St.Denis, Ruth, 1880-1968

Alternative names
Dates:
Birth 1879-01-20
Death 1968-07-21
Americans
English

Biographical notes:

Ruth St. Denis was an American dancer and dance teacher.

From the description of Postcard, 1945. (Harvard University). WorldCat record id: 232007242

Dancer and faculty member.

From the description of Miscellaneous papers, 1926-1960. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 155538190

Ruth St. Denis was one of the pioneers of modern dance. She first gained attention dancing with David Belasco's company, an experience which exposed her to European and Asian traditions. She left the company to begin a solo career, uniting diverse interests and experiences in a successful interpretation of Egyptian and East Asian themes, performing first in New York, and later in Europe. She later met and married dancer Ted Shawn, forming the Denishawn Schools.

From the description of Ruth St. Denis letter to Christine Wood Rhodes, 1947 June 10. (Pennsylvania State University Libraries). WorldCat record id: 54996287

Ruth St. Denis was born as Ruth Dennis on Jan. 20, 1880 in New Jersey; as a teenager she appeared in Broadway musicals and was a protégé of David Belasco; she based her career on interpretations of dances from India, Egypt and Asia with titles such as Cobras, Incense, Radha, Egypta, and O-Mika; teamed up with Ted Shawn in 1914 to create a school called Denishawn in LA; toured with dancers including Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, Charles Weidman, and future film stars Louise Brooks and Carol Dempster; founder, Society for the Spiritual Arts, 1934; began the Church of the Divine Dance at her studio on Cahuenga Blvd. in LA, 1946; died in Hollywood, CA, on July 21, 1968.

From the description of Papers, 1880-1968. (University of California, Los Angeles). WorldCat record id: 38285541

An American dancer, living in Hollywood, who was particularly interested in the spiritual ramifications of dance, and promoting better understanding between church (broadly defined) and arts. She founded he Church of the Devine Dance in Hollywood in 1947.

From the description of Ruth St. Denis papers, 1927-1957. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 754872596

Dancer and playwright. Also known as Ruth Dennis. Married Ted Shawn.

From the description of Ruth St. Denis play scripts, 1905. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 70982813

Ruth St. Denis (born Ruth Dennis) was born in 1879 in New Jersey. She began dancing as a child. Her early training included Delsarte technique, ballet lessons with the Italian ballerina Maria Bonfante, social dance forms and skirt dancing. She began her professional career in New York City in 1892, where she worked as a skirt dancer in a dime museum and in vaudeville houses. In 1898, Ruth was noticed by David Belasco, a well-known and highly successful Broadway producer and director. He hired her to perform with his large company as a featured dancer, and was also responsible for giving her the stage name "St. Denis." Under Belasco's influence, Ruthie Dennis became Ruth St. Denis, toured with his production of "Zaza" around the United States and in Europe, and was exposed to the work of several important European artists, including the Japanese dancer Sado Yacco and the great English actress, Sarah Bernhardt. St. Denis began studying Hindu art and philosophy, and offered a public performance in New York City of her first dance work, Radha, together with such shorter pieces as The Cobra and The Incense. A three-year European tour followed. She was particularly successful in Vienna, Austria, where she added The Nautch and The Yogi to her program. Her later productions, many of which had religious themes, included the long-planned Egypta (1910) and O-mika (1913), a dance drama in a Japanese style.

In 1914 St. Denis married Ted Shawn, her dance partner, and the next year they founded the Denishawn school and company in Los Angeles. During that time, St. Denis's choreographic style broadened to include group numbers occasionally derived from Occidental as well as Oriental sources. Among her choreographic innovations were "music visualization" - a concept that called for movement equivalents to the timbres, dynamics, and structural shapes of music in addition to its rhythmic base - and a related choreographic form that she called "synchoric orchestra." Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn were also instrumental in creating the legendary dance festival, Jacob's Pillow in Becket, Massachusetts. In 1925, St. Denis, Ted Shawn, and the Denishawn Dancers took a year-long dancing tour in the Orient.

