Dance News

Jacob’s Pillow Exhibits Never-Before-Seen Dance Costumes

Ruth St. Denis as Kuan Yin by Nickolas Muray. Photo courtesy of Jacob's Pillow archives

Jacob's Pillow, in collaboration with the Williams College Museum of Art, presents "Dance We Must: Treasures from Jacob's Pillow," June 29–November 11. The exhibit explores the legacy of Jacob's Pillow founder Ted Shawn and his wife and partner, the iconic American modern dance pioneer Ruth St. Denis, through artifacts shown for the first time since they appeared onstage between 1906 and 1940. St. Denis and Shawn spearheaded a style of movement that connected the physical and the spiritual, often inspired by indigenous and international sources—reflected by the vibrant objects in this exhibition.

Ted Shawn with Ruth St. Denis, 1916. Photo courtesy of Jacob's Pillow archives


Co-curators Caroline Hamilton (costume and dance historian at Jacob's Pillow) and Kevin Murphy (curator of American Art at WCMA) have gathered more than 350 materials, including 30 costumes, 200 photographs, 5 original antique costume trunks and a dozen original pieces of artwork.

Surrounded by mannequins, costumes and artwork in a basement at Jacob's Pillow, Hamilton and Murphy gave DT the inside scoop.

Dance Teacher: Tell us about the history of these costumes.

Caroline Hamilton: The main collection of costumes are what Ted Shawn and his dancers first came to the Pillow with, and they've been here in their original touring trunks ever since. The earliest costume is from 1906, and the latest are from the 1940s and 1950s. Some of these were worn and worn and worn. Once Ruth St. Denis found one she liked, she wanted to just keep it. There are costumes with layers of sequins, repairs and patches that she kept wearing for 30 years.

Headdress worn by Ruth St. Denis. Photo courtesy of Jacob's Pillow Archive

DT: What are your favorite artifacts in this exhibit?

Kevin Murphy: We've been able to conserve two portraits by Albert Herder [American painter illustrator and muralist] that have been perpetually hanging above the main stage at the Ted Shawn Theatre. They are monumental portraits of Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn, done by an artist who was on the edge of realism and modernism in 1925. Shawn had hung them himself in the theater. After his death, the estate took them to sell, and at the last minute Jacob's Pillow bought them back and hung them on Shawn's original nails. They haven't come down since. They are the last thing you see as the lights go down in the theater, but people have never been able to get up close to them. This is a great opportunity for people to see them and their colors that were richer than any of us had imagined.

CH: There is a headdress that Ruth St. Denis wears in the portrait of her depicted as Kuan Yin [the Chinese Goddess of mercy]. It's one of my favorite things I've found here. In all of her portraits she looks almost ethereal and goddess-like. But when you see the headdress up close, it looks like your grandmother's button box. It's such a crazy array of beads, buttons and feathers. They would just find things and make costumes out of them.

Ruth St. Denis as Kuan Yin, the Chinese goddess of mercy. Photo by Cherylynn Tsushima, courtesy of Jacob's Pillow Archives

DT: There are images and costumes worn by St. Denis and Shawn that may be considered offensive in modern times. Will a consideration and critique of these be incorporated into the exhibition?

KM: This exhibition will allow us to have conversations with students and faculty about racism and cultural appropriation. I'm interested in hearing from our students to see the responses they might have. It gives us a ton to talk about.

Dance Teachers Trending
Roshe (center) teaching at Steps on Broadway in New York City. Photo by Jacob Hiss, courtesy of Roshe

Although Debbie Roshe's class doesn't demand perfect technique or mastering complicated tricks, her intricate musicality is what really challenges students. "Holding weird counts to obscure music is harder," she says of her Fosse-influenced jazz style, "but it's more interesting."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Dean College
Amanda Donahue, ATC, working with a student in her clinic in the Palladino School of Dance at Dean College. Courtesy Dean College

The Joan Phelps Palladino School of Dance at Dean College is one of just 10 college programs in the U.S. with a full-time athletic trainer devoted solely to its dancers. But what makes the school even more unique is that certified athletic trainer Amanda Donahue isn't just available to the students for appointments and backstage coverage—she's in the studio with them and collaborating with dance faculty to prevent injuries and build stronger dancers.

"Gone are the days when people would say, 'Don't go to the gym, you'll bulk up,'" says Kristina Berger, who teaches Horton and Hawkins technique as an assistant professor of dance. "We understand now that cross-training is actually vital, and how we've embraced that at Dean is extremely rare. For one thing, we're not sharing an athletic trainer with the football players, who require a totally different skillset." For another, she says, the faculty and Donahue are focused on giving students tools to prolong their careers.

After six years of this approach, here are the benefits they've seen:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Thinkstock

Dance teachers are just as apt to fall into the trap of perfectionism and self-criticism as the students they teach. The high-pressure environment that is the dance world today makes it difficult to endure while keeping a healthy perspective on who we truly are.

