Ted Shawn, Father of American Dance
June 1, 2014 5:24 PM   Subscribe

You've likely heard of Martha Graham and possibly of Ruth St. Denis, but it was the latter's husband, Ted Shawn, who pioneered and encouraged the participation of men in American modern dance. After the dissolution of their marriage and their boundary-pushing studio, Denishawn [NSFW/nudity], in the early 1930s he went on to form Ted Shawn and His Male Dancers, which frequently performed bare-chested or nude. Keeping with the precedent he and St. Denis had established, their work unapologetically appropriated from many cultures as a way to repudiate [NSFW/nudity] traditional preconceptions about professional dance. The company disbanded when most of its members left to fight in World War II, but the retreat space he purchased in western Massachusetts to house and train his dancers has since evolved to become a dance center and festival hub called Jacob's Pillow.

Bonus clip: Shawn speaking in the 1960s about his unflagging enthusiasm for dance.

This inspiration for this post brought to you by Dancing the Dream at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery.
posted by psoas (6 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
The exquisite Louise Brooks was a Denishawn dancer, and in her autobiography made it clear that her time spent dancing meant more to her than anything she did in Hollywood.
posted by kinnakeet at 6:16 PM on June 1, 2014

There is an incredible dynamic to men dancing, the "ballet" companies and many "modern" groups that are almost exclusively female just miss out on a theatrical dynamic. Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake is a fantastic example, the swans are swans, tough, mean, beautiful and not at all nice (rather like real swans (oh and the clip starts with the four little ducks music, jump a couple minutes in for better choreography)

The perception in this country that it's effeminate to be a dancer will hopefully change at some point, it's something very universal and just really good for the individual and the society that dances. I guess war's and such interrupt the important parts of life.
posted by sammyo at 6:25 PM on June 1, 2014 [3 favorites]

The photos in the Denishawn link are really extraordinary. Thanks so much for posting this.
posted by marsha56 at 7:37 PM on June 1, 2014

As a former modern dancer whose teachers and choreographers often held up Ted Shawn as one of the underappreciated pioneers of modern dance, this post made me so so so giddy. And don't even get me started on Jacob's Pillow; that place is a modern dancer's wet dream.
posted by that silly white dress at 8:29 PM on June 1, 2014

I just want to point out that the photos from the Denishawn link are all sourced from the collection of the New York Public Library's Dance Division. (They're all credited at the link, I just didn't see it mentioned here.) There are many more Denishawn photos at NYPL's Digital Collections site, as well as a Denishawn film.
posted by Awkward Philip at 9:06 PM on June 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

The tradition carries on.
posted by empath at 11:19 PM on June 1, 2014

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