St. Denis and Shawn separated, both professionally and personally, in 1931, though they never divorced. St. Denis, who retired briefly from public performance, founded the Society of Spiritual Arts and devoted much of the rest of her life to promoting the use of dance in religion. In 1940, with La Meri, she founded the School of Natya to continue the teaching of South Asian dance. She resumed performing in 1941 with an appearance at Jacob's Pillow Festival, where she continued to appear annually until 1955. Often called the "first lady of American dance," she remained active into the 1960s. Ruth wrote an autobiography entitled Ruth St. Denis, an unfinished life in 1939. She died in Los Angeles in 1968 and was inducted into the National Museum of Dance C. V. Whitney Hall of Fame in 1987 along with her former husband Ted Shawn. Shawn died in 1972.

From the description of Papers of Ruth St. Denis, 1904-2007 (bulk 1930-1970). (Huntington Library, Art Collections & Botanical Gardens). WorldCat record id: 761717479

Biography

Elyse Robert (1901-1993) danced for Ruth St. Denis' Church of the Divine Dance between 1934 and 1968. During this time, Robert performed with Ruth St. Denis (1880-1968), a pioneer of modern dance, for many events and in numerous churches in the Los Angeles area.

From the guide to the Elyse Robert collection on Ruth St. Denis, 1932-1991, (University of California, Los Angeles. Library. Department of Special Collections.)

Biography

Ruth St. Denis was born as Ruth Dennis on January 20, 1880 in New Jersey; as a teenager she appeared in Broadway musicals and was a protégé of David Belasco; she based her career on interpretations of dances from India, Egypt and Asia with titles such as Cobras, Incense, Radha, Egypta, and O-Mika; teamed up with Ted Shawn in 1914 to create a school called Denishawn in Los Angeles; toured with dancers including Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, Charles Weidman, and future film stars Louise Brooks and Carol Dempster; founder, Society for the Spiritual Arts, 1934; began the Church of the Divine Dance at her studio on Cahuenga Blvd. in Los Angeles, 1946; died in Hollywood, California, on July 21, 1968.

From the guide to the Ruth St. Denis Papers, 1880-1968, (University of California, Los Angeles. Library. Department of Special Collections.)

Ruth Dennis was born in Newark, New Jersey, on January 20, 1879. Ruth St. Denis claimed she was born in 1878; Ted Shawn claimed it was 1880; her brother claimed it was 1879. Recent evidence presented by biographer Suzanne Shelton supports the 1879 date. She spent her childhood on a farm in Somerville, New Jersey, with her parents, Ruth Emma Hull Dennis, a physician, and Thomas L. Dennis, an inventor. She had a brother Buzz and a half-brother Tom Dennis.

As a child, Ruth practiced exercises from the Delsarte system of expression which she learned from her mother. She also took dance classes in New Jersey and traveled to New York City to study ballet with Mme. Bonfanti. These classes did not last very long as, according to “Miss Ruth,” Mme. Bonfanti tossed her out of class after only three lessons. Thus, when Ruthie Dennis embarked upon her professional career, it was with little formal training. She began with minor roles in musical plays, appearing as a “skirt-dancer,” acrobat, high-kicker, model and actress. She even participated in a six-day bicycle race at Madison Square Garden.

In 1904, while on a tour with David Belasco's It was Belasco who first called her “Saint” Dennis because of her “prim deportment.” production of Madame DuBarry, Ruth St. Denis was inspired by a cigarette poster depicting the Egyptian goddess Isis to turn her career toward the exploration of dance as a serious art form. She began working on “Egypta,” an elaborate Egyptian ballet, but was unable to meet the estimated cost of production. Instead she created “Radha,” a Hindu ballet, which was presented on a program with two of her solos, “The Incense” and “The Cobras,” at the Hudson Theater in New York City on March 22, 1906. The concert was a tremendous success and prompted Miss Ruth to embark on a tour abroad. She spent three years dancing throughout Europe to wide acclaim. She added “The Nautch” and “The Yogi” to her program and in Germany was offered a five-year contract. Miss Ruth chose not to accept the offer and returned to the United States in 1909 to produce the long awaited “Egypta.” For the next few years Ruth St. Deniss toured throughout the United States and danced in Vaudeville.

