By the end of the 1920s, dance was becoming so popular that it was no longer limited to New York audiences. A woman by the name of Margaret H’Doubler from the University of Wisconsin received training in New York under notable dancers of the time, and, in 1917, she carried her knowledge and expertise back to the Northern Midwest. Returning to the University of Wisconsin, H’Doubler established a college-level dance education system and founded the first Orchesis group, a dance group for advanced students that would grow to have chapters in universities all over America (Anderson 111), including UNL and, eventually, UNO. Beatrice Richardson, Ruth’s earliest formal dance instructor at UNL, used the H’Doubler system for dance education and was largely influenced by the theory and technique of H’Doubler. Consequently, Ruth was trained in modern dance according to the H’Doubler educational blueprint and was also a member of one of the first Orchesis groups in the Midwest during her undergraduate career at UNL.
H’Doubler’s educational theory and system emphasized the importance of teaching students how to live and express themselves within a democracy; she understood modern dance as “an organized form of self-expression,” a tool to wield within the democratic system (111). Colleges all across the nation began to adopt systems like H’Doubler’s, and it was this particular system of dance education that Ruth based her own curriculum on for the dance courses she offered at UNO. H’Doubler’s emphasis on creativity and embodied learning, learning that combines lived experience with the learning process, is a particular emphasis Ruth would bring to bear in her teachings at UNO. Like H’Doubler, Ruth favored current, political themes on which the students had an opinion and about which they were passionate. The Green Table was one such performance by Ruth’s dancers: “A powerful denunciation of war, The Green Table was inspired by a medieval painting of the Dance of Death, in which a skeletal figure is shown leading people of all social classes to the grave” (130). Ruth encouraged her students to see dance not only as an art form but as a way to respond to current political events, too.
This essay explores how the art of modern dance works to liberate women physically and metaphorically. ...
Some of Ruth’s other major influences include famous modern dance pioneers Martha Graham, Charles Weidman, and Doris Humphrey, all three of whom studied at the elite school of dance, Denishawn, in California. In America, dancers like Humphrey, Graham, and Weidman spearheaded the modern dance movement of the early twentieth century (Anderson). Ruth would be given the opportunity later in her career to study directly under such influential trailblazers as these. Despite the rapid spread of modern dance in the United States, it was still widely misunderstood; casual observers often could not distinguish modern dance from ballet, and it was often received with mockery and contempt (126, 141). Modern dance emphasized naturalness in new ways that often seemed eccentric—Graham’s theory of modern dance was based in the movement of breathing contractions and releases, while Humphrey’s theory was based in the rhythm of falling and recovering (157, 162). What such emphases as these illustrate, though, is that modern dance is fundamentally concerned with consciousness of movement and awareness of the body. Ruth excelled at incorporating these current developments and theories in the field of dance into her teaching and curriculum at UNO and in bringing these new elements to the Midwest through performances by her men’s and women’s dance groups, drawing touring dance companies to perform in Omaha, and even giving public lectures.
Ruth continued her education in dance throughout her teaching career, eventually earning a master’s degree in physical education from Columbia University Teachers College in January of 1934 (Wittman 35). Looking for new creative inspiration, she also studied at Vermont’s Bennington College in 1936 in a special six-week modern dance course. Ruth states, “… if I were to continue teaching what I call modern dance and if I were to continue doing programs as I had started, then I’d have to know more about it… it was a very beneficial summer and I learned a great deal… I had firsthand experience… with the real artists” (qtd. in Wittman 63). She was instructed at Bennington by her idols, who she refers to as “the real artists”—Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, and Charles Weidman (63). After her studies at Bennington under these famous dancers,