Dehn, Mura (1903–1987) By Sommer, Sally
Mura Dehn was a dancer, choreographer, writer and filmmaker whose work focussed on African-American vernacular jazz dance. Her greatest contribution to Modernism and jazz discourses is her extraordinary film, The Spirit Moves (1973), a coherent culmination of her lifelong work of presenting jazz dancing. The film features rare footage of some of the finest African-American social dancers of the twentieth century performing their interpretations of popular dances from the early 1900s through the 1980s, plus some reels of specialty dance or comedy acts that would have been performed in black variety shows or clubs. The film’s most heavily referenced sections focus on dances from 1900 through the 1950s; because no other such detailed and lengthy footage exists, thousands of scholars and practitioners worldwide use The Spirit Moves, fulfilling Dehn’s intentions of creating a visual textbook for future generations.