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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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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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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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Douvillier, Suzanne (1778–30 August 1826), ballerina and choreographer, , also known as Mme Placide, was born Suzanne-Théodore Taillandet in Dole, France, the daughter of François Taillandet and Louise Jantie (or Jauntie). Douvillier danced in 1784 and 1785 at the renowned Comédie Française, said to have had the “prettiest” corps de ballet in Paris. She probably danced in the festive wedding scene for Beaumarchais’s ...

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Fort, Syvilla (03 July 1917–08 November 1975), dancer, choreographer, and dance teacher, was born in Seattle, Washington, the daughter of Mildred Dill. Her mother tried to enroll the four-year-old Fort in ballet classes, but teachers refused her entrance because they were afraid they would lose clientele by admitting an African-American student. Her mother then recruited a group of black children interested in learning dance and hired the advanced white ballet students to teach them. At nine Fort had private teachers and was on her way to becoming a pioneer African American in ballet and modern dance. Sensitive throughout her life to discrimination, Fort passed on what she learned to other black children. While still a high school freshman, she was teaching ballet, tap, and modern dance to as many as sixteen children under the age of thirteen for fifty cents a lesson....

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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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Gould, Norma (1888–30 July 1980), modern dancer, teacher, and choreographer, was born in Los Angeles, California. Her father, Murray A. Gould, was a miller and her mother (name unknown) was a music teacher. Gould’s parents encouraged her early interest in the arts, and she learned music from her mother, who combined formal instruction with the opportunity for creative expression. Gould entered Los Angeles Polytechnical High School in 1905, among the first group of students to enroll in what was then considered an experimental curriculum. Women were trained alongside men in business and college preparatory courses, and courses in music and art were exceptionally advanced. Gould was class historian and president of the Girls Club, a group that staged productions. Clippings in her scrapbook indicate that she studied dance in New York during summers while in high school....

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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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Haney, Carol (24 December 1924–10 May 1964), dancer, actress, and choreographer, was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts, the daughter of Norman Vincent Haney, a bank teller, and Ellen Christensen. She began studying dance as a child and, at the age of fifteen, started teaching dance in her own studio in New Bedford. In 1943 Haney moved to California, where she studied with ...

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Holm, Hanya (03 March 1893–03 November 1992), choreographer and educator, was born Johanna Eckert in Worms-am-Rhein, Germany, the daughter of Valentin Eckert, a wine merchant, and Marie Moerschel, an inventor with several patented discoveries. Holm received her first twelve years of education at the Konvent der englischen Fräulein, selected by her mother for its excellent reputation and small class size. She began private piano lessons at age ten, and by age sixteen she was commuting several times each week to the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt for expanded music studies. In 1915 she began four years of study at the Dalcroze Institute of Applied Rhythm that included music improvisation, theory, analysis, and composition. The methods of Émile Jaques-Dalcroze were admired for translating sounds into movement, and this “music visualization” influenced a generation of European dancers in ballet and modern companies....

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Humphrey, Doris (17 October 1895–29 December 1958), dancer and choreographer, was born in Oak Park, Illinois, the daughter of Julia Ellen Wells, a musician, and Horace Buckingham Humphrey, a compositor and hotel manager who was also an amateur photographer. Humphrey began dancing lessons as a young child and was encouraged by her teacher, Mary Wood Hinman. To earn much-needed money for the family, she began teaching social dance in 1913. That year she also performed with a small group that toured to various stations of the Santa Fe Railroad to entertain employees. Four years later she had earned enough money to travel to Los Angeles, where she entered the Denishawn School and soon became a member of the dance company of ...

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Kinch, Myra (06 December 1903–20 November 1981), modern dancer and choreographer, was born in Los Angeles, California, the daughter of Henry S. Kinch and Marguerite L. Cody, occupations unknown. She began her formal study of dance as a high school student, exploring a wide variety of dance forms, including ballet, under the tutelage of Dorothy S. Lyndall and her associate Bertha Wardell. Kinch’s entrance into the theatrical profession was delayed, however, by her mother’s insistence that she complete her education. Graduating from the University of California at Los Angeles with a B.S. in 1925, she taught dancing at the local Nature Music School until 1926. Kinch then joined a Prolog troupe, the live revues designed to accompany film showings, touring West Coast movie houses for the next two-and-a-half years as an exotic dancer....

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Koner, Pauline (26 June 1912–08 February 2001), dancer and choreographer, was born Pauline Koner in New York City, the daughter of Samuel Koner and Ida Ginsberg Koner, who immigrated in 1905 from Odessa and Byelorussia, respectively. Her father, a lawyer, created a plan for Workman's Circle, a Jewish socialist and benevolent association, that pioneered group medical coverage. Her mother helped to create Pauline's costumes. The family's friends were primarily Russian intellectuals, singers, and painters. Koner grew up in the Bronx, Coney Island, and Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, a landscaped residential neighborhood at the time....

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Littlefield, Catherine (16 September 1905–19 November 1951), choreographer and artistic director, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the daughter of James E. Littlefield, a newsreel pioneer, and Caroline Doebele. At the age of three she began study in her mother’s newly opened ballet school. Despite limited formal training, Littlefield’s mother was a prolific choreographer. In 1919 she was engaged to stage the production numbers for a musical called ...

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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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Page, Ruth (22 March 1899–07 April 1991), dancer and choreographer, was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, the daughter of Lafayette Page, a brain surgeon, and Marian Heinly, a professional pianist and founder of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. Having decided at the age of five to become a ballerina, Ruth waited until she was twelve to begin professional training. Her early instruction included ballet lessons with Andreas Pavley and Serge Oukrainsky and fancy and skirt dancing with Anna Stanton. After meeting fifteen-year-old Ruth, world-famous ballerina Anna Pavlova encouraged her mother to allow Ruth to take summer ballet classes in Chicago with Pavlova’s company. Soon afterward Ruth Page joined the Anna Pavlova company on a tour of Latin America. On her return she attended the French School for Girls, a boarding school in New York, while studying dance under ...