|Creative dance in American life and education|
Mildred Catherine Spiesman
Uploaded by: Pocket Masters
Pockets: Gottesman Libraries Archive, Historical Dissertations
Tags: Creation (Literary, artistic,, Dance
LET THE FACTS CONCLUDE
The Importance of Creative Dance
American dance pioneers design an art form for the people
When Isadora Duncan determined the basic principle of dance to be the translation of subjective experience into overt movement, she gave to modern civilization one of the most powerful of all educational tools. Due to her efforts and those of American dance pioneers who have succeeded her (in the professional as well as in the educational field) there has come into being an artistic activity which brings refreshment, growth, and satisfying joy to all who participate. During her lifetime Isadora Duncan could not accurately predict the form which her dance art would ultimately assume in her native land. Yet she knew and often stated that her way of expression should be something more than a form of professional entertainment. To her dance should be a way of life which all Americans can pursue for their betterment.
In the past half century dance artists and educators have reshaped DuncanĂs form of dance into an art truly expressive of America. Yet in spite of the many changes which they have made, all of them have faithfully adhered to the basic principle which the first dancer established. For them, as for Isadora Duncan, creative dance has a more significant contribution to make than being merely a theatre art-- it is a medium through which the total personality can be aided in becoming an integrated whole. To be sure the first generation of dance pioneers (Duncan, St. Denis, Shawn, and Colby) did not comprehend the educational implications of their art as fully as the second generation. But these earlier artist-educators did recognize its values well enough to establish the foundations on which educational dance is now structured.
Educational concepts and contributions of the first generation
When Isadora Duncan began to design her style of dance in the closing years of the 19th century, she did so in an era characterized by industrial expansion, exploitation, and imitation. It was a period in American history when the people almost slavishly worshipped European objects of art. It was a period in which there was very little original art activity, and in American schools such esthetics as did exist were patterned after the rote method of learning which dominated educational curricula. In spite of these [barriers], Isadora Duncan succeeded in developing an art form that represented almost the exact antithesis of the accepted social standards of her day. Contrary to popular belief, it was not her intent to formulate a style of dance that would be imitative of the art of ancient Greece. Rather she sought to design an art medium that would be a personal expression of feelings and emotions. Without benefit of formal training in psychology or physiology, Duncan knew intuitively that biologically man functioned in this manner. She knew that physical movement was neither isolated nor distinct from the other components of the personality but was the result of a mental or emotional stimulant.
In experimenting with a way of dance founded on this base, Duncan in a sense restored dance to life. Drawing upon subjective experience for material, she used the whole personality rather than just physical body for her compositions. She took the attributes and functions of normal man which he uses unconsciously and translated them into conscious practice. She dealt with problems of human emotion and to make her way of expression accurate and veracious sought the central source of all movement. In addition, she investigated factors which could release true movements and attempted to isolate ˘authentic gestures÷ and the related sequence of movement that would naturally follow. In these experiments she was personally successful--her own dance form documents this belief--but unfortunately, she was unable to transfer this information to her students; as a result, the process which the Great Dancer followed to achieve her way of expression is lost to the world.
Isadora Duncan did not express the emotions of the American people through her dance art nor did she discover the autonomy which rightfully belongs to creative dance. Yet, in laying the groundwork, she made it possible for others to do so. She made it possible for an independent American form of dance to be designed.
Duncan cannot rightfully be called an American dance pioneer. On fleeing to Europe in the 1890Ăs, her influence became more universal in scope. It was probably due to her leadership, however, that Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn were able to nurture and develop the dance in America. Like the first dancer these two artists found nothing in the stern, moral tones of their own culture to give them inspiration for their work. Nevertheless, they remained in their native land and by doing so fostered and sheltered creative dance during the critical art period from 1906 to 1922. Probably the greatest contribution which St. Denis and Shawn made to American creative dance was the organization and establishment of the Denishawn School. Here numerous educators, professional artists, and laymen received their initial introduction to expressive movement in dance form and gained their first insight into an art which has much to contribute to the personality growth of all individuals.
Actually, the Denishawn School did not teach an American style of dance nor develop a specific dance system. Ruth St. DenisĂ significant art was one of its basic parts, but the curriculum was comprised of many other dance methods and styles as well. However, it was through this School and through the efforts of the ensemble which originated in this School that the hold which European ballet had upon the American people was broken and creative dance gained a foothold in its native land. By acquainting the people with dance as a medium of expression, Shawn and St. Denis succeeded through their activities in opening a channel through which the art of the next generation was to flow into American life and education.
