The Bennington School of the Dance

A History in Writings and Interviews


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About the Book

The story of this groundbreaking summer dance program is told through the voices of staff, faculty, and students. Administrative director Mary Josephine Shelly’s previously unpublished writings form a key summary of eight of the nine summer sessions. The Bennington School of the Dance held classes from 1934 through 1942 at Bennington College in Vermont, with one summer spent at Mills College in California. Its effects were far-reaching in the development and dissemination of modern dance as an original American art form.
The school produced unique choreographic works by teachers in residence: Martha Graham, Hanya Holm, Doris Humphrey, and Charles Weidman. Leading choreographers of the later 20th century such as Merce Cunningham, Anna Halprin, José Limón, Alwin Nikolais and Anna Sokolow participated at the school. The largest portion of students were high school and college level teachers who would spread modern dance across the country and abroad.

About the Author(s)

Elizabeth McPherson is an assistant professor and the dance education coordinator at Montclair State University in Montclair, New Jersey. She has written for Ballet Review, The Journal of Dance Education, Dance Teacher and Attitude: The Dancers’ Magazine. She lives in New York, New York.

Bibliographic Details

Compiled and edited by Elizabeth McPherson
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 340
Bibliographic Info: 61 photos, appendices, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2013
pISBN: 978-0-7864-7417-2
eISBN: 978-1-4766-0295-0
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vi

Foreword by Charles Reinhart 1

Preface 3

Introduction 5

 1. Bennington: An Historic Milepost 7

 2. 1933: Planning the School 16

 3. Summer of 1934: The Beginning 25

 4. Summer of 1935: The Workshop Began 45

 5. Summer of 1936: The First Festival 69

 6. Summer of 1937: The Final Workshop Program,

the Fellowships 95

 7. Summer of 1938: Culmination of a Plan, or “the Year of the Tent” 119

 8. Summer of 1939: From East to West 141

 9. Summer of 1940: First Summer of the School of the Arts 157

10. Summer of 1941: Last Summer of the School of the Arts 178

11. Summer of 1942: Bennington College Summer Session 208

12. Looking Back: Group Discussion on the Bennington School of the Dance, 1959 226

13. Recollections and Anecdotes 240

Epilogue 277

Appendix A: Timeline of Dance Premieres and Other Historic Events 289

Appendix B: Students, Faculty/Staff and Audiences, 1934 to 1942 294

Appendix C: Biographies of Contributors of Recollections 295

Chapter Notes 305

Bibliography 310

Index 315

Book Reviews & Awards

“Recommended”—Choice; “a trove of oral interviews and reports…invaluable for its diverse points of view…photos are as eye-opening as the text”—Dance Magazine; “well researched book…wonderful photographs, many rarely seen or unpublished before, are well presented”—Ballet Review; “instructive and enjoyable”—Bearnstow Journal; “at the core of McPherson’s book are previously unpublished writings of Administrative Director Mary Josephine Shelley, summarizing eight of the nine summer sessions. There is vibrancy in reading about her involvement and how the programs developed…a comprehensive view of the significant role the Bennington summer program played in U.S. modern dance”—Journal of Dance Education.