To save this undefined to your undefined account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your undefined account.
Find out more about saving content to .
To save this article to your Kindle, first ensure firstname.lastname@example.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below.
Find out more about saving to your Kindle.
Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.
Dance critic Walter Terry was in the audience the evening of Rosalind Pierson's last, glorious performance with Virginia Tanner's Children's Dance Theatre (CDT). In his review for the New York Herald Tribune of that July 1953 Jacob's Pillow performance, Terry discussed the girls' connections to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, described the outdoor performance setting, the program, and the children as “wonderfully disciplined yet gloriously free in movement.” He concluded his performance description with this paragraph:
Other children have danced such themes and there are other children … who have performed with … far more precociousness of a technical nature but none, I think, have conveyed so perfectly the bright (not pallid) purity of child dance. It is difficult to describe even the most potent intangibles and the best I can do is to say that the children danced as if they had faith in themselves, had love for those of us who were seeing them, actively believed in their God and rejoiced in all of these. (Terry 1953)
I don't remember my first dancing lesson; I only remember begging my mother to send me to tap class with my best friend Kenny. I wanted a pair of shiny tap shoes and I wanted to be as special as he was. My mother, a dean's wife and an admitted theatrical snob, found tap dancing “inappropriate.” After surveying a number of university wives, she sent me to a young woman who was to make history in the teaching of creative dance for children. Her name was Virginia Tanner.
At that time, Tanner's school was in a Victorian building perched high on a hill just north of Temple Square in Salt Lake City. The McCune School of Music and Arts was a very spooky place to a six-year-old who was scared of almost everything, but I braved the dark staircase with its marble busts and dark red carpeting as I climbed to the sunny top floor. In time, I learned to bypass the busts by taking the spiral servants' staircase at the back of the building, which seemed a much safer route. My climb was always rewarded with an hour's bliss.
I wish now that I could remember in detail what we did in those classes. I remember learning rhythm patterns from sized and colored pieces of paper and dancing them out. I remember making “toe toast” and sailing to far off places in a sailboat made of my rocking body and my unfurling arms. I remember being a “cute little grub,” a stalk of wheat swaying in the wind, a donkey hee-hawing. I remember dancing out my name and feeling that the movement version defined me far better than words ever could.
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.
Work by children in every art form has been both romanticized and criticized by adults. Child art has been emulated as “natural” by artists seeking to free themselves from social and historical conventions (Lowenfeld and Brittain 1987; Read 1957, 1973) and to reconnect with qualities of purity and simplicity (Coleman 1998). Such values have been challenged by those seeking a rationale for instructional programs in the arts (Clark, Day, and Greer 1987). It often seems that educators view children as incomplete adults, in need of education and training to make them mature as well as civilized (Torgovnick 1990). This may be why the ideas and opinions of children are rarely found in research literature, even in education.
Similarly, books about how to teach young people rarely include the perspective of the student. Except in child-centered programs for young children, teachers and educational administrators generally decide what children should learn and then, at least sometimes, assess to see if it has been learned. Very little is known about how young students experience the educational activities designed by adults or construct meaning from them.
Since the early years of the twentieth century it has gradually come to pass that virtually anything, anything at all, can be considered a work of art. A sliced up cow can be art, and so can a pile of bricks or a hole in the ground. In the domain of dance, a choreographer having difficulty creating a dance work may, for example, simply walk onstage and describe for the audience how her work might have looked had she completed it. Or she can list the work in the concert program with an explanation that it will not be performed because it does not actually exist. The most advanced theories of art in circulation today would, without hesitation, confer the status of art upon either of these options as easily as upon an actual dance.
How did it come to be that such things as these could be art? The quick answer is that it is one of the legacies of aesthetic modernism to have made it possible for virtually anything to be art. As Thomas McEvilley explains:
To be art is to be called art, by the people who supposedly are in charge of the word—artists, critics, curators, art historians, and so on. There is no appeal from the foundation of usage, no higher court on the issue. If something (anything) is presented as art by an artist and contextualized as art within the system then it is art, and there is nothing anybody can do about it. (1985, 289)
At the MTV awards show in September 1998, Madonna performed a spiritual song in a transparent white T-shirt with three Indian Odissi dancers in their classical regalia. Within two days of this event a representative of a Hindu religious sect, the Vaisnavs, condemned Madonna for debasing Hinduism and Indian women. A significant intercultural event, which had been generating pride for some sections of the Indian-American community, had once again exposed the lack of context and historicity in interculturalism. Odissi is not merely an aesthetically pleasing dance form from eastern India; its history is embedded in various ancient fertility cults tied to ritualistic Hindu temple worship by women dancers known as “mahari(s).” The dance was also performed by young male dancers known as “gotipua(s),” who performed outside the temple. Frederique Marglin traces Odissi to the powerful cult of Chaitanya (a Vaisnavite saint reformer) in the sixteenth century (1985). She explains that, like many indigenous dance forms, it was simply called nacha before its revival in the 1950s by dance scholars and male teachers. Thus, the dance is a product of a complex mix of Hindu nationalism, regional chauvinism, and national revivalism and is embedded in patriarchal views of the role and function of women in society. Madonna's commercial interculturalism failed to take note of this: By trying to glamorize an exotic tradition she, unsurprisingly, offended the self-appointed bearers of that tradition.