Denby, Edwin (1903–1983) By Feinsod, Harris
Edwin Denby is best remembered as one of the preeminent critics of dance modernism, yet he was also an accomplished poet and an experienced dancer, choreographer, and librettist. Both his poetic gifts and his practical experience in the theater informed his dance criticism, first collected in Looking at the Dance (1949) and amplified in Dancers, Buildings and People in the Streets (1965). As the title of his 1965 volume suggests, Denby placed primacy on the pleasures of perception, recording what he saw rather than advocating for a distinct point of view, as did his contemporaries Lincoln Kirstein and John Martin. Denby’s sensibility was widely admired in New York’s postwar avant-garde milieus, and he became an important friend, muse, mentor, and tutelary spirit to visual artists—including Rudy Burckhardt, Willem and Elaine de Kooning, and Alex Katz—and to New York School poets—especially Frank O’Hara, James Schuyler, John Ashbery, Ted Berrigan, Ron Padgett, and Anne Waldman. In the last several decades of his life, Denby continued to be a key figure in the downtown scene across several performance genres.