Federal Dance Project (1936–1938) By Graff, Ellen
The Federal Dance Project (FDP) was formed in January 1936, as part of President Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration (WPA). Although it was originally a component of the WPA’s Federal Theatre Project (FTP), forceful lobbying by New York City dancers, under the leadership of Helen Tamiris, led to the creation of a separate dance unit. In keeping with the FTP ideal of bringing culture to the masses, the FDP aimed to bring the new modern dance to the people. The FTP was organized by regions, and dance units were formed in Chicago, Los Angeles, and elsewhere, in addition to New York City. Choreographers affiliated with the project included Helen Tamiris, Doris Humphrey, Charles Weidman, Ruth Page, and Katherine Dunham. The FTP and FDP were surrounded by political conflict from the beginning, and when funding cutbacks hit the Federal Theatre Project as a whole, the Federal Dance Project was absorbed back into the theater project in October 1937. However, dance productions continued under the aegis of the Federal Theatre Project, until further political controversy led to the dismantling of the FTP two years later in 1939. Despite its short life, the Federal Dance Project demonstrated the power of federal funding for dance and anticipated the recognition of dance as a separate genre when the National Endowment for the Arts was established in 1965.