La Meri, 1898-1989

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Biography/History

Charles James Miller was a dancer, choreographer, teacher, and close friend of Russell Meriwether Hughes, better known as La Meri--the "Queen of Ethnic Dance." In the early 1940s (during World War II), Miller served in the Army as an interpreter in French and Spanish for the Arabs; he was also director and choreographer for Army Red Cross shows in Algeria. After the war, Miller became a dance-dramatist and instructor with the La Meri Ethnological Dance Center in New York City where he met Hughes and became one of her students. At the time, Hughes was 47 and Miller 24; they had a short-lived love affair which developed into a life-long friendship as attested by the volume of correspondence which Miller saved, including the carbon copies of his own letters to Hughes.

In the late 1940s, Miller moved to California where he continued his involvement in ethnic dance (he referred to himself as an "ethnic dance dramatist" and often went by the name "Chet Milar") while pursuing his interest in theatre arts, which led him to write his dissertation on Edward Gordon Craig-- the British actor, director, and scenic designer. Miller received his Ph.D. from USC in 1957 on the subject of Craig's contributions to modern theatre art. In addition to teaching and demonstrating dance, Miller spent a great deal of time traveling around the world; many of his trips are described in his correspondence to Hughes and other friends.

Russell Meriwether Hughes ("La Meri") was born in Kentucky in 1898, but moved with her family to San Antonio, Texas in 1910 and made her professional stage debut at the Rialto Theatre in 1923, dancing prologues to silent movies. Her interest in dance led her to tour the world in the 1920s and 30s, studying and performing in South and Central America, Europe, Africa, Australia, India, Burma, Java, and many other regions. Among the ethnic dances at which Hughes excelled were those of India and Spain; she was the first Western dancer to be accepted for study in India. (Hughes claimed to have coined the term "ethnic dance." To her it always meant culture, regardless of race, creed or color.)

In 1925, Hughes met Guido Carreras, an Italian baron who had managed the great dancers Nijinsky and Pavlova, traveled with Hughes as her manager and in 1931 became her husband. They separated in 1944, leaving no children; Hughes never remarried.

In 1940, Hughes founded and taught dance at the School of Natya with Ruth St. Denis in New York City, where they also presented such guest lecturers as Pearl S. Buck, Coomaraswamy, Lin Yutang, and Ted Shawn. (The institute was located in a studio built for Isadora Duncan). Two years later, the school became absorbed into the Ethnologic Dance Center which continued until 1956 when Hughes retired to Cape Cod where she became involved in dog shows, but she was quickly lured out of retirement by members of the local theatre. Her summers were spent teaching and performing at Jacob's Pillow, Ted Shawn's prestigious dance colony outside New York City, where she gave many dance performances for author Pearl S. Buck's "East and West Evenings." Hughes also taught at Columbia University, Connecticut College, New York University, and the Juilliard School of Music. Hughes retired a second time in 1970, whence upon she established the non-profit Ethnic Dance Arts, Inc. in Hyannis, Massachusetts. Each year Hughes would present an ethnic dance festival and awards.

In 1972, Hughes received the Capezio Dance Award. The following year, Hughes was given a citation by Texas Governor Dolph Briscoe for artistic achievement.

In 1984, Hughes returned to San Antonio where she attended dance performances regularly, even as she struggled with the tribulations of old age including worsening eyesight and cataract operations. She continued with a busy social life and correspondence until her death in 1988 at age 89.

Hughes wrote six volumes of poetry and five books on dance esthetics, technique, and composition. Her book, Spanish Dancing, is considered by many to be the definitive text on Spanish dance. Her extensive collection of material on ethnic dance, given to the New York Public Library in 1948 and 1962, is a major holding of the library's Dance Collection.

From the guide to the Charles James Miller Papers, 1945-1989, (USC Libraries Special Collections)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Charles James Miller Papers, 1945-1989 USC Libraries Special Collections
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, and Recreation. corporateBody
associatedWith Bailey Films, inc., Hollywood, Calif. corporateBody
associatedWith Balasaraswati person
associatedWith Blom, Benjamin person
associatedWith Briscoe, Dolph person
associatedWith Buck, Pearl S., (Pearl Sydenstricken), 1892-1973 person
associatedWith Carrick, Edward, 1905- person
associatedWith Code, Grant Hyde person
associatedWith Collett, Dorothy person
associatedWith Craig, Edward Gordon, 1872-1966 person
associatedWith Goya, Carola person
associatedWith Holder, Geoffrey, 1930- person
associatedWith Hughes, Russell Meriwether, 1898-1989 person
associatedWith Limon, Jose person
associatedWith Miller, Charles James person
associatedWith Mumaw, Barton, 1912-2001 person
associatedWith Newcomer, Lilian Hughes, 1892-1965 person
associatedWith Shawn, Ted, 1891-1972 person
associatedWith St. Denis, Ruth, 1880-1968 person
associatedWith Terry, Ellen, Dame, 1847-1928 person
associatedWith Terry, Walter person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Cape Cod (Mass.)
Hyannis (Mass.)
San Antonio (Tex.)
Subject
Folk dancing
Occupation
Dancers
Function

Person

Birth 1898

Death 1989

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