Modern Dance

Profiles By: Laura Jaros

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Feminism Through Movement

When reading the amazing story of Mary Waugh Taylor on the Women’s Archive Project (WAP), it is also important to understand modern dance as an art form. Jaros explores the idea of modern dance as a feminist enterprise, highlighting both the dance form’s creators, as well as the physical freedom and political issues it represents. Furthermore, she looks at the origins of modern dance in the United States along with the formation of modern dance in college settings across the nation, Omaha, and at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO).

Part One What is Modern Dance?

“All dance has expression. If there is no expression, I prefer the circus. The performers do more dangerous, more difficult technical things than we do. But we are dancers. We have to express and we have to project.”

—Luis Fuente

“So many dances leave me untouched, unmoved. A dancer should be able to raise an arm and make someone cry— in the way Isadora Duncan did. It is a necessity for any art to move you.”

—Pauline Koner

Modern dance, also referred to as contemporary dance, originated in the early twentieth century as a genre of dance that focuses on a dancer’s own interpretations. Moreover, it requires far less structure than traditional ballet. The form came into existence after a group of dancers in Europe rebelled against the rigid rules of ballet. Unlike ballet, in which dancers wear leotards and tightly-fastened hair, modern dancers

Part Two Modern Dance and Feminism

In many ways, modern dance can be viewed as feminist. For one thing, several of the key figures, leaders, and choreographers of modern dance have been women. These key leaders include but are not limited to Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, and Isadora Duncan. According to Feminism and Visual Culture Reader, men have always dominated classical ballet (Jones 423). When thinking about the big names in ballet, most people have heard of George Balanchine, Rudolf Nureyev, or Mikhail Baryshnikov, but few can recite the names of women dancers. In addition, modern dance has disrupted the rigid restriction of other dance genres with its free movement and non-specific positions that women of all shapes and sizes can perform. As Amelia Jones explains, “Most important, modern dance has transformed the types of movement seen on the stage, abandoning the purity of the line

Part Three The Origins of Orchesis in Colleges and Modern Dance at UNO

Modern dance was first pioneered at UNO in 1931 by Ruth Diamond, dance instructor and head of the Women’s Physical Education Program 1931–1942 (Wittman 16). Ruth founded the University’s first advanced dance group in 1935, which she called Orchesis. Orchesis is derived from a Greek word meaning “expressive gesture” (Anderson 111). During Ruth’s years as a dance educator, pioneer, and innovator at UNO, she also established the first-ever Men’s Modern Dance Group, which performed alongside the UNO Orchesis dancers. According to Jack Anderson, author of Art Without Boundaries: The World of Modern Dance, the origins of Orchesis groups in American colleges and universities date back to 1917, when lesser-known dance pioneer Margaret H’Doubler founded the first group at the University of Wisconsin-Madison as a university dance club for students interested in studying dance (111). H’Doubler also established the first

Part Four Nationwide Explosion of Modern Dance

Metal-Corbin explains that roughly 1980-1986, “There was an explosion of dance across the country” (Interview). She attributes the detonation of the arts in Omaha to a group called the “Performing Artist Omaha.” During this time, The Moving Company, along with other dance organizations throughout the city, were given many wonderful opportunities to work with big name dance companies from New York City. Because people were embracing dance, funding at that time was possible: “We would buy a master class for $500 and offer it to dancers from all over Omaha,” Metal-Corbin states (Interview). In collaboration with The Omaha Modern Dance Collective (OMDC), Performing Artist Omaha, and other dance organizations around Omaha, dancers worked to carve out a place for dance in the city. The picture below was taken in 1987 at the Summer Arts Festival in Omaha. Every year in

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