In 1863, Charles Garnier, the architect of the new Paris Opera, commissioned four sculpted groups by four artists who had won the Grand Prix de Rome to decorate the facade of the building. Carpeaux was to cover the theme of dance. Over a three-year period, he produced a variety of sketches and models before conceiving this turning farandole of women encircling the spirit of dance. The sculptor's main concern was to convey the feeling of movement, and this he achieved through a dual momentum of circular and vertical motion. The leaping spirit dominates the group, urging on the circle of bacchantes, in unbalanced postures.
The public was shocked by the realism of the female nudes, which they judged unseemly; indeed, a bottle of ink was thrown against the sculpture and its removal was requested. However, the war of 1870, followed by the death of Carpeaux, put an end to the controversy.