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October 3, 2016

Modern Dance Pioneer: 39 Stunning Vintage Photos of Ruth St. Denis in the Early 20th Century

Ruth St. Denis, original name Ruth Dennis (1879-1968) was a modern dance pioneer, introducing Eastern ideas into the art. She was the co-founder of the American Denishawn School of Dance and the teacher of several notable performers.

Ruth St. Denis was the daughter of a strong-willed and highly educated woman. Her mother, Ruth Emma Dennis, was a physician by training. Ruth was encouraged to study dance from an early age. Her early training included Delsarte technique, ballet lessons with the Italian ballerina Maria Bonfante, and popular social dance forms. Ruth began her professional career in New York City, in 1892, where she worked in a dime museum and in vaudeville houses as a "skirt dancer," a female dancer whose legs were visible under her short skirt. St. Denis was reportedly required to perform her dance routine as many as eleven times a day.

In 1898, the young dancer was noticed by David Belasco, a well-known and highly successful Broadway producer and director. He hired her to perform with his large company as a featured dancer and was also responsible for giving her the stage name "St. Denis." She toured with Belasco’s company around the United States and in Europe, and was exposed to the work of several important European artists, including the Japanese dancer Sado Yacco and the great French actress, Sarah Bernhardt.

St. Denis’ became enthralled by the dance and drama of Eastern cultures, including those of Japan, India, and Egypt. She was greatly influenced by Bernhardt’s melodramatic acting style, in which the tragic fate of her characters took center stage. After 1900, St. Denis began formulating her own theory of dance/drama based on the techniques of her early training; her readings into philosophy; and the history of ancient cultures; and the work of artists like Yacco and Bernhardt.

Take a look at these vintage photos to see the beauty of this talented dancer.


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