Dance in Our Special Collections

Continuing the Music Division’s month-long celebration of Dance, I’m very happy to put a little step in our springtime and share a whirlwind tour of five collections newly described and available at the Library of Congress.

Black and white image of St. Denis

Albert Witzel, photographer. Ruth St. Denis in “Greek Veil Plastique Dance,” 1917. Box 4, folder 8, Cesi Kellinger Collection of Dance Material, Music Division.

We’ll begin with the Cesi Kellinger Collection of Dance Materials, a small but remarkably wide-ranging collection. An antiquarian bookdealer, Kellinger specialized in rare books on women artists and modern dance, collecting articles, correspondence, photographs, published works, and programs. The earliest materials in the Kellinger Collection are prints of dancers from 19th-century periodicals, but of particular note are the images she collected of dancer Ruth St. Denis including early photographs of St. Denis performing her own work. The collection also holds letters by major early 20th-century dance figures such as Ted Shawn, Mary Wigman, and Hanya Holm.

A dancer, choreographer, and educator, Hanya Holm (1893-1992) grew up in Germany. She moved to New York City in 1931 to open a dance studio based on the ideals of German expressionist dancer Mary Wigman. Holm is considered one of the founders of modern dance in America, but she also enjoyed an extensive career choreographing for Broadway. Her movement score for the musical Kiss Me, Kate (1948) is believed to have been the first instance of dance notation accepted by the United States Copyright Office. Her Labanotation score (a method for recording dance movements) for My Fair Lady (1956) is available in the newly described Dance Notation Collection, which also documents the work of nine other choreographers including George Balanchine, Agnes de Mille, and Doris Humphrey.

Five dancers performing

Leo Hurwitz, photographer. Hanya Holm and dancers (Jane Dudley at upper left), 1932. Box 4, folder 24, Jane Dudley Papers, Music Division.

Holm’s lasting legacy to the world of modern dance came through her career as an educator.  One of the hundreds of dance students who passed through the doors of her studio was a young Jane Dudley (1912-2001). Dudley began studying under Holm in New York City at the age of 19. After attending a summer course at Bennington College taught by Martha Graham, Dudley joined Graham’s company. The Jane Dudley Papers document her career with Graham as well as her work with the New Dance Group and as part of the Dudley-Maslow-Bales Trio with Sophie Maslow and William Bales. Dudley went on to run the Batsheva Dance Company in Israel and oversaw the teaching of Graham’s dance technique at the London School of Contemporary Dance.

One of Dudley’s fellow dancers in the Martha Graham Dance Company was Anna Sokolow (1910-2000).  Sokolow moved to New York City from Connecticut in 1925 at the age of 15 to study dance at the Neighborhood Playhouse. She danced with the Graham company from 1930 to 1938 before striking out on her own as a choreographer, dancer, and instructor. Sokolow’s extensive career is documented by her biographer, Larry Warren. A dance scholar and educator, Warren first published Anna Sokolow: The Rebellious Spirit in 1991. His research, including extensive interviews with many of Sokolow’s creative partners, is found in the Larry Warren Collection on Anna Sokolow and Lester Horton.

Anna Sokolow in dance pose on the floor

Unidentified photographer. Anna Sokolow in The Exile, 1939. Box 7, folder 6, Larry Warren Collection on Anna Sokolow and Lester Horton, Music Division.

Black and white, cut out photograph

Unidentified photographer. Lester Horton directing Salome, circa 1948. Box 24, folder 10, Lester Horton Dance Theater Collection, Music Division.

Warren’s first biography documented the life and career of Los Angeles-based teacher and choreographer Lester Horton (1906-1953). Born in Indiana, Horton moved west in the late 1920s to become a professional dancer, eventually founding his own company and dance school. The Lester Horton Dance Theater Collection holds the company’s records as well as material related to the dance school’s activities. Horton’s school served as the early training ground for many notable dancers such as Alvin Ailey, Carmen de Lavallade, Bella Lewitzky, James Mitchell, and James Truitte. Though only 47 when he died, Horton’s lasting impact to dance is through the movement technique he developed and which continues to be taught.

Whew! When you catch your breath, please don’t hesitate to leap into these and more of the dance resources available at the Library.

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