Shawn, Ted (1891–1972) By Scolieri, Paul A.
The self-proclaimed “Father of American Dance,” Ted Shawn attained international prominence as a professional dancer and choreographer. Along with his wife Ruth St. Denis, Shawn founded Denishawn, the first U.S. modern dance company and school. Shawn thus helped to establish dance as a theatrical art in the United States by emphasizing that dancing is a sacred, nationalist, and artistic form of human expression, thereby challenging prevailing attitudes that associated dancing with prostitution, social degeneracy, and commerce. He also led an artistic crusade to legitimize dance as a profession for men. Although he rejected the term “modern” to describe his brand of theatrical dancing, he was essential to the development of modern dance in the United States in that he trained its pioneers Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, and Charles Weidman, as well as generations of modern dancers both at the Denishawn schools in the 1910s and 1920s and later at his University of the Dance at Jacob’s Pillow, a school and festival that continues today.