woman traditional role.

Just as they presented the image of modernity and advancement that women were really achieving in real life, the girls also revealed the same limitations all women were facing

"The kicklines of Girls were a complex reflected image of the changing role of #women in the interwar years #Germany Click To Tweet

The Girlmachine

On a different level, the girls represented modernity because their perfect routines and fast rhythm of their dances resembled the efficiency of the machine, coupled with the efficiency of the military. The two keys to the domination of the modern world.

When the audience and the critics appreciated their precise movements and their dynamism, they were in truth appreciating the modern pull of the world that made the kicklines of girls possible. To some extent, the kicklines also represented the disembodiment and the alienation of the that modern, industrialised world. In the kickline, the unit of composition wasn’t the entire person, but the body parts. In this way, the kicklines expressed the depersonification of the urban life.

The kickline of girls was in nuce what the Weimar Republic was at large: it contained both the society’s aspiration for the future and the bonds the past still hold on that society.


RESOURCES

Peter Jelavich, Berlin Cabaret. Harvard University Press, Harvard, 1993
Eric D. Weitz, Weimar Germany. Promise and Tragedy. Princeton University Press, New Jersey, 2007


Berliner Cabaret (AtoZ Challenge 2019) Girlkultur – The kicklines of girls, though not a novelty, because extremely popular in Germany in the interwar years. They gave a dynamic image of the Nerw Woman... but also insinuated a less glamorous truth about her actual role in society
Berliner Cabaret (AtoZ Challenge 2019) Girlkultur – With their dynamism and their modern looks, the kicklines of girls suggested military precision and industrial efficiency. They were the image of a bright future.
Berliner Cabaret (AtoZ Challenge 2019) Girlkultur – The kicklines of girls, though not a novelty, because extremely popular in Germany in the interwar years. They gave a dynamic image of the Nerw Woman... but also insinuated a less glamorous truth about her actual role in society

15 Comments

  • Anne Young
    Posted April 8, 2019 at 09:26

    I am a great sucker for chorus lines and enjoyed your video. They were almost certainly hard work but probably more fun than alternative employment.

    Following along from A to Z

    https://ayfamilyhistory.com/2019/04/08/g-is-for-gainsborough/

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 8, 2019 at 10:38

      I think that, like today, the show business was a great kimera for many young people, especially girls. It promised a lot, but it gave very little. Which is were it becomes more relevant on a socio-historical level.

  • Terry Newman
    Posted April 8, 2019 at 10:21

    Fascinating article. I am about to read the (sadly) last of Philip Kerr’s ‘Bernie Gunther’ books set in 1928. Great background – thanks.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 8, 2019 at 10:39

      Hey Terry, thanks for stopping by!
      I need to check out that series!

      • Terry Newman
        Posted April 8, 2019 at 18:26

        A brilliant series dealing mostly with WWII and aftermath but this is a prequel – the author’s last book, which is a terrible shame.

  • Shari Decter Hirst
    Posted April 8, 2019 at 11:17

    What an intriguing idea of machine and military. I must admit to never really looking past the glamorous costumes and pretty girls. Good post.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 10, 2019 at 17:15

      Honestly, I’m fascinated by the hidden meaning. There is almost an entire era in this kind of show.

  • Birgit
    Posted April 8, 2019 at 18:18

    Yeah, just look at the man sitting and the women showing their legs to him….bleccchhh. It happens today still which sucks in my book. How sad that women could no longer work if they got married. They worked but never got paid for it! Love the lasses in the chorus doing some intricate movements with their arms and hands.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 10, 2019 at 17:16

      That photo does say a lot… that’s why I chose it 😉

  • Tarkabarka
    Posted April 8, 2019 at 18:35

    I was reading about “girls” in Hungary recently, and their role in showbusiness in the 1930s and 40s. As usual, I love your historical context 🙂

    The Multicolored Diary

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 10, 2019 at 17:25

      Thanks. I love researching the historical context 🙂

  • Melanie Atherton Allen
    Posted April 10, 2019 at 20:10

    Wow, Sarah! Your analysis here is really insightful. I mean, you’re usually insightful, but I think that you’ve done an especially excellent job today, making this kickline-machine-depersonalization connection.
    Also, does the man in the picture have a measuring tape draped over one shoulder? What is he planning to measure? Do I want to know?

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 19, 2019 at 11:05

      I don’t think I want.
      The relationship between the new role of women and the way it was ‘unconsciously’ commented trhough the popularity of the kicklines of girls is extremely interesting and fascinating. I will probably exdplore it more in depth in the future.

  • Kristin
    Posted April 12, 2019 at 18:55

    Looking at the chorus line I could really see the relationship to mechanization and industrialization. All the while smiling away.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 19, 2019 at 11:06

      True, eh? We never really consider how popular culture and commercialism speak about ourselves, but it is an aspect of history that it’s really fascinating to explore.

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