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The Cover
September 28, 2005

The Dancing Class

JAMA. 2005;294(12):1468. doi:10.1001/jama.294.12.1468

The early years of the 1870s were not the best of times for those living in Paris. Within less than two years its citizens endured a frivolous war, the privations caused by enemy siege, civil rebellion in its streets, and finally a state of anarchy. In a single “Bloody Week” in May of 1871—said to have exceeded even the horrors of the Reign of Terror in the 1790s—some 20 000 to 30 000 people died. The art community was disrupted: some, notably Monet and Pissarro, fled to England; some, among them Edgar Degas (1834-1917), joined the army; and at least one, Frédéric Bazille, died in battle. Yet amidst all this chaos and confusion, Degas painted what is probably his first ballet picture, The Dancing Class (cover ). Sometimes also known as Le Foyer, it dates to sometime around 1871 or 1872. It was a subject he would pursue the rest of his life, one with which his name became synonymous. One cannot hear or see his name without conjuring up a world of pink and white, of tulle and satin, of graceful, elegant figures, of beauty, order, and calm. It was hardly that, of course; Degas only made it seem so, a fantasy world created to entertain the leisured. Behind the curtain and in the wings the young dancers were known as “opera rats.” Not only did they dance; they were also expected to provide favors to the abonné, gentlemen subscribers who considered backstage visits a perk of the subscription.