Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn

The parents of modern dance

Ruth St. Denis (1879–1968) and Ted Shawn (1891–1972) were both invaluable pioneers in modern dance, approaching movement as a spiritual outlet and legitimate profession for men and women. Their training school and performance group, Denishawn, gave birth to several new innovators of modern dance, and Shawn’s Massachusetts retreat for his male dancers, Jacob’s Pillow, has evolved into a renowned dance festival.

Ruth Dennis, born in New Jersey, was introduced to the movement principles of François Delsarte by her mother and began her performing career as a vaudeville dancer. She was inspired to create one of her earliest pieces after encountering a poster advertisement for Egyptian Deities cigarettes, depicting the goddess Isis enthroned in a temple.

Edwin Myers Shawn, from Kansas City, Missouri, planned on becoming a minister—until diphtheria left him with temporary paralysis, cured by dance as physical therapy. Shawn’s new fascination with dance led him to establish a touring ballroom-dance company. He first met the newly christened St. Denis in 1914. Within a year, they had married and forged a professional partnership. The Denishawn School of Dancing and Related Arts was founded in 1915, in Los Angeles, California; Denishawn Dancers was the name of their touring company.

St. Denis and Shawn split professionally and as a couple in 1930, though they never divorced and remained in touch. St. Denis continued her obsession with the Orient in her choreography (largely inaccurately, in keeping with popular fascination of the culture). Shawn bought a plot of Massachusetts land in 1930, Jacob’s Pillow, and transformed it into an arts colony. He sought to validate dance as a masculine form with his touring company Ted Shawn and His Men Dancers.

Fun Facts:

• Young Ruth Dennis was, as she used to say, “canonized” Ruth St. Denis by enterprising stage director David Belasco during her early vaudeville touring.

• Each member of Ted Shawn and His Men Dancers, which functioned as a living collective, received year-round housing, medical and dental care, food and clothes.

Click to enlarge:

Photos clockwise from top: by Franklin Price Knott; by Notman; by Witzel; all courtesy of Jacob’s Pillow Archives

Teaching Tips
Courtesy Jill Randall

Fall may be fast-approaching, but it's never too late to slip in a little summer reading—especially if it'll make you all the more prepared for the perhaps crazier-than-usual season ahead.

Here are six new releases to enrich your coming school year:

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by A Wish Come True
Courtesy A Wish Come True

Studio owners who've been in the recital game for a while have likely seen thousands of dance costumes pass through their hands.

But with the hustle and bustle of recital time, we don't always stop to think about where exactly those costumes are coming from, or how they are made.

If we want our costumes to be of the same high quality as our dancing—and for our costume-buying process to be as seamless as possible—it helps to take the time to learn a bit more about those costumes and the companies making them.

We talked to the team at A Wish Come True—who makes all their costumes at their factory in Bristol, Pennsylvania—to get an inside look at what really goes into making a costume, from conception to stage.

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners

Jana Belot's 31-year-old New Jersey–based Gotta Dance has six studios, 1,720 students and, usually, 13 recitals. In a normal year, Belot rents a 1,000-seat venue for up to 20 consecutive days and is known for her epic productions, featuring her studio classes and Gotta Dance's pre-professional dance team, Showstoppers. Until March, she was planning this year's jungle-themed recital in this same way.

When the pandemic hit, Belot soon decided to do a virtual recital instead. Due to the scale of the production—300 to 500 dancers performing in each of the 13 shows—postponing or moving to an outdoor venue wasn't practical. (Canceling, for her, was out of the question.)

Unsurprisingly, Belot's virtual recital was just as epic as her in-person shows—with 10,000 submitted videos, animation, musicians and more. Here's how it all came together, and what it cost her.

Keep reading... Show less

Get Dance Business Weekly in your inbox

Sign Up Used in accordance with our Privacy Policy.