From approximately 1913 through 1922 the two ˘deans÷ of American dance were not alone in their attempts to stimulate an interest in the art. Undoubtedly, the St. Denis-Shawn influence was more widespread than that of Gertrude Colby, but it was through the effort of this progressive educator that dance was introduced into programs of higher education. It was through her activities that the first educational center for the training of dance teachers was established, and it was due to her enthusiasm that a number of educators became interested in the art.
Natural Dance, per se, contributed very little to the development of educational creative dance, but ColbyĂs attempts to integrate it with physical education and general education are extremely important contributions. Too, she recognized the value of the art form as a medium through which individuals could give physical form to their emotions and beliefs.
Educational concepts and contributions of the second generation
It was not, however, until the second generation of artist-educators assumed the position of dance mentor that the significant contributions of dance to education and to the individual came into clear focus. Unlike the first generation of artist-educators who limited dance to an expression of emotion and thought derived from music, such persons as Larson, HĂDoubler, Graham, Humphrey, Weidman, and Hill, after a period of experimentation, regarded physical movement as the very substance from which the art should be carved. With this concept they raised dance to the status of an independent art. But more important than this, they scientifically proved what Duncan had sensed intuitively--that physical movement proceeds from an impulse to express an emotion or an idea.
When Bird Larson began her work, she was definitely influenced by ColbyĂs Natural Dance program. However, it was not long before she recognized the weaknesses of this dance style and using her knowledge of physiology and kinesiology, began to design techniques for the dance. Her understanding of these branches of science led her to formulate two concepts: first, that the torso is the originating source of all natural movements of the human organism; and second, that movement from this source flows to the extremities of the body. John martin has called Bird Larson, ˘The First Technician of Dance,÷ due to the many valuable contributions she made to this area of dance. But even though this title is extremely complimentary, it is inadequate. Larson did more than devise a scientifically technical foundation for the art; she succeeded in skilfully combining technique with emotion and intellect into a structurally sound form of dance.
Probably LarsonĂs greatest contribution to educational dance resided in her belief that the art could be important in achieving the total development of Self. It was not possible for her to conceive of dance as being for ˘dance sake alone÷ nor could she regard finished dance compositions as being the ultimate goal of the art. Instead, she considered the activity to be one technique whereby individuals could view their needs, desires, capabilities, and limitations; and with the understanding which results from such an analysis, they could make satisfactory personal adjustments to life. In using a science of movement as the base of her art (rather than a preconceived system of technique) , Larson succeeded in achieving this goal of dance. There were no arbitrary standards to be met in her classes but only those standards best suited to each person as an individual.
During the early years of the 1920Ăs many of LarsonĂs concepts were clarified and enlarged upon by Margaret HĂDoubler. Interested in bringing dance and general education into a unified whole, HĂDoubler directed her efforts primarily toward establishing educational principles for the art. She firmly believed that dance, if it was to have as essential role in school curricula, would have to be broad enough in its purpose to be of value to all students. It could not have the training of professional neophytes as its primary goal. It could not make dance festivals or dance productions ends in themselves. Instead, the art would have to be a carefully planned process from which all students--those lacking in movement skill and imagination as well as those richly endowed with these capabilities--would benefit. In 1925 on publishing Dance and Its Place in Education, HĂDoubler became the first educator to clearly set forth in print the value of dance as a part of American education.
In 1926 the first outward recognition of the worth of dance as a tool of education came from the Board of Trustees of the University of Wisconsin, when it was voted to establish a major degree for dance students. As if this were a pre-arranged signal, the growth of dance in educational institutions became almost phenomenal. The number of schools and colleges including [the] art as a part of their programs increased at least a hundredfold. There is no doubt that HĂDoublerĂs beliefs concerning the value of the activity aided in its rapid growth.
But there was another factor of equal if not of greater importance which gave impetus to educational dance during the last years of the 1920Ăs and during the 1930Ăs. From the first years of the 1920Ăs, there were definite manifestations that the opinion which the American people held concerning native art and artists was beginning to change and by the last years of this decade the acceptance of man-as-artist made it possible for the professional dancer and dance educator to coordinate their work. In uniting their efforts it is only natural that the two dance groups directed their experiments and activities primarily in the field of education. The demand for the art in the schools had resulted in a number of teachers seeking instruction and in their attempt to learn a teaching method, they went to the professional artist thus brought him into direct contact with educational dance activities. The harmful effect upon educational dance which followed this act was not the fault of the concert artists who have guidance and leadership. In fact, it is partially due to their leadership that educational dance at the present time is being redirected toward its original goal--to help in the development of the total personality.
