Dance His(Her)story

Updated: Nov 12, 2019

RDC 2019 - 2020

"Fosse, Fosse, Fosse...Martha Graham, Martha Graham, Martha Graham...Twyla, Twyla, Twyla... Michael Kidd, Michael Kidd, Michael Kidd..."

Isadora Duncan


Isadora Duncan dancing in the Dionysos theater of Athens. 1903.

“If I could tell you what it meant, there would be no point in dancing it”

--Isadora Duncan

Considered the founding mother of American modern dance, Isadora Duncan was self-taught. She was born in California in 1877 and she lived in Western Europe and the Soviet Union from the age of 22 until her death at age 50, when her scarf became entangled in the wheels and axle of the car in which she was riding in 1927. She presented her first concerts in 1898, and by 1900 she was in Europe, where she would spend most of her remaining life and win the greatest acceptance. Duncan was truly revolutionary. She discarded the corset, slippers, and tutu of conventional ballet dress, adopting instead tunics that freed the body and revealed its movement. She used music by Chopin, Beethoven, Gluck, Wagner, and other first rank composers.

She danced on concert stages and in opera houses. She spoke of her dancing not as entertainment but as art with a high moral purpose. Most of all, she insisted upon the essence of dance as movement. Her vocabulary was simple but performed with a musicality, dynamic subtlety, and charisma that made it powerfully expressive. She believed the soul lived in the solar plexus.

Breaking with convention, Duncan imagined she had traced dance to its roots as a sacred art. She developed from this notion a style of free and natural movements inspired by the classical Greek arts, folk dances, social dances, nature and natural forces as well as an approach to the new American athleticism which included skipping, running, jumping, leaping and tossing.

Duncan's philosophy of dance moved away from rigid ballet technique and towards what she perceived as natural movement. To restore dance to a high art form instead of merely entertainment, she strove to connect emotions and movement: "I spent long days and nights in the studio seeking that dance which might be the divine expression of the human spirit through the medium of the body's movement." She believed dance was meant to encircle all that life had to offer—joy and sadness. Duncan took inspiration from ancient Greece and combined it with an American love of freedom. Her movement was feminine and arose from the deepest feelings in her body. This is exemplified in her revolutionary costume of a white Greek tunic and bare feet. Inspired by Greek forms, her tunics also allowed a freedom of movement that corseted ballet costumes and pointe shoes did not. Costumes were not the only inspiration Duncan took from Greece: she was also inspired by ancient Greek art, and utilized some of its forms in her movement.

Duncan wrote of American dancing: "let them come forth with great strides, leaps and bounds, with lifted forehead and far-spread arms, to dance." Her focus on natural movement emphasized steps, such as skipping, outside of codified ballet technique. Duncan also cited the sea as an early inspiration for her movement. Also, she believed movement originated from the solar plexus, which she thought was the source of all movement. It is this philosophy and new dance technique that garnered Duncan the title of the creator of modern dance.

In 1904, Duncan established her first school of dance just outside of Berlin, where she began to develop her theories of dance education and to assemble her famous dance group, later known as the Isadorables.

Between 1904 and 1907, Duncan lived and worked in Greece, Germany, Russia and Scandanavia. On the night of September 14, 1927, in Nice, France, Duncan was a passenger in an Amilcar CGSS automobile owned by Benoît Falchetto, a French-Italian mechanic. She wore a long, flowing, hand-painted silk scarf, created by the Russian-born artist Roman Chatov, a gift from her friend Mary Desti, the mother of American film director Preston Sturges. Desti, who saw Duncan off, had asked her to wear a cape in the open-air vehicle because of the cold weather, but she would only agree to wear the scarf. As they departed, she reportedly said to Desti and some companions, "Adieu, mes amis. Je vais à la gloire!" ("Farewell, my friends. I go to glory!"); but according to the American novelist Glenway Wescott, Desti later told him that Duncan's actual parting words were, "Je vais à l'amour" ("I am off to love"). Desti considered this embarrassing, as it suggested that she and Falchetto were going to her hotel for a tryst. Her silk scarf, draped around her neck, became entangled around the open-spoked wheels and rear axle, pulling her from the open car and breaking her neck. Desti said she called out to warn Duncan about the scarf almost immediately after the car left. Desti brought Duncan to the hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

