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Ted Shawn, American Father of Modern Dance

Dancer, teacher, writer, and Desarte expert. An artist with a head for business.

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Ted Shawn's Legacy

"Perhaps the best known and most influential dance school founded in Los Angeles was Denishawn, which opened in 1915. Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn were, through the audiences they attracted and the students they trained (e.g. Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, Charles Weidman, as well as Cole) the vanguard of what would eventually become American modern dance." -- Adrienne McLean

Ted Shawn's most famous endeavor was his lengthy collaboration with his wife, Ruth St Denis, in the development and promotion of the Denishawn dance company and schools, but this alliance comprised only a fraction of his artistic endeavors. After he and St Denis separated in 1929 and Denishawn (and the American economy) collapsed, he went on to form the all-male company Ted Shawn and His Men Dancers and to establish Jacob's Pillow, which continues as home to a dance school, theatre and a world-renowned dance festival.

Shawn established a company of all male dancers in an effort to prove that dancing was an acceptable art form for men. They rehearsed, choreographed, and trained at Jacob's Pillow, Shawn's farm in Massachusetts, and performed throughout the United States from 1933 to 1940. Shawn continued to perform, generally as a solo artist, until 1962, but after 1940 his efforts became more concentrated upon dance in education. He established the Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival and University of the Dance which, by combining daily classes and evening performances, became the first intensive summer dance program in the United States. Shawn's primary aim was to provide students with a well-rounded dance background, which he achieved by inviting performers and instructors from all over the world.

Jane Sherman in her autobiography, Soaring:

He [Ted Shawn] believed that the dance-educated person should be able to do all forms of dance. This ability was achieved through a technique that, except for lack of pointes, was almost identical with basic classic ballet...It was he who designed our practice floor combinations of fouettes and arabesques, our jetees and pas de chats et al. As these combinations in turn became incorporated into dances (whether for the company or just for class), the movement became freer, less classic, more concerned with interpretations of ethnic expressiveness. Anyone who ever worked under Ted Shawn's drive for perfection (with his biting criticism) and his agressive energy could well understand how and why he became the first male dancer of real importance in America.
Jane Sherman describing Ted Shawn on the 1925 Denishawn tour of the Orient:
In addition to learning, creating, and assembling new ballets and performing the leading male roles in four different programs of old ones, he completed his book The American Ballet on the SS Jefferson from Seattle to Yokohama. During the tour, he succeeded in fulfilling his contract with Dance Magazine for a 3,000-word article a month on the dances of the Far East. (These eighteen articles made up the bulk of his book, Gods Who Dance, which was published in 1929.) He wrote and mailed back to the States outlines for courses to be given at the various Denishawn schools, to cover the period until he returned and could visit them in person. He prepared regular publicity bulletins of photographs and news covering our tour for some major U.S. papers, so that American audiences would not forget the Denishawn Company during our long absence. He edited the movies Buzz had taken and he pasted up scrapbooks of stills for future use. And he helped the management with the paper work necessary to get our 150 or so pieces of lugguage through the custom of many countries. Who, watching his Adonis, his Shiva, would have believed the amount of non-dancing responsibilities this artist had to carry?

Time Line

Ruth Denis born in New Jersey.
Born in Kansas City, Missouri on October 21.
Ruth St. Denis begins her professional dance career.
Ruth St.Denis begins to tour with David Belasco's dance company. She changes her stage name to Ruth St.Denis.
Mother and only brother die.
Ruth St. Denis sees the famous Egyptian Deities cigarette paster that inspires her to create her 'Oriental ballets's.
Ruth St. Denis presents Radha.
St. Denis presents The Incense and the Cobras.
Father and stepmother relocate to Denver. Ted joins them after high school.
1908: Enters University of Denver.
Dance partnership with Hazel Wallack.
Ruth St. Denis presents Egypta.
Attends his first Ruth St. Denis concert.
Leaves university to pursue a dance career.
Shawn and dance partner Norma Gould embark on a tour ending in NYC.
Ted Shawn meets Ruth St. Denis. Ted is hired for her dance company.
August 14: Ted and Ruth marry.
August 19: Off on a six-month cross-country tour!
Dance company acquires a name via a contest: Denishawn.
The first Denishawn school is established.
Ted begins to choreograph.
Performs an entire church service at International Church in San Francisco.
Doris Humphrey arrives at Denishawn.
Martha Graham arrives at Denishawn.
WWI: Ted enlists as an ambulance driver but does not see service.
Ted performs a dream sequence in a Cecil B de Mille film with Gloria Swanson.
Denishawn School is suspended. Ted opens a Ted Shawn School of Dance.
Ted creates Gnosienne, a Cretan dance.
Ted creates Xochitl, a Toltec ballet, as a starring vehicle for Martha Graham.
Ted writes Ruth St. Denis: Pioneer and Prophet.
First performance of Death of Adonis
Ted writes The American Ballet.
Denishawn tours India.
Ted and St.Denis separate, although they remain legally married for the rest of their lives.
Ted writes Gods Who Dance.
Ted's relationship with dancer Barton Mumaw is formed. They remained lovers and companions for the rest of Ted's lifetime.
Denishawn is disbanded.
Ted Shawn founded his Men Dancers.
Ted writes Fundamentals of a Dance Education.
Ted writes Dance We Must.
Ted writes How Beautiful Upon the Mountain.
Ted writes Every Little Movement.
Ted writes Thirty-three Years of American Dance.
Ted writes (with Gray Poole) One Thousand and One Night Stands.
Ted Shawn retires as a solo dancer.
Ted Shawn dies.
Barton Mumaw dies.


One Hundred Dance Treasures, Ted Shawn, Dance Heritage Coalition, Web.

Paul A Scolieri, Ted Shawn, Dance Heritage Coalition, Web.
Maura Enright, Proprietor
©2012- 2014 by Maura Enright
Updated: December 2015
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