In 1930, dancer and choreographer Martha Graham proclaimed the
arrival of "dance as an art of and from America." Dancers such as
Doris Humphrey, Ted Shawn, Katherine Dunham, and Helen Tamiris
joined Graham in creating a new form of dance, and, like other
modernists, they experimented with and argued over their aesthetic
innovations, to which they assigned great meaning.
Their innovations, however, went beyond aesthetics. While modern
dancers devised new ways of moving bodies in accordance with many
modernist principles, their artistry was indelibly shaped by their
place in society. Modern dance was distinct from other artistic
genres in terms of the people it attracted: white women (many of
whom were Jewish), gay men, and African American men and women.
Women held leading roles in the development of modern dance on
stage and off; gay men recast the effeminacy often associated with
dance into a hardened, heroic, American athleticism; and African
Americans contributed elements of social, African, and Caribbean
dance, even as their undervalued role defined the limits of modern
dancers' communal visions. Through their art, modern dancers
challenged conventional roles and images of gender, sexuality,
race, class, and regionalism with a view of American democracy that
was confrontational and participatory, authorial and populist.
exposes the social dynamics that shaped
American modernism and moved modern dance to the edges of society,
a place both provocative and perilous.