In 1914 she met Ted Shawn and hired him as her partner. They danced their first concert together on April 13, 1914, and were married on August 13th of the same year. Together they founded the Denishawn schools and company, which were to thrive until 1932. Their schools, which offered a well-rounded dance education program, were established across the country. Courses included Oriental and primitive dance, ballet, ethnic and creative dance, and the Delsarte System of Expression. Performing a repertory of spiritual, ethnic character, and music visualization dances, the Denishawn Company toured extensively in the United States, Canada, Europe, and the Orient. Among the notable works were “Spirit of the Sea,” “Egyptian Suite,” “Soaring,” “Sonata Pathetique,” “The Peacock,” “White Jade,” “Liebestraum,” “Salome,” “East Indian Nautch,” “Street Nautch,” and “Dance of the Red and Gold Saree.”

At the close of their 1931-1932 season, St. Denis and Shawn decided to pursue separate careers, and the era of Denishawn came to a close. It had greatly influenced the art of dance in America for seventeen years and produced such dancers as Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, and Charles Weidman, who went on to develop their own dance styles and shape the course for modern dance in America.

After the separation, Ted Shawn went on to found a company of men dancers and the Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival. Ruth St. Denis continued to run Denishawn House in New York City for a short time but was forced to close for financial reasons. She then retired from theatrical dancing and spent the next few years staging religious dances for churches and her Society of Spiritual Arts. In 1935 Miss Ruth stated that the purpose of this organization was to “bring together like-minded people into an environment where ideas have opportunity to be expressed along lines of new horizons of spiritual and aesthetic value.”

In 1941 Ruth St. Denis re-created the same concert that had launched her career in 1906 for a performance at the Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival. It was very successful and reintroduced Miss Ruth to theatrical dancing. She performed her “historical” dances in New York and on tour for the next few seasons.

During World War II Ruth St. Denis moved to California, where she lived with her brother, and contributed to the war effort by working at the Douglas Aircraft Factory and participating in benefits for allied causes. She established herself in a new studio on Cahuenga Boulevard in Hollywood, which served as her headquarters for the rest of her life.

During the late 1940s and 1950s, Miss Ruth devoted most of her time to The Ruth St. Denis Foundation, “an organization designed to assemble, catalogue, and record material pertinent to her career, and to the establishment of a church in which dance and the related arts will be dedicated to religious service.” Walter Terry, “St. Denis, Ruth,” The Dance Encyclopedia,ed. by Anatole Chujoy (New York: A. S. Barnes and Company, 1949), p. 416. She also performed frequently during the summers at Jacob's Pillow as a solo artist and with Ted Shawn.

In 1964 Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary at Jacob's Pillow and performed together for the last time. They danced “Siddhas of the Upper Air,” a duet choreographed for the occasion to a poem by Miss Ruth with music by Jess Meeker. For the next four years Ruth St. Denis worked with William Skipper on a film illustrating her life through dance and continued to make occasional television appearances.

She died of a stroke on July 21, 1968. In addition to many articles, Ruth St. Denis published An Unfinished Life, her autobiography (1939), and Lotus Light, a book of poems (1932).

From the guide to the Ruth St. Denis letters, ca. 1914-1959, (The New York Public Library. Jerome Robbins Dance Division.)

Ruth Dennis was born in Newark, New Jersey, on January 20, 1879. Ruth St. Denis claimed she was born in 1878; Ted Shawn claimed it was 1880; her brother claimed it was 1879. Recent evidence presented by biographer Suzanne Shelton supports the 1879 date. She spent her childhood on a farm in Somerville, New Jersey, with her parents, Ruth Emma Hull Dennis, a physician, and Thomas L. Dennis, an inventor. She had a brother Buzz and a half-brother Tom Dennis.

As a child, Ruth practiced exercises from the Delsarte system of expression which she learned from her mother. She also took dance classes in New Jersey and traveled to New York City to study ballet with Mme. Bonfanti. These classes did not last very long as, according to “Miss Ruth,” Mme. Bonfanti tossed her out of class after only three lessons. Thus, when Ruthie Dennis embarked upon her professional career, it was with little formal training. She began with minor roles in musical plays, appearing as a “skirt-dancer,” acrobat, high-kicker, model and actress. She even participated in a six-day bicycle race at Madison Square Garden.

