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Alexander, Dorothy (22 April 1904–17 November 1986), dancer, teacher, and artistic director, was born Dorothea Moses in Atlanta, Georgia, the daughter of Frank Moses, a sales executive, and Cora Mina Thibadeau. Illness first introduced Dorothy to dance. At the age of six she was forced to spend a year immobilized by osteomyelitis. Dance was recommended to accelerate her recuperation, and the remainder of her life was devoted to the art. Every summer during her early adulthood she left Atlanta in search of the best teachers. Her choices were eclectic; they included ...

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George Balanchine In make-up and costume for Don Quixote, with Suzanne Farrell, 1965. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-120878).

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Balanchine, George (22 January 1904–30 April 1983), ballet choreographer, was born Georgii Melitonovich Balanchivadze in Saint Petersburg, Russia, the son of Meliton Balanchivadze, a composer, and Maria Nikolaevna Vasil’eva. Balanchine was of Georgian extraction on his father’s side; for this reason, he later insisted that his character owed more to Mediterranean culture than to Slav. He began piano lessons at the age of five, studying first with his mother, and was accepted into the ballet section of the Imperial Theater School, Saint Petersburg, in 1913. His financially straitened parents were motivated principally by the chance to secure him a free education. In addition to full board, the school offered a complete academic program as well as the finest dance instruction in the country; graduation guaranteed an income for life, first as a dancer, then as a teacher or coach, all subsidized by the tsar. As was customary for students, during his second year Balanchine performed with the Imperial Ballet troupe on the stage of the famed Maryinsky Theater; this crystallized his desire to dance. The ballet that so inspired him was ...

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Beatty, Talley (1919–29 April 1995), choreographer, dancer, and teacher, was born in Cedar Grove, Louisiana, the son of a house painter. His parents’ names are unknown. In the small town of Cedar Grove, right outside Shreveport, Beatty’s earliest dance influence was the legendary Katherine Dunham. When he was eleven years old, she invited him to “watch dances in progress,” according to historian Joe Nash, a close friend and colleague of Beatty. Dunham was in rehearsal for ...

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Judith Brin Ingber

Berk, Fred (25 January 1911–26 February 1980), dancer, was born Fritz Berger in Vienna, Austria, the son of Jacob Berger, a dairy owner, and Henrietta Blau. Berk was born into a Viennese Orthodox Jewish family to a stern father who apprenticed him at age fourteen to a goldsmith. Hunching over his metalwork led to back problems and the medical suggestion to study dance. This began a career that spanned continents and decades....

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Bolm, Adolph (25 September 1884–15 April 1951), dancer, teacher, and choreographer, was born Adol’f Rudol’fovich Bolm in Saint Petersburg, Russia, the son of Rudolf Bolm, a concertmaster and assistant conductor of the Mikhailovsky Imperial Theater Orchestra. His mother’s name is unknown. Among his four brothers, he was called “little bear” because of his ungainliness. Their home was filled with music and their father’s artist friends. By all accounts, these years formed Bolm’s love of all the arts as well as his inordinate vigor and sense of adventure....

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Chase, Lucia (24 March 1897–09 January 1986), ballet dancer and dance company director, was born in Waterbury, Connecticut, the daughter of Irving Hall Chase and Elizabeth Hosmer Kellogg. Her family was locally prominent, its wealth based in the Waterbury Clock Company. Following her education at Bryn Mawr College, Chase chose a theatrical and singing career, taking lessons from the noted director ...

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Christensen, Lew (06 May 1909–09 October 1984), ballet dancer, choreographer, and company director, was born Lewellyn Farr Christensen in Brigham City, Utah, the son of Christian Bjerregaard Christensen, a musician and teacher of social dances, and Mary Isabell Farr. Lew Christensen was raised in a family that emphasized developing one’s talents in music and dance. One uncle, Moses Christensen, was active in the American National Association, Masters of Dancing and served as that organization’s president in 1916–1917. Lew studied the cello under his father and began ballet training under another uncle, Lars Peter Christensen, who forwarded the talented nephew to the Italian maestro Stefano Mascagno in New York....

