Ruth St. Denis Dance Legacy

Of all forms of art, dance has remained an integral part of human’s life, probably for the longest period of time. Thus, dance has retained its special and even sacred function. In fact, the dance acquired its entertaining function only in the 1920s. The skill of Ruth St. Denis was unequalled. The choreographer’s contribution to the development of American modern dance was utterly significant. A dancer, according to St. Denis, is a mediator of the divine force. Thus, probably, one of the choreographer’s greatest achievements is making dance a harmonious combination of a sacred ritual and an activity that people do to assume themselves.

Ruth St. Denis was born in 1879 (“100 Dance Treasures”). Future dancer developed an interest in oriental cultures when she was still a child (“100 Dance Treasures”). Ruth St. Denis was encouraged to take dance classes, since she was young. Maud Davenport School in Somerville (NJ) became Denis’s first place where she had been studying ballroom and skirt dancing (“100 Dance Treasures”). Dancer’s mother made her constantly practice Delsarte poses. Ruth St. Denis received her first job in the middle of 1890s (“100 Dance Treasures”). She was working as a variety dancer at Worth’s Family Theater and Museum in New York. Ruth St. Denis presented her very first public performance, a dance that she called Incense, on March 22nd, back in 1906 (“100 Dance Treasures”). The performance has officially testified the impact that the dancer’s fascination with the spiritual rituals had on the creation of her choreographic works. The fact that the choreographer managed to combine the oriental spiritual practices and aesthetics was one of the most peculiar features of her performance style.


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Ruth St. Denis was not just a dancer and a choreographer, but also a pedagogue. Sharp business sense and spiritual practices Denis drew inspiration from prompted her to start teaching. Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn met for the first time in 1911 (Hecht 2). Their artistic collaboration began after a few years, in 1914 (Hecht 2). They became partners in professional and personal lives. Denis and Shawn’s cooperation has led to the opening of the Denishawn School of Dancing and Related Arts in Los Angeles, CA (Hecht 2). The school has served multiple purposes. First of all, the Denishawn School of Dancing and Related Arts was an institution wherein

the founders of the school were developing their performing and teaching skills and through which they conveyed their pedagogical and choreographic ideas concerning the modern dance. Secondly, the school had become a starting point at which the company Denishawn Dancers appeared. The company flourished within the United States of America and turned into an international enterprise. Dancers who entered the school were trained in a variety of styles, specifically, classical ballet, ballroom and oriental dancing. Yoga and Delsarte gymnastics were an integral part of the Denishawn School’s training program. Another distinctive feature of the Denishawn School of Dancing and Related Arts was that its instructors managed to combine both theoretical and practical aspects of choreography in its curricula: “St. Denis complemented the physical aspect of the training with theoretical lectures, in which the students were encouraged to engage in spiritual practices to refine their artistry” (Hecht 2). Many gifted dance students were trained in the Denishawn School, including Charles Weidman, Doris Humphrey, and Martha Graham (Hecht 2). All of the artists mentioned above made sustainable contributions to the development of dance.

Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn divorced and separated professionally in 1930 (Hecht 2). The rehearsal of Denishawn at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in Becket (MA) in 1931 was officially the moment when both the school and the company ceased to exist (Hecht 2). Nevertheless, the separation of Denis and Shawn turned out to be the event that lead to  foundation of the dance program at Adelphi University in Garden City, New York. Nowadays, Adelphi University dance program is considered the first one to be launched in a higher education establishment in the United States of America.

Gracefulness, exoticism, and spirituality were specifically the qualities that determined the artistry and performance style of Ruth St. Denis. Ruth St, Denis managed to combine her aspiration for beauty with the aura of spirituality. By and large, Denis has revolutionized the ways in which audience perceives a dancer and, at the same time, the ways dancers think of themselves and their mission. As a dancer, choreographer and pedagogue, Denis maintained that the performer should be passionate, graceful, and captivating. Some of Ruth St. Denis’s most famous solo performances are Radha, Incense, and The Cobras (Hecht 2). Numerous photographic materials were preserved, judging by which one may presume that Denis was a woman graceful about her ways not just on stage, but also in everyday life.

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To conclude, it is crucial to restate the following points. The revolutionary thing that Ruth St. Denis did as a choreographer, a dancer and a pedagogue was bringing up the subject of the sacred nature of dance. In her work, the artist combined theory and practice, placing the equal emphasis on artistry, inspiration, talent, and training. None of the dancers before Ruth St. Denis had so much interest in exploring the oriental traditions of choreography. Orientalism represented what the dancer herself believed in. Denis was admired by the audience and other dancers alike. She made a significant contribution to the development of the American Modern Dance and trained the whole generation of talented dance artists.

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