During the course of a summer dance workshop I attended many years ago, I learned a section of Doris Humphrey's Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor. Later, on occasion, I would “teach” this section to students thinking I was adding to their understanding of dance and its practice. As luck would have it, I was teaching this section again to students at the University of Wisconsin when one of my mentors, Claudia Melrose, stopped by to observe my work. Following class Claudia approached me and said, “That was very nice Tom, but what were they learning?” I replied, “They were learning a section of Humphrey's Passacaglia.” Claudia responded, “No, Tom. What were they learning?” In a flash I realized that I couldn't answer her; I hadn't really thought about the “what.” I realized the need to make a personal search for substance in dance education. Being at Wisconsin— “ground zero” for dance in higher education—I turned to the writings of Margaret H'Doubler and found in them a way of thinking that continues to inform my professional development. In many respects, H'Doubler's lifework acts as my point of departure in educational dance. As time has distanced me from my moment of epiphany, I find myself ever more in debt to the legacy of this remarkable woman.
This essay looks closely at the first stage of H'Doubler's development as a dance educator. Between the years 1916 and 1926, only a ten-year span, H'Doubler evolved from a women's basketball coach, admittedly ignorant of dance as art or in education, into the nation's foremost academic authority on the subject. Her vision of dance matured quickly and with amazing clarity; the moment of epiphany, while lying on her back in a studio in Carnegie Hall, served as the source for what she called a “way of thinking” that would serve her for the rest of her professional life. An assessment of H'Doubler's evolution as a dance educator during this period, and an analysis of her development along with her peers and colleagues in the field, provides important contexts from which to evaluate her subsequent contributions to dance in American education.