In 1904, while on a tour with David Belasco's It was Belasco who first called her “Saint” Dennis because of her “prim deportment.” production of Madame DuBarry, Ruth St. Denis was inspired by a cigarette poster depicting the Egyptian goddess Isis to turn her career toward the exploration of dance as a serious art form. She began working on “Egypta,” an elaborate Egyptian ballet, but was unable to meet the estimated cost of production. Instead she created “Radha,” a Hindu ballet, which was presented on a program with two of her solos, “The Incense” and “The Cobras,” at the Hudson Theater in New York City on March 22, 1906. The concert was a tremendous success and prompted Miss Ruth to embark on a tour abroad. She spent three years dancing throughout Europe to wide acclaim. She added “The Nautch” and “The Yogi” to her program and in Germany was offered a five-year contract. Miss Ruth chose not to accept the offer and returned to the United States in 1909 to produce the long awaited “Egypta.” For the next few years Ruth St. Deniss toured throughout the United States and danced in Vaudeville.

In 1914 she met Ted Shawn and hired him as her partner. They danced their first concert together on April 13, 1914, and were married on August 13th of the same year. Together they founded the Denishawn schools and company, which were to thrive until 1932. Their schools, which offered a well-rounded dance education program, were established across the country. Courses included Oriental and primitive dance, ballet, ethnic and creative dance, and the Delsarte System of Expression. Performing a repertory of spiritual, ethnic character, and music visualization dances, the Denishawn Company toured extensively in the United States, Canada, Europe, and the Orient. Among the notable works were “Spirit of the Sea,” “Egyptian Suite,” “Soaring,” “Sonata Pathetique,” “The Peacock,” “White Jade,” “Liebestraum,” “Salome,” “East Indian Nautch,” “Street Nautch,” and “Dance of the Red and Gold Saree.”

At the close of their 1931-1932 season, St. Denis and Shawn decided to pursue separate careers, and the era of Denishawn came to a close. It had greatly influenced the art of dance in America for seventeen years and produced such dancers as Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, and Charles Weidman, who went on to develop their own dance styles and shape the course for modern dance in America.

After the separation, Ted Shawn went on to found a company of men dancers and the Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival. Ruth St. Denis continued to run Denishawn House in New York City for a short time but was forced to close for financial reasons. She then retired from theatrical dancing and spent the next few years staging religious dances for churches and her Society of Spiritual Arts. In 1935 Miss Ruth stated that the purpose of this organization was to “bring together like-minded people into an environment where ideas have opportunity to be expressed along lines of new horizons of spiritual and aesthetic value.”

In 1941 Ruth St. Denis re-created the same concert that had launched her career in 1906 for a performance at the Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival. It was very successful and reintroduced Miss Ruth to theatrical dancing. She performed her “historical” dances in New York and on tour for the next few seasons.

During World War II Ruth St. Denis moved to California, where she lived with her brother, and contributed to the war effort by working at the Douglas Aircraft Factory and participating in benefits for allied causes. She established herself in a new studio on Cahuenga Boulevard in Hollywood, which served as her headquarters for the rest of her life.

During the late 1940s and 1950s, Miss Ruth devoted most of her time to The Ruth St. Denis Foundation, “an organization designed to assemble, catalogue, and record material pertinent to her career, and to the establishment of a church in which dance and the related arts will be dedicated to religious service.” Walter Terry, “St. Denis, Ruth,” The Dance Encyclopedia,ed. by Anatole Chujoy (New York: A. S. Barnes and Company, 1949), p. 416. She also performed frequently during the summers at Jacob's Pillow as a solo artist and with Ted Shawn.

In 1964 Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary at Jacob's Pillow and performed together for the last time. They danced “Siddhas of the Upper Air,” a duet choreographed for the occasion to a poem by Miss Ruth with music by Jess Meeker. For the next four years Ruth St. Denis worked with William Skipper on a film illustrating her life through dance and continued to make occasional television appearances.

She died of a stroke on July 21, 1968. In addition to many articles, Ruth St. Denis published An Unfinished Life, her autobiography (1939), and Lotus Light, a book of poems (1932).

From the guide to the Ruth St. Denis papers, ca. 1915-1958, (The New York Public Library. Jerome Robbins Dance Division.)

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