Denishawn (1915–1931) By Scolieri, Paul A.
Denishawn, a for-profit enterprise combining a school and dance company, was founded in Los Angeles in 1915 by the internationally acclaimed solo performer Ruth St. Denis and her husband, then up-and-coming dancer and choreographer Ted Shawn. Denishawn paved the way for modern dance in the United States by challenging American perceptions of dancing as a degenerate or immoral activity and presenting dance instead as a theatrical art. The company performed at private society events and women’s clubs, on vaudeville circuits, and eventually on legitimate concert stages, such as Carnegie Hall. In 1925–27, it became the first U.S. dance company to tour Asia, presenting dances to both colonial elites and local audiences. The Denishawn School of Dance and its Related Arts (and later satellites in New York and other major U.S. cities) trained generations of middle-class American adolescents, several of whom went on to become prominent modern dancers and choreographers, including Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, and Charles Weidman, as well as Hollywood choreographer Jack Cole. Moreover, many aspiring actresses enrolled at the Denishawn school to study the art of physical expression, several of whom later became silent film stars, including Dorothy and Lillian Gish, Margaret Loomis, and Louise Brooks.