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Meet The Artists

Biography

Ruth St. Denis

vaudeville / Denishawn / music visualizations

(1879-1968)

Unlike American modern dance pioneers Loie Fuller and Isadora Duncan, who spent most of their careers in Europe, Ruth St. Denis found success in her own country. St. Denis, whose birth name was Ruth Dennis, spent the 1890s as a vaudeville dancer and a member of David Belasco's theatre company.

In 1904, an ad for Egyptian Deities cigarettes allegedly inspired her to stage a concert of Eastern-themed works, including Radha, The Incense and The Cobras. These “exotic” dances were so successful that she toured the United States and Europe.

In 1914, St. Denis married one of her students, Ted Shawn. Soon afterwards, they established Denishawn, a company and school in Los Angeles. In the mid-1920s, Denishawn toured the Indo-Pacific region. Important modern dance innovators Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman were in the Denishawn company.

Shawn and St. Denis disagreed over the best direction for their troupe. Whereas Shawn understood the financial importance of the vaudeville circuit, St. Denis saw herself as a serious concert artist. She wished to concentrate on her “music visualizations”, dances that translated the tempo, rhythm and emotional content of music into movement. In 1929, the couple separated and disbanded their company, although they never officially divorced.

The 1930s were financially difficult for St. Denis, but she immersed herself in her quest to create dances on spiritual themes. She gave her last public performance in 1966 at age 87.

Learn more:

St. Denis, Ruth. Wisdom Comes Dancing. Ed. Kamae A. Miller. Seattle, WA: PeaceWorks, 1997.

---. An Unfinished Life. [1939] Brooklyn, NY: Dance Horizons, 1969.