As The New York Times noted in its obituary, Duncan "met a tragic death at Nice on the Riviera." "According to dispatches from Nice, Duncan was hurled in an extraordinary manner from an open automobile in which she was riding and instantly killed by the force of her fall to the stone pavement." Other sources noted that she was almost decapitated by the sudden tightening of the scarf around her neck. The accident gave rise to Gertrude Stein's mordant remark that "affectations can be dangerous.” At the time of her death, Duncan was a Soviet citizen. Her will was the first of a Soviet citizen's to be probated in the U.S.

Duncan was cremated, and her ashes were placed next to those of her children in the columbarium at Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. On the headstone of her grave is inscribed École du Ballet de l'Opéra de Paris.

RDC "Isadorables"


De Fina, Pamela. Maria Theresa: Divine Being, Guided by a Higher Order. Pittsburgh: Dorrance, 2003. ISBN 0-8059-4960-7

About Duncan's adopted daughter; Pamela De Fina, student and protegée of Maria Theresa Duncan from 1979 to 1987 in New York City, received original choreography, which is held at the New York Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center.

Duncan, Anna. Anna Duncan: In the footsteps of Isadora. Stockholm: Dansmuseet, 1995. ISBN 91-630-3782-3

Duncan, Doralee; Pratl, Carol and Splatt, Cynthia (eds.) Life Into Art. Isadora Duncan and Her World. Foreword by Agnes de Mille. Text by Cynthia Splatt. Hardcover. 199 pages. W. W. Norton & Company, 1993. ISBN 0-393-03507-7

Duncan, Irma. The Technique of Isadora Duncan. Illustrated. Photographs by Hans V. Briesex. Posed by Isadora, Irma and the Duncan pupils. Austria: Karl Piller, 1937. ISBN 0-87127-028-5

Duncan, Isadora. My Life. New York: Boni and Liveright, 1927. OCLC 738636

Duncan, Isadora; Cheney, Sheldon (ed.) The Art of the Dance. New York: Theater Arts, 1928. ISBN 0-87830-005-8

Kurth, Peter. Isadora: A Sensational Life. Little Brown, 2001. ISBN 0-316-50726-1

Levien, Julia. Duncan Dance: A Guide for Young People Ages Six to Sixteen. Illustrated. Dance Horizons, 1994. ISBN 0-87127-198-2

Peter, Frank-Manuel (ed.) Isadora & Elizabeth Duncan in Germany. Cologne: Wienand Verlag, 2000. ISBN 3-87909-645-7

Savinio, Alberto. Isadora Duncan, in Narrate, uomini, la vostra storia. Bompiani,1942, Adelphi, 1984.

Schanke, Robert That Furious Lesbian: The Story of Mercedes de Acosta. Carbondale, Ill: Southern Illinois Press, 2003.

Stokes, Sewell. Isadora, an Intimate Portrait. New York: Brentanno's Ltd, 1928.

Sturges, Preston; Sturges, Sandy (adapt. & ed.) (1991), Preston Sturges on Preston Sturges, Boston: Faber & Faber, ISBN 0571164250

Loie Fuller


Loie Fuller (born Marie Louise Fuller; January 15, 1862 – January 1, 1928), was an American actress and dancer who was a pioneer of both modern dance and theatrical lighting techniques. Born in the Chicago suburb of Fullersburg, now Hinsdale, Illinois,

Fuller began her theatrical career as a professional child actress and later choreographed and performed dances in burlesque (as a skirt dancer), vaudeville, and circus shows. An early free dance practitioner, Fuller developed her own natural movement and improvisation techniques. In multiple shows she experimented with a long skirt, choreographing its movements and playing with the ways it could reflect light.

