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Dance and Dancers Music Theatrical Productions

About the Collection > Dance & Dancers

> Ballet & Theatrical Dance
> Ballroom
> Gertrude Hoffman

Dance occupied a back seat in the theatre of the performing arts in the latter part of the nineteenth century, but it began to come to prominence with the craze for the cakewalk starting in 1896. Loie Fuller's Serpentine Dance of twirling scarves and lights entranced audiences from 1902 and in 1906 Ruth St. Denis presented herself in a full length work Radha.

But it was in the second decade of the twentieth century that dance took center stage. The year 1911 was the ballerina Anna Pavlova's first American tour and the spectacular appearance of the elegant ballroom couple Vernon and Irene Castle. In the same year Isadora Duncan's Orpheus personified the classic Greek revival in dance.

Later during the First World War Duncan played to popular sentiment with her version of the Marseillaise. Pavlova and her troupe and later the Oukrainsky company brought classical ballet to cities and towns throughout the country. Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn established the Denishawn School in 1915 whose dancers explored the modern repertoire for years to follow. At the same time the young Morgan dancers from California burst upon the Keith vaudeville circuit. Another important dance act was that of the Marmein dancers who specialized in orientalia and exotica. Native American dancers themselves provided more authentic inspiration for rising artists like Martha Graham. A former Pavlova dancer Ruth Page came to prominence at the end of the decade and went on to a distinguished career as dancer and choreographer. The extraordinary career of specialty dancer, choreographer, impersonator, and movie actress Gertrude Hoffmann spanned over half a century.

Dance is the most ephemeral of the performing arts. Before the twentieth century it was preserved largely in still engravings or rudimentary descriptions. But with the advent of the motion picture camera, it became possible to document the actual performances of the dancers themselves. The Dance Division of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts has concentrated on obtaining copies of dance on film and video and actually sending teams to film performances and rehearsals in situ.


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