A Guided Dance Research Tour for National Dance Week

National Dance Week 2021 is upon us! Let’s take a guided tour from the safety of our homes through a recently published research guide, Dance Research at the Library of Congress. Pay close attention to all of the digital resources available online!

Vorenberg & Co. “En Tour,” 1904. Color lithograph of three women and a man riding in an automobile in the country. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

An exhibit item featured in Politics and the Dancing Body. Kenneth Finch, costume designer. Costume design for Lester Horton’s work Warsaw Ghetto, 1949. This is especially appropriate considering that the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was April 19. Lester Horton Dance Theater Collection, Library of Congress Music Division.

I organized this guide by resource type because of the many locations in the Library of Congress for dance research materials. In such a big place, it can be overwhelming to find what you need, let alone realize how much there is to digest when you do! The navigation menu on the left-hand side of the guide outlines these resources for you to explore: Reference Materials, Online Exhibitions, Digital Collections, Special Collections, and Dance Materials in General Collections.

For those of you looking for freely available online resources, I encourage you to explore the online exhibitions and digital collections I list in the guide. My personal favorite in the online exhibitions list is Politics and the Dancing Body because in my experience as a performer, I’ve found that programs are especially meaningful when they’re relevant to current events and interpret historical ones.

A digitized item from the Ballets Russes de Serge Diaghilev digital collection. Photograph of Le Train Bleu, 1924. Coco Chanel designed the costumes for this production, and Pablo Picasso and Henri Laurens designed the sets. Bronislava Nijinska Collection, Library of Congress Music Division.

A favorite digital collection is a bit harder for me to pin down. For me, it’s a pretty tight contest between Ballets Russes de Serge Diaghilev and WPA Posters – interestingly, for similar reasons. I’ve been a huge fan of music composed for the Ballets Russes for a long time. I get pretty overwhelmed thinking about how many of my favorite composers and visual artists collaborated to create some of the most enduring works in performing arts history and that they were brought together as equal partners with dance – Coco Chanel, Leon Bakst, Pablo Picasso, and Joan Miró anyone? Back when I used to teach undergraduates at the Johns Hopkins University, it was my favorite topic to cover. I always took my students on field trips to the Baltimore Museum of Art’s Cone Collection to get further immersed in the contemporary artistic context of the Rite of Spring.

A digitized item from the WPA Posters digital collection. Richard Halls, artist. “Federal Dance Theatre presents Salut au monde adapted from a poem of that name by Walt Whitman,” 1936 or 1937. Poster showing nine people dancing. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

The unique overlapping of art, music, and dance is also why the WPA Posters digital collection from the Prints and Photographs Division is my other contender for favorite digital collection featured in the research guide. The posters – works of art by the Federal Art Project – advertise and serve as surviving documentation about dramatic, dance, and musical performances during the Great Depression. It’s a fascinating time in American art, and one of my favorite books about it is Ninth Street Women: Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell, and Helen Frankenthaler: five painters and the movement that changed modern art by Mary Gabriel.

I know, I know, enough about art – this is a performing arts blog! But in all seriousness, I really believe that the Federal Dance Project and the Ballets Russes can’t be adequately appreciated or contextualized without art as part of the equation. Art and music are actually why I became a fan of dance later in life and then wrote the research guide online today for you all. Archives are of course the other vital half of that story for me. I’ve processed and written finding aids for many performing arts special collections before I came to the Library of Congress, and my love for the unique documents found in them echoes throughout the Music Division’s special collections for dance. I’ve brought them together for you in this sub-section of the guide. Go get familiar with those finding aids!

Do you have a favorite online resource featured in the research guide? A favorite special collection you’ve worked with in the past? Let me know!

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