By 1891, Fuller combined her choreography with silk costumes illuminated by multi-coloured lighting of her own design, and created the Serpentine Dance. After much difficulty finding someone willing to produce her work when she was primarily known as an actress, she was finally hired to perform her piece between acts of a comedy entitled Uncle Celestine, and received rave reviews.

Fuller left for Europe in June 1892. She became one of the first of many American modern dancers who traveled to Europe to seek recognition.Her warm reception in Paris persuaded Fuller to remain in France, where she became one of the leading revolutionaries in the arts. A regular performer at thFolies Bergère with works such as Fire Dance, Fuller became the embodiment of the Art Nouveau movement and was often identified with Symbolism, as her work was seen as the perfect reciprocity between idea and symbol.

Art Nouveau, ornamental style of art that flourished between about 1890 and 1910 throughout Europe and the United States. Art Nouveau is characterized by its use of a long, sinuous, organic line and was employed most often in architectureinterior designjewelry and glassdesign, posters, and illustration. It was a deliberate attempt to create a new style, free of the imitative historicism that dominated much of 19th-century art and design. About this time the term Art Nouveau was coined, in Belgium by the periodical L’Art Moderne to describe the work of the artist group Les Vingt and in Paris by S. Bing, who named his gallery L’Art Nouveau. The style was called Jugendstil in Germany, Sezessionstil in Austria, Stile Floreale (or Stile Liberty) in Italy, and Modernismo (or Modernista) in Spain.

The movement was committed to abolishing the traditional hierarchy of the arts, which viewed the so-called liberal arts, such as painting and sculpture, as superior to craft-based decorative arts. The style went out of fashion for the most part long before the First World War, paving the way for the development of Art Deco in the 1920s, but it experienced a popular revival in the 1960s, and it is now seen as an important predecessor - if not an integral component - of modernism.

Gustav Klimt (July 14, 1862 – February 6, 1918) was an Austrian symbolist painter

famously said, “Enough of censorship…I refuse every form of support from the state, I’ll do without all of it,” – because he was attacked for his work’s swirling erotic forms, he went on pioneer his Gold Period – one of the highlights of Art Nouveau.

won the gold medal in 1911 International Exhibition, also held in rome.  The painting show a little girl in the protecting arms of a young woman, while beside them an old woman stands with bowed head. The aged crone is symbolic of the passage of time. The Three Ages of Woman falls into Klimt's Golden Period which includes other works such as The Kiss. This period was characterized by high ornamentation and the use of gold and metallic paints.[4] This work also suggest that it is part of the Art Nouveau movement due to the time period and the decorative elements. The Painting is located in Rome at the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna.
"The Three Ages of Women" 1905

Fuller began adapting and expanding her costume and lighting, so that they became the principal element in her performance—perhaps even more important than the actual choreography, especially as the length of the skirt was increased and became the central focus, while the body became mostly hidden within the depths of the fabric. An 1896 film of the Serpentine Dance by the pioneering film-makers Auguste and Louis Lumière gives a hint of what her performance was like. (The unknown dancer in the film is often mistakenly identified as Fuller herself; however, there is no actual film footage of Fuller dancing.)

Fuller's pioneering work attracted the attention, respect, and friendship of many French artists and scientists, including Jules Chéret, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, François-Raoul Larche, Henri-Pierre Roché, Auguste Rodin, Jean-Léon GérômeFranz von StuckMaurice DenisThomas Theodor Heine, Paul-Léon Jazet, Koloman Moser, Demetre Chiparus, Stéphane Mallarmé, and Marie Curie. Fuller was also a member of the Société astronomique de France (French Astronomical Society).

Fuller supported other pioneering performers, such as fellow United States-born dancer Isadora Duncan. Fuller helped Duncan ignite her European career in 1902 by sponsoring independent concerts in Vienna and Budapest.Fuller had a school and a company beginning in 1908, where she taught natural movement and improvisational techniques. She did not, however, teach them her lighting and costuming "tricks."Fuller was the first expatriot American dancer, and introduced Isadora Duncan to Parisian audiences.

