As a young dancer training with The Washington Ballet, Kitty Lunn fantasized about having a bone transplant. "I was a small person and I wanted to be a tall person," she says. One day in class, her teacher, dance legend Agnes de Mille, took Lunn's face in her hands and said, "Kitty, dear, you have to learn to dance in the body you have." Lunn had no idea how important those words would be when, years later, an accident would leave her paraplegic.
Ana Marie Forsythe's eyes twinkle, and a smile plays at the corners of her mouth as she welcomes the 40-plus teachers who are enrolled for her two-week-long Horton teacher-training workshop at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater studios in New York City—plus me, a dancer and writer, taking part for the day. As we watch Genius on the Wrong Coast, a film about Lester Horton, the "princess of Horton" (as someone aptly refers to Forsythe) offers her own version of a director's commentary: She identifies faces as they appear onscreen and interjects her own narration ("Fortification 15—that's the one I hated so much," she says).
The lateral T is a hallmark of Horton technique. When executed correctly, the body resembles the letter T: The torso tilts to 90 degrees, and the opposite leg extends for counterbalance.
One of the first choreographers to have a racially integrated dance company, Lester Horton (1906–1953) developed a series of movement exercises that have now been codified as the Horton technique. He also introduced modern dance to the West Coast: His Dance Theater in West Hollywood was the first modern dance venue for performance and teaching in Los Angeles.
The Indiana native's introduction to dance might have occurred with a Denishawn performance, a touring Wild West show with Native American dancing or Anna Pavlova's company, depending on what story he chose to tell. (Horton had a flair for the dramatic.) After briefly studying ballet, he teamed up with director Clara Bates to choreograph, star in and design the costumes for The Song of Hiawatha, which put him on the dance map while still a teenager. A short stint with Japanese dancer Michio Ito led to the formation of the first of Horton's several dance companies, the Dance Repertory Group.