In the latest number of Elle magazine I read an article about Lizica Codreanu. Lizica was a dancer in the 1920s Paris.
She was an “avant-garde” dancer: used to dress herself in vinyls, wearing masks or hats with geometric shapes, dancing in a unique, rhythmic way on Chopin, Debussy, Prokofiev or other classical pieces. Always classics. She was watched (and adored) by Picasso, Apollinaire, Brancusi, Man Ray etc. and later on she started a hatha yoga treatment/gymnastics school (among her clients being the dukes of Windsor, Peter Ustinov, Grace of Monaco etc). And the newspaper article ended “A beautiful bizarre dance was the life of this woman”. Nicely written (by Marius Chivu). There is also a book out there presenting her life and work: http://vellant.ro/product/Lizica-Codreanu-O-dansatoare-rom%C3%A2nc%C4%83-%C3%AEn-avangarda-parizian%C4%83,220989,730.aspx?AspxAutoDetectCookieSupport=1
Why I found the story fascinating is that it seems she was trying to do through the body, through the way it filled/moved the space, what Branscusi was doing through sculpture- to get to the essence of movement, matter, life. More or less she turned her body in an avant-garde medium- finding a new way of expressing emotions, and constructing along new ones.
Somehow in the same line, of using the body to break down traditions and find new ways of representing identity (though I sometimes wonder what identity this is?) was the glam esthetic. There is soon to be opened a new exhibition at Tate: http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-liverpool/exhibition/glam-performance-style: “the first exhibition to explore glam style and sensibility in-depth. The exhibition investigates artistic developments in Britain Europe and North America through the prism of glam, examining painting, sculpture, installation art, film, photography and performance.”
At last, an interesting custom I was shown by a friend tells a different story: the story of “sworn virgins”. It is the story of some Albanian women who choose to abandon any feminine attributes of their bodies and to become men. They live like men and have the male rights that come along with this status. And the whole process is merely born out of tradition and the canon of law. (http://www.slate.com/blogs/behold/2012/12/21/jill_peters_documenting_sworn_virgins_women_who_live_as_men_in_albania_photos.html)
So, 3 hypostasis of using the body as a means of weaving ties with new/old traditions.