In 1891, Loie Fullerbegan experimenting with the effects of gas lighting on her silk costumes. Fuller developed a form of natural movement and improvisation techniques that were used in conjunction with her revolutionary lighting equipment and translucent silk costumes. Fuller was an inventor and stage craft innovator who held many patents for stage lighting, including the first chemical mixes for gels and slides and the first use of luminescent salts to create lighting effects. Most of the movement was performed with the arms, as Fuller had minimal dance training. She emphasized visual effect rather than storytelling or expressing emotions.

She created a unique art form by crafting mesmerizing, multi-media spectacles out of fabric, motion and light. With her swirling costumes and specially-engineered illuminations, this American-born artist enraptured fin de siècle Paris. A favorite subject of visual artists (Jules Chéret, Henri de Toulouse-Latrec, François-Raoul Larche, Pierre Roche, among others), she became the embodiment of the Art Nouveau movement. Fuller’s unprecedented success in Europe paved the way for the careers of later modern dancers, including Isadora Duncan, Maud Allan, and Ruth St. Denis. Fuller was influential, not just in fields of dance and the visual arts, but also in lighting design, stagecraft and cinema. Given the today’s preoccupation with technology and its origins, Fuller’s ingenious use of special effects has particular relevance. An independent visionary artist, Fuller fashioned herself into one of her era’s most influential and celebrated performers. 

Fuller occasionally returned to America to stage performances by her students, the "Fullerets" or Muses, but spent the end of her life in Paris. She died of pneumonia at the age of 65 on January 1, 1928 in Paris, two weeks shy of her 66th birthday. She was cremated and her ashes are interred in the columbarium at Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.

Sarah's reimagining of Loie Fuller's Serpentine Dance


Cohen, Selma (1998). "Fuller, Loie". The International Encyclopedia of Dance. Oxford University Press.

Sommer, Sally R. “Loïe Fuller.” The Drama Review: TDR, vol. 19, no. 1, 1975, pp. 53–67.

Sally R. Sommer, "La Loie: The Life and Art of Loie Fuller", Penguin Publishing Group, 1986, ISBN 9780399129018.

Kraut, Anthea. "White Womanhood and Early Campaigns for Choreographic Copyright" in Choreographing Copyright : Race, Gender, and Intellectual Property Rights in American Dance. Oxford, GB: Oxford University Press, 2015. ProQuest ebrary.

Albright, Ann Cooper (2016). "Resurrecting the Future: Body, Image, and Technology in the Work of Loïe Fuller". In Rosenberg, Douglas (ed.). The Oxford Handbook of Screendance Studies. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. pp. 715–730. ISBN 978-0-19-998160-1.

Rhonda K. Garlick, Electric Salome: Loie Fuller's Performance of Modernism, Princeton University Press, February 2009, ISBN 9780691141091.

Loie Fuller collection, 1914-1928, held by the Jerome Robbins Dance Division, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

Loie Fuller papers, 1892-1913, held by the Jerome Robbins Dance Division, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

Loie Fuller notebooks and letters, held by the Jerome Robbins Dance Division, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

Fuller's autobiographical memoir Quinze ans de ma vie was written in English, translated into in French by Bojidar Karageorgevitc and published by F. Juven (Paris) in 1908 with an introduction by Anatole France. She drafted her memoirs again in English a few years later, which were published under the title Fifteen Years of a Dancer's Life by H. Jenkins (London) in 1913. The New York Public Library Jerome Robbins Dance Collection holds the nearly complete manuscript to the English edition and materials related to the French edition.Although her book is a first hand account, she was also known for being very adaptive in her story telling. There are seven highly dramatized versions of how she got her first silk skirt; however, the real story is unknown. As well as writing about inventing the Serpentine Dance, she also wrote extensively about her own theories of modern dance and motion.

Ruth St. Denis


Ruth St. Denis, original name Ruth Dennis, (born January 20, 1879, Newark, New Jersey, U.S.—died July 21, 1968, Los Angeles, California), American contemporary dance innovator who influenced almost every phase of American dance.

