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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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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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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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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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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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Mansfield, Portia (19 November 1887–29 January 1979), dance educator, choreographer, and camp director, was born Portia Mansfield Swett in Chicago, Illinois, the daughter of Edward R. Swett, a hotelkeeper, and Myra Mansfield. She received her early schooling in Winter Park, Florida, where the family moved in 1899, and, after another move, in New York City at Miss Morgan’s School for Girls (1903–1906). As a child, she danced for her own pleasure and, occasionally, for hotel guests. Entering Smith College in 1906, she majored in philosophy and psychology but also was exposed to the Delsarte System of Expression and gravitated toward the physical education department. She was instrumental in organizing a dancing class at Smith. Classmates remembered her clouds of red hair, her lissomeness and grace, and her vivacity....

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Shook, Karel (29 August 1920–25 July 1985), ballet teacher and company director, was born in Renton, Washington, the son of Walter Shook and Ida Marie Tack. His father, an American from a Pennsylvania Dutch family, joined the British army in World War I, when he met and married Shook’s Belgian mother. He returned to the United States to work as an engineer, but the depression reduced the family’s circumstances to small-scale farming. Karel decided while still a child to be an actor, and at the age of thirteen he auditioned at the Cornish School of Allied Arts in Seattle. ...

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Trisler, Joyce (1934–13 October 1979), dance teacher and choreographer, was born in Los Angeles, California, the daughter of Eva M. Trisler, an executive secretary in a trucking company. Her father’s name cannot be located in Trisler’s papers, and her parents apparently had separated by her early teens. Her childhood exposure to ballet class was less than successful, but she participated in a weekly radio broadcast and was active in school dramatic productions. During high school she began modern dance classes at the ...

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Williams, E. Virginia (12 March 1914–08 May 1984), teacher and artistic director, was born Ellen Virginia Williams in Stoneham, Massachusetts, the daughter of Charles F. Williams, an engraver and inventor, and Mary Virginia Evitts. Williams’s passion for dance began at a very early age, when her parents took her to see vaudeville. She studied with some of the better-known teachers in her city, among them Dana Sieveling (whose name she later gave to one of her students, Earle Sieveling), Geraldine Cragin, and Miriam Winslow. Throughout her life, she remained an indefatigable learner and reader....