Paris Free Walking Tour: The dancers of Cimetiere de Montmartre

Dancers from around the world leave their shoes at Taglioni's grave.
Dancers from around the world leave their shoes at Taglioni's grave.

Text and photos One of my favorite places to visit early on a Sunday morning (besides the flea market!) is ParisCimetière de Montmartre. Spanning 110 acres (in 33 divisions), it’s nearly impossible to pay homage to everyone buried there, but with a little planning, you can narrow the field to suit your own passions. Try literature, the arts, sciences, politics, or cinema. My personal choice? Dance.

With that “point” in mind, here’s a walking tour of the Cimetière de Montmartre, with just a dash of tawdry gossip for fun. Shall we dance?

5e division

Le dieu de la danse
and dance master for Louis XVI, Gaetan Vestris was first to drop the mask during performances, and rely on expressive good looks alone. Vanity-inspired innovation? “There are but three great men in Europe—the king of Prussia, Voltaire and I,” was his favorite boast. Son Auguste Vestris (Le dieu II) reigned over the Paris Opera for decades, where he busted a sissonne (flying) move and made the folk favorite gavotte his own.

22e division

Marie Taglioni’s appearance in her father’s “La Sylphide” marked the arrival of the Romantics. Though she wasn’t the first to dance en pointe or don the muslin skirt (skimming the ankle much to the delight of every binocular-carrying dandy!), she’s the one who made it her own. Taglioni’s popularity launched her name into the lingo: the verb Taglioniser (to be slender and graceful). And most coveted coiffeur? À la syphide!

29e division

Riots erupted in Milan when Fanny Cerrito took the stage to challenge rival Taglioni. According to her choreographer husband, Arthur Saint-Leon, Cerrito was clearly the winner. “Taglioni’s leg encompassed a great deal of attention; Cerrito’s leg magnified excitement.”

 

Louise Weber, aka La Goulou, is buried here.

31e division

Famed terpsichorean Louise Weber, a.k.a. La Goulue (the Glutton) was Queen of the Can Can and a favorite muse of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. She earned her moniker for nipping drinks from her audience while distracting them with her pantaloons and little pet goat. “When I see my behind in these paintings, I find it beautiful!” she once quipped.

3e division

Poet and dance critic Théophile Gàutier wrote “Giselle” for dancer Carlotta Grisi after falling hard for her. Though the affair was short-lived, all was not lost. Gáutier married her sister instead, and thus literature entered the world of ballet.

22e division

Though limelight stage lighting had the advantage of being a lot brighter than oil, it still wasn’t hazard-free. Taglioni protégé Emma Livry refused to soak her gauzy costume in fire-proofing because she abhorred the discoloring and feared it would weigh her down, but then tripped over a limelight, and set herself on fire. And now here she is!

4e division

“The dancer is an excuse to paint pretty fabric and depict movement,” wrote Edgar Degas, who painted his beloved petits rats (ballerinas in training) for nearly fifty years. He’s buried here and many Parisians and tourists alike pay homage to him by leaving flowers. Bonus: Check out his paintings and sculptures at the Musée d’Orsay.

The tomb of the Degas (de Gas) family

The tomb of the Degas (de Gas) family

Intersection 8e 9e + 11e

Courtier Paul Poiret (Le Magnifique) not only draped favorite client Isadora Duncan in diaphanous chitons made of Dijon-colored chiffon, but also performed with her at his infamous Ballets Russes-inspired, tented backyard fêtes.

22e division

“Our children would be dancing geniuses,” Isadora Duncan mused to Ballets Russes Vaslav Nijinsky by way of a marriage proposal. Unfortunately, he turned her down, because—rumor has it—he didn’t want his children dancing like her! When asked the secret to his airy, floating leaps, he would say only, “You have just to go up and then pause a little up there.”

Still feel like dancing? At the Cimetière du Pere Lachaise, you’ll find still more: Jane Avril, Isadora Duncan, Loïe Fuller, Cléo de Mérode, and Alwin Nikolais (to name but a few) await you.

Looking for a guided walking tour? Check out our post on free guided tours in Paris.

About the author

Theadora Brack
About the author: Theadora Brack is a writer working in Paris. Her fiction has appeared in more than 30 literary publications, including 3AM International, The Smoking Poet, Beloit Fiction Journal, Mid-American Review, and the Haight-Ashbury Literary Journal.
Posted in: Paris Sights
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Cheapo Comments

6 Responses to “Paris Free Walking Tour: The dancers of Cimetiere de Montmartre”
  • Fiona says:

    Taglioni is not at Montmartre– she was buried at Pere Lachaise.
    http://www.danceinsider.com/f2009/f0423_1.html

  • diane megargel says:

    i LOVED IT!1 tHEADORAS WONDERFUL ARTICLE MADE ME WANT TO JUST GO UP AND THEN PAUSE A LITTLEUP THERE! hOW GRAND IS THAT!1 sHE FUELS MY IMAGINATION- THE BEST THING TO REFUEL IN THIS DAY AND AGE. I ALWAYS LEARN FROM HER UNIQUE WRITINGS-LIKE WHO WOULD EVER GUESS GLUTTON INVENTED THE CAN-CAN AND DEGAS PAINTED PETITS RATS??I WANT MORE!!!!

  • Martin says:

    I loved the free walking tour, Theodora!–after that I’m ready to “trip the light fantastic” even if it’s in a cemetery. I do have to disagree with your other correspondent, however–the fact is, no one is quite sure where Marie Taglioni’s bones lie. She could be buried in Marseilles, according to many historians. The French, bless their hearts, are rarely content to leave well enough alone once you’re dead. That’s why the Pantheon is full of famous folks who were formerly buried elsewhere, the catacombs are crammed with the exhumed skeletons of yore, and all the churches share bits and pieces of their favorite saints. No one is completely sure that Jim Morrison’s decomposing DNA is in Jim Morrison’s grave, either, for that matter. What you’re left with, then, are the sites that people *venerate* as the places where they can feel most in touch with their ancestors and heros. That’s what’s important. If dancers the world over come to Montmartre instead of Pere Lachaise (or Marseilles, or some catacomb) to honor Taglioni and leave their point shoes there, who cares? I am certain that her spirit, wherever it is, doesn’t mind at all. Better than being forgotten altogether, I’d say (and I’m sure she would, too). And who knows? Next year that same authoritarian dance website may have to print a correction, once someone else proves her bones were actually shipped back to Stockholm or Milano. Soulful ballerinas will still come to Montmartre.

  • Ethan says:

    Just completed FABULOUS 2-hour free walking tour of Montmarte Paris with Chris – everyday 11 and 5 Metro Blanche. Works on tips. Well worth it!!!

  • kallyga says:

    Awesome FREE tour – Chris is no nice and he knows it all. Take his tour and YOU WILL NOT regret it!

  • rhona says:

    I was looking forward to taking this tour in April. however the link to the tour is down, and all I can find out is that the tour will not operate from February until ______ and there is no ending time. Does anyone know about this or how to reach Chris? Merci.

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