From an early age Ruth Dennis displayed a marked interest in the theatre and especially in dance. She began dancing and acting in vaudeville and musical comedy shows when she was a teenager, and she appeared in David Belasco’s productions of ZazaThe Auctioneer, and Du Barry. While touring in the last play she was reputedly inspired by a cigarette poster featuring an Egyptian scene of the goddess Isis to begin investigating Asian art and dance.

Dennis took the stage name Ruth St. Denis, and in 1906, after studying Hindu art and philosophy, she offered a public performance in New York City of her first dance work, Radha (based on the milkmaid Radha who was an early consort of the Hindu god Krishna), together with such shorter pieces as The Cobra and The Incense. A three-year European tour followed. She was particularly successful in Vienna, where she added The Nautch and The Yogi to her program, and in Germany. Her later productions, many of which had religious themes, included the long-planned Egypta (1910) and O-mika (1913), a dance drama in a Japanese style.

In 1914 St. Denis married Ted Shawn, her dance partner, and the next year they founded the Denishawn school and company in Los Angeles. During that time, St. Denis’s choreographic style broadened to include group numbers occasionally derived from European as well as Asian sources. Among her choreographic innovations were “music visualization”—a concept that called for movement equivalents to the timbres, dynamics, and structural shapes of music in addition to its rhythmic base—and a related choreographic form that she called “synchoric orchestra”—a technique, comparable to the eurythmics of Émile Jaques-Dalcroze, that assigned one dancer to interpret the rhythms of each instrument of the orchestra.

Ruth St. Denis with students from her school

St. Denis and Shawn separated, both professionally and maritally, in 1931, though they never divorced. St. Denis, who retired briefly from public performance, founded the Society of Spiritual Arts and devoted much of the rest of her life to promoting the use of dance in religion. In 1940, with La Meri (Russell M. Hughes), she founded the School of Natya to continue the teaching of South Asian dance. She resumed performing in 1941 with an appearance at Shawn’s Jacob’s Pillow Festival in Massachusetts, where she continued to appear annually until 1955. Often called the “first lady of American dance,” she remained active into the 1960s, when many of her better-known solos were recorded on film.

St. Denis founded Adelphi University's dance program in New York State in 1938, which is credited as one of the first dance departments in an American university. It has since become a cornerstone of Adelphi's Department of Performing Arts.

St. Denis had a profound influence on the course of modern dance in America, particularly through Denishawn, which was the first major organized centre of dance experiment and instruction in the country and whose students included Martha Graham and Doris Humphrey. Prompted by a belief that dance should be spiritual instead of simply entertaining or technically skillful, St. Denis brought to American dance a new emphasis on meaning and the communication of ideas by using themes previously considered too philosophical for theatrical dance. Although she was never concerned with technique for its own sake, her extensive use of Asian dance forms and abstract “music visualizations” encouraged her students to develop other nonballetic movements that became known as modern dance. Her autobiography, Ruth St. Denis: An Unfinished Life, was published in 1939. Ruth St. Denis died of a heart attack on July 21, 1968, aged 89, at Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital in Los Angeles.


Bernardi, Vito di: Ruth St. Denis. Palermo, L'Epos, 2006. ISBN 88-8302-314-5.

Desmond, Jane: Dancing Out the Difference: Cultural Imperialism and Ruth St. Denis’s Radha of 1906.In: Dils, Ann/Cooper Albright, Ann (eds.): Moving History, Dancing Cultures. A Dance History Reader.Wesleyan University Press, Wesleyan 2001, pp. 256–270, ISBN 978-0-8195-6413-9.

LaMothe, Kimerer L.: Passionate Madonna: The Christian Turn of American Dancer Ruth St. Denis.In: Journal of the American Academy of Religion.Volume 66, Issue 4/1998, pp. 747–769.

Miller, Kamae A.: Wisdom Comes Dancing: Selected Writings of Ruth St. Denis on Dance, Spirituality and the Body. Seattle: PeaceWorks. 1997. ISBN 0-915424-14-2.