During the 1930Ăs in spite of the almost blind worship of numerous educational disciples, such professionals as Graham, Humphrey, and Weidman were able to make several important contributions to educational dance. Probably their greatest service was in the form of concert performances, lectures, and demonstrations which they gave at a number of educational institutions. Traveling on what was commonly referred to as the ˘gymnasium circuit,÷ these three dancers succeeded in stimulating a great deal of interest in the art.
Another service rendered by these concert artists which some persons may consider to be of greater import than the service just described has to do with their teaching. Like St. Denis and Shawn from whom they received their initial understanding of the value of expressive movement, Graham, Humphrey, and Weidman, since the onset of their independent careers, have been of the belief that they should share their knowledge of dance with their countrymen. As a result they have over a period of years given instruction in the dance to many persons. At their studios as well as at such institutions of formal education as The Bennington School of the Dance, Mills College, and the New York University-Connecticut College School of the Dance, they have trained a number of educators, laymen, and professional neophytes in their distinctive dance styles.
In 1934 when this trio of American artists started teaching at the Bennington School of the Dance, they were provided with an unprecedented opportunity to give instruction in their respective dance methods. Working with Martha Hill and Mary Jo Shelly, the directors of the Institute, Graham, Humphrey, and Weidman helped to establish the first American dance center. They organized the dance program on the premise that if many different dance styles were taught it would be possible for the student to draw comparisons, see relationships, and ultimately arrive at his own point of view concerning the art. In establishing the School in this manner, the three artists were able to teach on a non-competitive basis and attain ideal teaching goals.
The Bennington School of the Dance during its nine years of existence did more than create a wholesome teaching situation for its artist-teachers. It brought the artist and educator into closer association and helped to establish between many of them lifetime bonds of friendship based on mutual respect and understanding. Also, through its carefully planned and well-integrated program, the School influenced educational dance programs in many schools and colleges. By training its students to recognize the art as being an approach to life rather than a codified system of movements to be taught, Bennington helped to break down pseudo-dance standards which dancing teaching during the 1930Ăs had established in a number of educational institutions throughout the country. After receiving instruction at Bennington, it was not possible for dance persons to return to their teaching situations and teach dance as an imitation of the professional art. From their own experiences at the School, they had come to realize that true creativeness in dance could neither be reduced to a formula nor could it be superimposed upon the individual from without. Instead, they found that creativeness came from within and on being given overt dance form assumed a style characteristic of the dancer.
Inclusion of dance in American education justified, clarification of its significant contributions necessary
With the termination of activity at the Bennington School of the Dance in 1942, the first era in educational dance came to a close. By this time the problem of whether creative dance should or should not be a part of educational programs was no longer a controversial issue. Through the separate and coordinated efforts of artists and educators, creative dance finally succeeded in gaining admittance into American schools and colleges.
With the close of the first era, a second period in educational dance started to unfold. During the war years it had very little opportunity for growth. But now with the war ended, numerous activities and experiments being undertaken by artists and educators indicate two trends: (1) the dance is moving in the direction of a synthesis with other expressive art forms; (2) that there is perceptible movement in the direction of total integration of dance with general education. Both of these trends are extremely important. Nevertheless, there is another facet of educational dance which seems to be even more important, and at the present it is being neglected in the excitement of discovering new directions in which the art can move. This aspect which occupied a predominant place in the beliefs and work of dance pioneers is concerned with the significant contributions which creative dance is capable of making to the Self. In light of the increasing emphasis being placed in all areas of education on the development of the total personality, it seems imperative that dance artists and educators direct their activities at the present time toward clarifying the educational values of their art and toward the presentation of these contributions in clear, simple terms.
Since the closing years of the 19th century, a wealth of material has been accumulating concerning the educational worth of creative dance. Dance artists and and educators have spoken of the power of dance to integrate the emotional, spiritual, intellectual, and physical components of the personality. And through their work they have proved that the art serves all these ends of individual growth. They have shown that it helps to develop the body, it stimulates the imaginations, and challenges the intellect, it helps to cultivate an appreciation for beauty, and it deepens and refines the emotional nature. Psychologists and physiologists have also documented the value of creative dance through their scientific findings on expressive movement as a fundamental part of the human organism. From numerous other persons as well--the painter, the musician, the sculptor, the actor, and the poet--comes further evidence. Hence, the task of dance artists and educators is not a difficult one. The material is available from which they can make clear, positive statements of the value of creative dance for American life and education.