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Agnes de Mille In Three Virgins and a Devil. Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1941. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-121315).

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de Mille, Agnes (18 September 1905–06 October 1993), dancer, choreographer, and writer, was born Agnes George de Mille in New York City, the daughter of William Churchill de Mille, a playwright, and Anna George, the daughter of American single-tax economist Henry George. De Mille was born into one of the entertainment world’s most powerful families and was determined to make her own career independent of her father and her uncle, the movie director ...

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Englund, Richard (09 April 1931–15 February 1991), artistic director and ballet educator, was born Richard Bernard Englund in Seattle, Washington, the son of Gustav Bernard Englund, an employee of Continental Can Co., and Frances Rachel Williams. Englund’s first encounter with dance was at Seattle’s Ballet Academy, where he was taught by former Ballet Russe dancers Marian and Illaria Obidenna Ladré. Already a teenager, he was past the optimum age for becoming a professional ballet dancer, but he persisted, eventually studying at Ivan Novikoff’s studio and in 1948 with ...

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Loie Fuller. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-90931).

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Fuller, Loie (15 January 1862–01 January 1928), dancer and choreographer, was born Marie Louise Fuller in Fullersburg, Illinois, the daughter of Reuben Fuller, a fiddler, farmer, and tavernkeeper, and Delilah (maiden name unknown). Little is known of her education, though she claimed to have given a recitation to a “freethinking” Sunday school class at age two-and-a-half....

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Galli, Rosina (1896–30 April 1940), ballerina and ballet mistress of the Metropolitan Opera, was born in Milan, Italy. Little is known of her parents or early life. Trained at the Scuola di Ballo of the Teatro alla Scala, Milan, Galli distinguished herself early as an unusually precocious and popular child performer. By the age of fourteen she was dancing prima ballerina roles at La Scala and by fifteen was a guest ballerina at the San Carlo Opera House in Naples....

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Martha Graham With Bertram Ross. Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1961. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-116601).

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Graham, Martha (11 May 1894–01 April 1991), dancer, choreographer, and teacher, was born in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, the daughter of George Greenfield Graham, a physician who specialized in mental disorders, and Jane (Jennie) Beers. Her father was of Irish descent and her mother proudly claimed to be a descendant of ...

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Hawkins, Erick (23 April 1909–23 November 1994), dancer and choreographer, was born Frederick Hawkins in Trinidad, Colorado, the only son of an inventor. During his childhood he moved briefly to Pomona, California, and then to Kansas City, Missouri, where he completed his schooling in public schools. Receiving a scholarship to Harvard College from the local alumni association, he matriculated in 1926 and graduated four years later with a major in ancient Greek language and civilization....

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Erick Hawkins Performing in Martha Graham's ballet El Flagellante. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-92947).

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Horton, Lester (26 January 1906–02 November 1953), choreographer and teacher, was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, the son of Iredell Horton, a laborer, and Annie Lauders. Horton began a lifelong interest in American Indian traditions during elementary school and at eighth grade commencement was honored with a request to read his composition “The Indian in His Native Art.” While a high school student in 1922–1923 Horton saw performances of the American dance pioneers ...

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Joffrey, Robert (24 December 1928–25 March 1988), founder and artistic director of the Joffrey Ballet, was born Anver Joffrey in Seattle, Washington, the only child of Joseph (Dollha) Joffrey and Mary (Maria) Gallette, restaurant owners. He was also known as Anver Bey Abdullah Jaffa Khan. Joffrey was born with twisted feet that required him to wear casts. As a young boy he was bowlegged and severely asthmatic, and his family physician recommended that he participate in a regular exercise program. At nine he took boxing lessons. But Joffrey, who even in adulthood grew only to five feet four inches, was unsuited for the sport. He was subsequently enrolled in tap, ballroom, and theatrical dancing classes at a small studio above his parents’ restaurant. His response was instantaneous and zealous. He envisioned “choreographing a snowflake ballet down a ramp” and told his teacher, Dorothy Culper, that he intended someday to direct his own ballet company....