Schlundt, Christena L: Into the mystic with Miss Ruth. Dance Perspectives Foundation, 1971.

Schlundt, Christena L.: The Professional Appearances of Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn. A Chronology and an Index of Dances 1906-1932.Literary Licensing (LLC), New York 1962, ISBN 978-1-2586-3519-0.

Shawn, Ted: Ruth St. Denis: pioneer & prophet; being a history of her cycle of oriental dances. Printed for J. Howell by J. H. Nash, 1920.

Shelton, Suzanne: Divine Dancer: A Biography of Ruth St. Denis. New York: Doubleday, 1981.

Sherman, Jane/Schlundt, Christena L.: Who’s St. Denis? What Is She? In: Dance Chronicle. Studies in Dance and the Related Arts.Volume 10, Issue 3/1987, pp. 305–329.

St. Denis, Ruth: Ballet of the States.In: Dance Chronicle. Studies in Dance and the Related Arts.Volume 20, Issue 1/1997, pp. 52–60.

St. Denis, Ruth: Dance as spiritual expression.In: Rogers, Frederick Rand (ed.): Dance: A Basic Educational Technique. A Functional Approach to the Use of Rhythmics and Dance as Prime Methods of Body Development and Control, and Transformation of Moral and Social Behaviour. Dance Horizons Inc., New York 1980, pp. 100–111, ISBN 978-0-8712-7108-2.

St. Denis, Ruth: The Dance as Life Experience.In: Brown, Jean Morrison (ed.): The Vision of Modern Dance.Princeton Book Company, Princeton/New Jersey 1979, pp. 21–25, ISBN 978-0-9166-2213-8.

St. Denis, Ruth: An Unfinished Life: an Autobiography. Dance Horizons Republication, Brooklyn, New York, 1969.

St. Denis, Ruth: Religious Manifestations in the Dance.In: Sorell, Walter (ed.): The Dance has many Faces.Columbia University Press, New York/London 1968, pp. 12–18, ISBN 978-0-2310-2968-1.

St. Denis, Ruth: Freedom. A Rhythmic Interpretation.In: Dance Observer.Volume 23, Issue 1/1956, pp. 6–7.

St. Denis, Ruth: What is Religious Dance?In: Dance Observer.Volume 17, Issue 5/1950, pp. 68–69.

St. Denis, Ruth: Seeds of a New Order.In: Division of Higher Education of the Board of Education of the United Methodist Church (ed.): Motive.Volume 8, Issue 7/1948, pp. 28–29.

St. Denis, Ruth: My Vision.In: Dance Observer.Volume 7, Issue 3/1940, p. 33/p. 42.

St. Denis, Ruth: Lotus Light. Poems.Boston/New York 1932.

St. Denis, Ruth: The Dance of the East.In: Theatre Arts Monthly. The International Magazine of Theatre and Screen.August 1927, pp. 605–612.

Terry, Walter: Miss Ruth: the "more living life" of Ruth St. Denis. Dodd, Mead, New York, 1969.

Doris Humphrey

1895 - 1958

(October 17, 1895 – December 29, 1958) Humphrey was born in Oak Park, Illinois, but grew up in Chicago, Illinois. She was an American dancer and choreographer of the early twentieth century. Along with her contemporaries Martha Graham and Katherine Dunham, Humphrey was one of the second-generation modern dance pioneers who followed their forerunners – including Isadora Duncan, Ruth St. Denis, and Ted Shawn – in exploring the use of breath and developing techniques still taught today. As many of her works were annotated, Humphrey continues to be taught, studied, and performed.

Doris Humphrey was a choreographic master, theoretician, and creator of the technique known as fall and recovery. She studied at the Denishawn school in Los Angeles, where her teaching and creative abilities were quickly recognized. In 1928 she left Denishawn and gave her first independent concert with Charles Weidman, with whom she formed the Humphrey‐Weidman Studio and Company in New York. From the start her work demonstrated an unerring sense of form, as well as an interest in large‐scale abstract works.

