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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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Maud Allan Photograph by Arnold Genthe, 1910. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-G399-4135-A).

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Allan, Maud (27 August 1873–07 October 1956), dancer, choreographer, and actress, was born Ula Maude Durrant in Toronto, Canada, the daughter of William Allan Durrant, a shoemaker, and Isa Matilda Hutchinson. In the late 1870s the family migrated from Ontario to San Francisco, where Allan grew up and, from an early age, studied piano with several teachers. San Francisco’s thriving theatrical and musical environment in the late 1880s and early 1890s enabled her to see fine performances, including those by some of the best women artists, among them Adele aus der Ohe and Sarah Bernhardt. Allan’s discipline, however, was piano. At age twenty-two, already musically accomplished and very beautiful, she went to Berlin for advanced piano study at the Royal High School for Music then under the direction of Joseph Joachim....

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Angelou, Maya (4 Apr. 1928–28 May 2014), writer, performer, and activist, was born Marguerite Ann Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri, the second child of Bailey Johnson, Sr., a doorman and Navy dietitian, and Vivian Baxter, a registered nurse, cocktail hostess, and Merchant Marine. Her brother, Bailey, Jr., nicknamed her Maya, and the name stuck. After their parents’ divorce, the two young children were sent alone on a train from San Francisco to Stamps, Arkansas, to be met and raised by their paternal grandmother, Annie Henderson, and their father’s brother, Uncle Willie, who was disabled. Grandmother Henderson had managed to build and own a general store with living quarters in the back, and it was also a safe black community gathering place in the segregated town. Uncle Willie provided a steady stream of good reading and high scholastic expectations, and their grandmother, “Momma,” taught them no-nonsense life skills, took them to church, and loved them....

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Astaire, Adele (10 September 1898–25 January 1981), musical theater dancer, was born Adele Marie Austerlitz in Omaha, Nebraska, the daughter of Frederick Austerlitz, a brewer from Vienna, and Ann Gelius. As children, Adele and her younger brother, Fred Astaire, showed promise as entertainers, performing in local amateur theatricals. Around 1904 their parents took them to New York where they studied at the the Metropolitan Ballet School and the Claude Alvienne School of Dance. They also trained with ...

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Josephine Baker Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1949. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-93000).

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Baker, Josephine (03 June 1906–12 April 1975), dancer, singer, and civil rights activist, was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the daughter of Eddie Carson, a musician, and Carrie Macdonald. Her parents parted when Josephine was still an infant, and her mother married Arthur Martin, which has led to some confusion about her maiden name. Very little is known about her childhood, except that she was a witness to the East St. Louis riot in 1917. This event was often a feature of her talks in the 1950s and 1960s about racism and the fight for equality, which fostered the oft-repeated assertion that the family was resident in East St. Louis. Before the age of eighteen Josephine had been married twice, first to Willie Wells and then to William Baker, to whom she was married in Camden, New Jersey, in September 1921....

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Blunden, Jeraldyne (10 December 1940–22 November 1999), dancer and choreographer, was born Jeraldyne Kilborn, in Dayton, Ohio, the daughter of Elijah Kilborn, an insurance agent, and Winifred Keith Kilborn, who worked at Wright Patterson Air Force Base. Her mother played the piano and her father had an artistic nature, which included writing poetry and soft-shoe dancing. Although Dayton was geographically divided along racial lines at the time, she attended Irving Public School, which was not segregated, and Roosevelt High, which was all white when she entered and fully integrated by the time she graduated. Segregation had never been the official policy of Dayton, and African Americans freely shopped in department stores, although there were no black employees except for cleaning help. Blunden's grandmother was one of the first blacks to build her own home....

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Bonfanti, Maria (16 February 1847–25 January 1921), ballerina and teacher, also known as Marie and as Marietta, was born in Milan, Italy, the daughter of Gaetano Bonfanti, an army veteran, and Graziosa Geroni. Bonfanti received her dance training from Carlo Blasis, the ballet master of the La Scala Opera House, in his private school in Milan. In January 1860 she made her debut in Vercelli, Italy, and the following fall was featured at La Scala in Meyerbeer’s ...

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Brooks, Louise (14 November 1906–08 August 1985), actress and dancer, was born Mary Louise Brooks in Cherryvale, Kansas, the daughter of Leonard Porter Brooks, a lawyer, and Myra Rude. Louise trained as a dancer, beginning her professional career at age fifteen with Ruth St. Denis...

