St. Denis, Ruth (1878–1968) By Coorlawala, Uttara Asha
Ruth St. Denis is considered one of the founders of modern dance, even though the genre had not been named as such during her most active years, which spanned from the turn of the century through the 1920s. Looking for an alternative to classical ballet and Broadway glitter, St. Denis created works inspired by images of Oriental dance and informed by her Delsarte training. In 1906 she created an impressionistic version of the Indian goddess in her solo Radha, and the success of the dance launched her solo career in Europe. There she toured extensively from 1906 to 1909 with a repertoire of Indian-themed works. After her return to the U.S., she added works based on other cultures, including Egypt and Japan, to her repertory. In 1914 she met Ted Shawn, and the two founded Denishawn, a company and school that expanded St. Denis’s repertory to include musical visualizations and widely disseminated her methods and ideas. In addition to extensive tours across the U.S., Denishawn toured South and East Asia in 1925–1926, where the company acquired more repertory from local dance celebrities who were willing to experiment with their own forms. St. Denis influenced her contemporaries in Europe and subsequent generations of modern dancers in the U.S. Indeed, the generation of the 1930s that named modern dance included many artists who had come from Denishawn, including Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, and Charles Weidman.