The paradoxical world of traditional German carnival dance
Sabrina Huth

The highlight and most characteristic element of any traditional German carnival dance is the so-called “Beinschmeißreihe”: lined up young women in pleated skirts, silk stockings, frilly underpants, feathered hats, and wigs throw their legs in absolute synchronicity, moving light-footed to marching music in a uniformed entity across the stage. What is nowadays referred to as German carnival dance or “Gardetanz” began at the end of the 19th century. The dance was performed as a mockery and satirical parody of Prussian militarismby cross-dressed men wearing skirts and military uniforms. In the 1930s, after the Nazis banned cross-dressed men as “degenerated art”, female dancers gradually took over as the decorative figurehead of every carnival event. With its increasing institutionalisation and professionalisation in the 1960s, “Gardetanz” has transformed from a critical - almost queer - dance practice into a high-performance dance sport regulated down to the smallest of details. It has become lucrative mainstream entertainment and a mass cultural phenomenon. In Germany alone, the biggest carnival union (BDK) counts over 2.6 million members and 700,000 active dancers, most of them under the age of 18. Despite its popularity carnival dance (sport) is largely absent in dance studies and existing dance canons.

In this autobiographical research, Sabrina Huth returns to her roots, revisiting her first stage experiences as a carnival dancer, interweaving embodied memories with archival work and field research.

Sabrina's home region, Franconia, is one of Germany’s carnival strongholds. As a child growing up in Franconia, you have the choice to either join the soccer club or the carnival club; to lover or hate the traditions and customs of the so-called fifth season of the year:carnivalIt was in this environment and tradition that Sabrina gained her first stage experience, being a part of the carnival dance troupe “Homburger Steeäisel”. At age 15, she performed in the“Prinzengarde”, the rank highest local carnival dance group. Two years later, she ended her carnival dance career and turned to what is considered “contemporary dance”. Ever since entering a professional contemporary dance career, she has kept her carnival stage debut a secret. What remains are bittersweet memories; the discomfort of poorly fitting costumes and sexist gazes from a drunk audience blurred with the pride of being part of a strong community.  

Looking at carnival dance from a queer-feminist and de-colonial perspective, she found herself confronted with existing prejudices and stereotypes. To this day, traditional German carnival dance is deeply embedded in colonial, racist, sexist, ableist, homo- and transphobic moral values, carnival customs and body disciplinary practices. Nonetheless, she is intrigued by the appeal of Carnival dance for her as a young child. Torn between fascination and alienation she questions:

Is it possible to find the feminine strength of the Tanzgarde beyond sexualised female bodies? And why is the female troupe, uniformed and marching in unison, not experienced as threatening? Is there a collective potential in the Tanzgarde, hidden behind hasty judgments towards regional culture? Can a traditional body culture be revised in a contemporary way without appropriating it?

Within this project, Sabrina will also re-examine the archival material she collected from the German Carnival Museum in Kitzingen and the German Dance Archive in Cologne and compares and contrasts interviews with active carnival dancers and teachers, previously conducted together with dramaturg Antonia Gersch.

With a new awareness, Sabrina looks at traditional German Gardetanz and the customs of its practice as a paradoxical, multi-layered field addressing topics such as the search for and idealisation of community and uniform exclusion mechanism; as well as the development from a critical - almost queer - practice of parodying the Prussian militarism to a nowadays apolitical and highly regulated dance sport.


Sabrina Huth lives and works as a dance artist in Berlin. She gained her first stage experience as part of a Franconian “Tanzgarde” on carnival stages. Today, in her artistic work she crosses decelerated somatic practices with post-capitalist and queer fantasies of togetherness. Since 2018, Sabrina has been developing the choreographic approach "Imagined Choreographies" together with Ilana Reynolds to explore topics of absence, proximity and intimacy. Their multifaceted work has been presented on stages, in galleries, and in printed medium format within Germany and across Europe. Sabrina completed a MA in Artistic Research at the University of the Arts Amsterdam and was a guest student at the MA Choreography at HZT Berlin. She is a certified Myoreflex practitioner and currently teaches "Evening Digestion" sessions with Akemi Nagao at HZT Berlin.

Links and references to Sabrina’s work and research:

Credits:All pictures from Sabrina’s private archive and private collections of the German Carnival Museum Kitzingen. 

1 See; accessed on September 7th, 2022.

Moving Margins Chapter II
moving arti|facts from the margins of dance archives
into accessible scores and formats

- STEPPING OUT, funded by the Federal Government
Commissioner for Culture and Media with
in the
framework of the initiative NEUSTART KULTUR.
Assistance Program for Dance.