Humphrey’s theory explored the nuances of the human body's responses to gravity, embodied in her principle of "fall and recovery". She called this "the arc between two deaths". At one extreme, an individual surrenders to the nature of gravity; at the other, one attempts to achieve balance. Through the fall and recovery principle, Humphrey is able to illustrate emotional and physical climax of struggling for stability and submitting to the laws of gravity.

Starting with basic physical resources like breath, weight, balance, and spatial orientation, the dancer moves between the "death" of stasis and the activity of maintaining balance. As the body approaches an extreme of off-balance, it reverses or rebounds into another risky trajectory. The resulting vocabulary of swings, suspensions, falls, leaps, and turns, with variations of energy and three- dimensional sculpting effects, produces exciting, viscerally expressive movement.

Like Isadora Duncan and Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey was interested in the fundamental importance of tension and relaxation in the body and used it as the foundation of her own system of movement principles. She called her version of the contraction and release of muscles and of the breath cycle "fall and recovery." Unlike Graham, who stressed the tension in the cycle, Humphrey located the height or apex of the continuum in the suspension of tension. As a result, her vocabulary was based on the notion that all movement patterns fall into three divisions: opposition; succession; and unison and that all movement characteristics fall into three divisions: sharp accent; sustained flow; and rest.

Her choreography from these early years includes Air for the G String, Water Study, Life of the Bee, Two Ecstatic Themes, and The Shakers. Unlike the Denishawn approach in choreography, finding inspiration from abroad, Humphrey sought inspiration from within her home, America. The Shakers, about the 18th century American religious group, is a notable example of finding inspiration from America.

The Humphrey-Weidman Company was successful even in the Great Depression, touring America and developing new styles and new works based not on old tales but on current events and concerns. In the mid-1930s Humphrey created the "New Dance Trilogy", a triptych comprising With My Red Fires, New Dance, and the now-lost Theater Piece. Though the three pieces were never performed together, they were danced to the score by Wallingford Rigger. Here Humphrey looks at the competitive lives of businessmen, working women, athletes, and actors.

She founded the Juilliard Dance Theatre in 1955 and her book, The Art of Making Dances (1959), was based on her theories about dance composition.

Shortly after her death in 1958, Humphrey's book, The Art of Making Dances, in which she shared her observations and theories on dance and composition, was published. In the introduction she observed that ballet had changed radically in the 20th century. "Suddenly the dance," she said, "the Sleeping Beauty, so long reclining in her dainty bed, had risen up with a devouring desire." She believed in emotions and movement moving "from the inside out", but she also believed in working abstractly where specific events and characters were not illustrated in a way that made sense. For example, "she believed that the concept of democracy was more convincingly conveyed by a fugue uniting four different themes than by a woman in red, white and blue." Her theory of Fall and Recovery is still used to this day by many choreographers.


Au, Susan1988 and 2002. "Ballet and Modern Dance". London: Thames & Hudson, Ltd.

Dunning, Jennifer 1989. "Review/Dance; Recalling the Spirit of Doris Humphrey". The New York Times.

"The Art of Making Dances" inspired movement/choreography exploration homework assignment

Choreography is the process of selecting and forming movement into a dance, designing the action to satisfy a particular intent.

Choreography is a process of exploration, improvisation, selection and organization.

Choreography is a way of getting to know yourself.

The movements material and method influence the final product of a dance piece

Choreography is individual for each dance.

Focus and performance qualities along with theatrical elements aid the final effect of your piece.

“A choreographer should be an observer of physical and emotional behavior.” (Humphrey, page 22)


As you walk around school today observe the physical, body language, of your classmates. Choose three different people to observer for three minutes. How does their body represent their emotions?

Person 1


Person 2


Person 3


What have you learned about yourself from observing others?


Now ask yourself: “What do I believe in, what do I want to say?” (Humphrey, 21)

This will be theme of your dance. The subject matter should be the source of inspiration for your dance. The theme should be something that you feel passionate