The model for this sculpture was a young dancer at the Paris Opéra Ballet School called Marie van Goethem. She lived near Degas’s apartment and studio in the Montmartre area of Paris with her mother and two sisters. Degas made this nude study around 1878. It acted as a maquette (preliminary model) for a larger, dressed version of the dancer, which was the only sculpture Degas ever exhibited in his lifetime. It provoked a fierce public reaction, as she was deemed neither beautiful or an ‘important’ enough dancer to be the subject of a sculpture. The original wax model for this bronze casting was made following numerous preparatory studies of Marie. Her pose does not reflect any actual ballet step or exercise, but he clearly liked the position as it re-appears in other work.