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Claude Conyers

(b New York, July 6, 1930). American modern dancer, choreographer, and teacher. Of Jamaican heritage, he grew up in Harlem where he learned all the popular dances of the 1940s and experienced West Indian music and dance on social occasions. Inspired by a performance of African dance by Pearl Primus, he auditioned for and won a scholarship to the New Dance Group in 1947. There he trained in modern dance, ballet, tap, and various ethnic dance traditions, and within a year he had made his professional début and had choreographed his first dance, Saturday’s Child (1948), set to the poetry of Countee Cullen. He went on to develop a diverse career as dancer and choreographer in concert dance, musical theater, television, and film.

McKayle formed his own dance group in 1951 and made three major works for it: Games (1951), performed to a capella singing and chanting by the dancers; ...

Article

Norton Owen

[Edwin Myers ]

(b Kansas City, MO, Oct 21, 1891; d Orlando, FL, Jan 9, 1972). American dancer, choreographer, teacher, writer and impresario. He is regarded as the father of modern dance in America. While studying to become a minister at age 19, Shawn was paralyzed by a bout of diphtheria, and dance was prescribed as physical therapy. He first trained in ballet and achieved some success presenting exhibition ballroom dances, but his artistic life truly began in 1914 when he first performed with Ruth St. Denis, whom he married that same year. During the next fifteen years, the activities of their Denishawn Company and School made history and spawned a new generation of modern dancers. Shawn was instrumental in shaping the early careers of Martha Graham, Charles Weidman, Doris Humphrey and Jack Cole.

Shawn and St. Denis separated in 1930 and dissolved Denishawn. With the subsequent purchase of a rundown Massachusetts farm known as Jacob’s Pillow, Shawn laid the groundwork both for his revolutionary company of men dancers and for America’s oldest dance festival. Ted Shawn and His Men Dancers toured from ...

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Barbara Palfy

(b Hartford, CT, Feb 9, 1910; d New York, March 29, 2000). American dancer, choreographer, and teacher. Born into a family of Russian-Jewish immigrants, she followed an older sister to dance classes at New York’s Emanuel Sisterhood Settlement House and ultimately to the Henry Street Playhouse in their Lower East Side neighborhood. There she was taught by Blanche Talmud and met Louis Horst and Martha Graham, with whose company she danced (1930–38), also assisting Horst’s choreography classes at Henry Street’s Neighborhood Playhouse. Fundamentally a modern dancer, she did study for a year at the Metropolitan Opera Ballet School.

So enamored of dance and so talented was Anna that she left formal education in her mid-teens to pursue dance and independently earn a living at it when her father’s incapacitation and early death left the family struggling. Her mother, a strong and socially engaged woman, exposed her daughters to the social consciousness movements of the day, an awareness that infiltrated most of Sokolow’s work. She also came to know and collaborate with young experimental composers like Alex North and Teo Macero, and was equally drawn to the music of serious concert composers like Berg and Scriabin....

Article

Barbara Palfy

(b New York, NY, April 23, 1903; d New York, NY, Aug 4, 1966). American dancer, choreographer, teacher, theater director, and organizer. The daughter of Russian-Jewish immigrants living frugally on the Lower East Side, she so often danced on the streets that the family enrolled her in the famous children’s dance classes given by Irene Lewisohn and Blanche Talmud at the Henry Street Settlement House. Smitten with dance and showing talent, she did complete high school but when still a teenager auditioned for and was accepted into the Metropolitan Opera Ballet, where she was trained in classical technique and appeared for four seasons.

Not only a fine dancer but a beauty, she was taken into the Bracale Opera Company for its 1920 South American tour, during which an admirer called her Tamiris, exotic and ruthless Persian queen of poetry, the name she adopted professionally. More ballet training followed, in Russian technique with Michel Fokine in New York, until she saw a concert by Isadora Duncan and was moved to study “natural” dancing....

Article

Barbara Palfy

(b Lincoln, NE, July 22, 1901; d New York, July 15, 1975). American dancer, choreographer, and teacher. Weidman studied dance as a youth locally and then with former Ballets Russes dancer Theodore Kosloff, going on to Denishawn in California to finish his training and to perform with the company for six years. In 1928 a number of the dancers rebelled against the exotica they were performing and left to find new ways of moving, becoming the pioneers of what would be called modern dance. With fellow dancer Doris Humphrey the Humphrey-Weidman Company was formed in New York, lasting until 1945 as a major troupe of the era.

While the innovative movement vocabulary they presented was primarily Humphrey’s contribution, Weidman developed an approach to dancemaking that he called “kinetic pantomime”: starting with an everyday gesture and letting it spool out improvisationally. Always an arresting presence on the stage, he created solos and group works that were full of characterization. His sensibilities were attuned to all shades of life, expressed in works that could be scathing as in his statement against bigotry in ...