To help you quiet your inner critic, and by extension set an example of self-love for your students, we caught up with sports psychologist Caroline Silby. Here she shares strategies for managing what she calls "neurotic perfectionism." "Self-attacking puts teachers and athletes in a constant state of stress, often making them rigid, inflexible and ultimately fueling high anxiety rather than high levels of performance," Silby says. "Perfectionistic teachers, dancers and athletes can learn to set emotional boundaries. They can use doubt, frustration and worry about missing expectations as cues to take actions that align with what they do when teaching/performing well and feeling in-control. Being relentless about applying a solution-oriented approach can help the perfectionist move through intense emotional states more efficiently."

Check out those strategies below!

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Alternative Balance
Courtesy Alternative Balance

As a dance teacher, you know more than anyone that things can go wrong—students blank on choreography onstage, costumes don't fit and dancers quit the competition team unexpectedly. Why not apply that same mindset to your status as an independent contractor at a studio or as a studio owner?

Insurance is there to give you peace of mind, even when the unexpected happens. (Especially since attorney fees can be expensive, even when you've done nothing wrong as a teacher.) Taking a preemptive approach to your career—insuring yourself—can save you money, time and stress in the long run.

We talked to expert Miriam Ball of Alternative Balance Professional Group about five scenarios in which having insurance would be key.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Thinkstock

Since the dawn of time, performers have had to deal with annoying, constant blisters. As every dance teacher knows (and every student is sure to find out), blisters are a fact of life, and we all need to figure out a plan of action for how to deal with them.

Instead of bleeding through pointe shoes and begging you to let them sit out, your students should know these tricks for how to prevent/deal with their skin when it starts to sting.

You're welcome!

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Brian Guilliaux, courtesy of Coudron

Eric Coudron understands firsthand the hurdles competition dancers face when falling in love with ballet. Now the director of ballet at Prodigy Dance and Performing Arts Centre in Frisco, Texas, Coudron trained as a competition dancer when he was growing up. "It's such a structured form of dance that when they come back to it after all of the other styles they are training in, they don't feel at home at the barre," he says.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Turn It Up Dance Challenge
Courtesy Turn It Up

With back-to-back classes, early-morning stage calls and remembering to pack countless costume accessories, competition and convention weekends can feel like a whirlwind for even the most seasoned of studios. Take the advice of Turn It Up Dance Challenge master teachers Alex Wong and Maud Arnold and president Melissa Burns on how to make the experience feel meaningful and successful for your dancers:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Kendra Portier. Photo by Scott Shaw, courtesy of Gibney Dance

As an artist in residence at the University of Maryland in College Park, Kendra Portier is in a unique position. After almost a decade of performing with David Dorfman Dance and three years earning her MFA from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, she's using her two-year gig at UMD (through spring 2020) to "see how teaching in academia really feels," she says. It's also given her the rare opportunity to feel grounded. "I'm going to be here for two years," she says, which offers her the chance to figure out the answers to some hard questions. "What does it mean to not dance for somebody else?" she asks. "What does it mean to take my work more seriously? To realize I really like making work, and figuring out how that can happen in an academic place."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by The Studio Director

As a studio owner, you're probably pretty used to juggling. Running a business is demanding, with new questions and challenges pulling your attention in a million different directions each day.

But there's a solution that could be saving you time and money (and sanity!). Studio management systems are easy-to-use software programs designed for the particular needs of studio owners, offering tools like billing, enrollment, inventory and emails, all in one place. The right studio management system can help you handle the day-to-day tasks that bog you down as a business owner, leaving you more time for the most important work—like connecting with students and planning creative curriculums for them. Plus, these systems can keep you from spending extra money on hiring multiple specialists or using multiple platforms to meet your administrative needs.

So how do you make sure you're choosing a studio management system that offers the same quality that your studio does? We talked to The Studio Director—whose studio management system provides a whole host of streamlined features—about the must-haves for any system, and the bonuses that make an excellent product stand out:

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Deanna Paolantonio leads a workshop. Photo courtesy of Paolantonio

Deanna Paolantonio had been interested in body positivity long before diabetes ever crossed her mind. As a Zumba and Pilates instructor who had just earned her master's degree in dance studies, she focused her research on the relationship between fitness and body image for women and young girls. Then, at age 25, just as she was accepted into the PhD program at York University in Toronto, she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1D).

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Robin Nasatir (center) with Peter Brown and Vicki Gunter. Photo by Christian Peacock

On a sunny Thursday morning in Berkeley, California, Robin Nasatir leads her modern class through a classic seated floor warm-up full of luscious curves and tilts to the soothing grooves of Bobby McFerrin. Though her modern style is rooted in traditional José Limón and Erick Hawkins techniques, the makeup of her class is far from conventional. Her students range in age from 30 all the way to early 80s.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox