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Deslys, Gaby - Dancer, Singer, Actress, France*04.09.1881-11.02.1920+- a vaudeville performance, dancing pose of juijitsu - Photographer: Bassano- Published by: ‘Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung’ 15/1907Vintage property of ullstein bild Photo by Alexander Bassano/ullstein bild via Getty Images

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Photo Vault: Vaudevillian Jiu-Jitsu

Vaudeville icon Gaby Deslys shows off her ‘juijitsu waltz’.

For today’s Photo Vault entry we are traveling back to the early 1900s with an image that captures both the art of Vaudeville and juijitsu.

The above image was taken by Alexander Bassano and was originally published in the magazine Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung (BIZ) in 1907. It shows French Vaudeville star Gaby Deslys in a “dancing pose of juijitsu”.

In our vault we have a second image from Bassano’s photo shoot with Deslys. You can see that below:

Deslys, Gaby - Dancer, Singer, Actress, France*04.09.1881-11.02.1920+- a vaudeville performance, dancing pose of juijitsu- Photographer: Bassano- Published by: ‘Die Praktische Berlinerin’ 14/1908Vintage property of ullstein bild Photo by Alexander Bassano/ullstein bild via Getty Images

Vaudeville was one of the most popular forms of entertainment between the 1880s and 1930s. The form was designed to be a lighthearted source of distraction, bereft of any emotional subtexts or meaningful messages about the world we live in. Vaudevillian performers ranged from singers and dancers to strongmen, acrobats and lion tamers.

Gaby Deslys, born in Marseille in 1881, falls into the former category. As a singer, actress and dancer she performed in Paris, London and Broadway. She was also a silent film star. Deslys passed away at the young age of 38, a victim of the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-1920.

Captured in the above photos is a Deslys routine known as the ‘Jujitsu waltz’. How the thing looked in its entirety, and what kind of music accompanied it, is lost to history. But at least we have these glimpses to help us play out the performance in our minds’ eyes.

There are more images of Deslys in our archive, but nothing else with a martial arts/combat sports connection. You can see those below, if you’re interested.

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