Filed in Arts & Culture

Fancy Dancers

Ruth St. Denis and Ted ShawnEllen Pearlman

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"Scratch any dancer and you will find Denishawn"—a phrase common among post-World War II critics—sums up the monumental impact of Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn. Through their tenacity and conviction, their eccentricities and vision, they laid the foundation for what was to become modern dance.

Born in Newark, New Jersey in 1874, Ruth St. Denis was a poor farmgirl with a flair for the dramatic. In 1904 when she passed by an advertisement in a drugstore window in Buffalo, her "destiny as a dancer... sprung alive": the goddess Isis, bare-breasted and brooding, filled a large poster for Egyptian Deities Cigarettes. One year later, St. Denis performed Radha: The Mystic Dance of the Five Senses, a work about sensuality and renunciation modeled on a character from Edwin Arnold's The Light of Asia. The final tableau featured St. Denis seated in lotus position and lost in samadhi.

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