Bennington School of the Dance (1934–42) By Feck, M. Candace
Bennington School of the Dance served as a highly influential training programme, creative laboratory and performance venue for early modern dance. Founded by Martha Hill, Mary Josephine Shelly and Bennington College President Robert Devore Leigh in 1934 on the college campus in south-western Vermont, the school thrived over nine, six-week summer sessions from 1934 to 1942, including one term held at Mills College in California in 1939. Designed to promote and consolidate knowledge of the nascent art form of American modern dance, the Bennington School also became an incubator for the production and presentation of new works by modern dance’s most distinguished exponents: choreographers Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, Charles Weidman and Hanya Holm were among its earliest and most consistent faculty members. Dance critic John Martin, composer and advisor Louis Horst, and stage and lighting designer Arch Lauterer were also important faculty members. The programme’s guiding philosophy proposed that to be viable, a dance education must be associated with exposure to its best artists, sharply distinguishing itself from the competing model formulated by Margaret H’Doubler at the University of Wisconsin, where the study of dance was viewed as an educational end in itself. The Bennington School gave way to the Connecticut College School of Dance and eventually the American Dance Festival.