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The Cover
April 15, 2009

Miss La La at the Cirque Fernando

JAMA. 2009;301(15):1511. doi:10.1001/jama.2009.359

As a man-about-town in 1870s Paris, the painter Edgar Degas spent many evenings at the ballet. He found that he admired the alignment of the dancers' bodies in space. In time he made his way backstage, where he could observe the ballerinas stretching, posing, practicing their steps, and waiting their turn to perform. He would not have been conspicuous. Men who could afford the price of season tickets to the ballet were allowed free access to rehearsals. This was convenient for arranging liaisons with the dancers. Many of them came from poor families and were willing to accept an offer of patronage from a wealthy admirer. Of course there was a catch—in return for financial support, a patron would expect sexual favors from his protégé. It was a genteel variation on an age-old abuse of power. There is no evidence that Degas had an intimate relationship with any of the dancers, but he did spend a lot of time backstage. What set him apart from the other men who loitered in the wings was his constant sketching. He would fill pages of his notebook while standing at the foot of a staircase as the dancers rushed up and down.

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