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Cansino, Angel (1898?–19 March 1956), dancer and dance teacher, was born in Madrid, Spain, the son of Antonio “Padre” Cansino and Carmen (maiden name unknown), Spanish dancers. Antonio was the patriarch of three generations of Spanish dancers (both classical and exhibition ballroom) and teachers, many of whom lived and worked in the United States around the middle years of the twentieth century. Angel began to dance professionally with the Cansino family in Madrid at age eight. He emigrated to America around 1915 as part of a troupe known as the “Dancing Cansinos,” made up of his older brother Eduardo and older sister Elisa. The Dancing Cansinos performed primarily on the vaudeville circuit, but Angel soon left the troupe to settle permanently in New York City as a teacher. He married an American ballet dancer, Susita, in New York. (Her last name and the date of their marriage are unknown.) They had one child, Carmina Susanne, who had the distinction of actually being born in Carnegie Hall, where the Cansinos had an apartment and studio. Susita taught with Angel in New York, and Carmina later had a career as a performer and teacher as well....

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Castle, Irene (07 April 1893–25 January 1969), and Vernon Castle (02 May 1887–15 February 1918), ballroom dancers, were born, respectively, Irene Foote in New Rochelle, New York, and Vernon Blythe in Norwich, England. Irene was the daughter of Hubert Townsend Foote, a physician, and Annie Elroy Thomas. Vernon was the son of William Blythe, a tavern owner, and Jane (maiden name unknown). Vernon immigrated with his father and sister to the United States in 1906; the next year he took the name Castle. Although he had trained as an engineer at the University of Birmingham, Castle established himself as a promising musical comedy soloist soon after his arrival in the United States. His specialty was comedic dance; however, he was a highly versatile and talented performer, adept in several styles of popular dance. In productions such as ...

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Celeste, Mme. (06 August 1810–18 February 1882), performer and theater manager, , also known as Mlle. Celeste and Celine Celeste, was born Anastasie Céleste des Rousselles in Marcilly sur Compagne, France, the daughter of Jeanne Marie de Rousselles, a couturière, and Jean Christophe Keppler, a stocking maker. Celeste studied at the Académie de Musique in Paris and also performed in children’s roles at the Paris Opéra, eventually assuming minor corps and pantomime roles....

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Charisse, Cyd (8 Mar. 1921–17 June 2008), dancer and actress, was born Tula Ellice Finklea in Amarillo, Texas, to jeweler Ernest E. Finklea and Lela (Norwood) Finklea. Tula became “Sid” when her older brother E. E. couldn’t say “Sis” (and later the more exotic “Cyd” when her Hollywood career took off). She considered herself skinny and homely when she turned to ballet at six to strengthen her right side after a bout with polio, but she quickly became enthralled by the power of dance. At fourteen, her parents enrolled her in the Los Angeles ballet school of ...

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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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Colby, Gertrude Kline (1875?–01 February 1960), dance educator, was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Her parents’ names and occupations are unknown. While little is known of her childhood, Colby was reportedly interested in physical activities from an early age. She began her higher education with a brief stint at the University of Minnesota School of Medicine (dates unknown). In 1910 she attended Harvard University for the first of four summer sessions led by ...

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Craske, Margaret (26 November 1892–18 February 1990), ballet dancer and teacher, was born in Kirkley, England, the daughter of Edmund George Craske, a coal merchant, and Hannah Bishop. At the age of eighteen Craske began formal ballet study in London with a Madame Van Dyck and the expatriate Russian ballerina Serafina Astafieva. Having been warned against studying with Enrico Cecchetti, a former dancer and ballet master with Serge Diaghilev, because he was considered too old to teach, Craske visited his studio in 1918 out of curiosity. She later recalled, “There was a lion teaching, not an old man at all” ( ...

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Crawford, Joan (23 March 1904–10 May 1977), actress, was born Lucille Fay LeSueur in San Antonio, Texas, the daughter of French-Canadian Thomas LeSueur, a laborer, and Irish-Scandinavian Anna Bell Johnson, a waitress. Crawford was fond of saying, “We can skip my childhood. I didn’t have any. Everything I have in life, Hollywood gave me. I never went beyond the fifth grade. Pictures gave me all my education.” Her father deserted the family before she was born. Her mother then married Henry Cassin, a hotel and theater operator, and Lucille changed her name to Billie Cassin. When Crawford was eleven, Henry Cassin left the family after having been accused of theft....

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Danilova, Alexandra (20 November 1903–13 July 1997), dancer, was born Aleksandra Dionisievna Danilova in Peterhof, Russia, near St. Petersburg; her parents, Dionis Danilov and Clavdia Danilova, died when she was three. Because of her love of dancing she was placed by her wealthy foster parents at the age of eight in the Imperial Ballet School attached to the Maryinsky Theatre, in the same class as ...

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Alexandra Danilova As Fanny Cerrito in Pas de Quatre. Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1948. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-121326).