Bettis, Valerie, 1919-1982

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American dancer and choreographer.

From the guide to the Valerie Bettis collection, ca. 1941-1967, (The New York Public Library. Music Division.)

Valerie Elizabeth Bettis was born on December 20, 1919, in Houston, Texas to Royal Holt and Valerie Elizabeth Bettis. Her father died when she was thirteen, and her mother later married Hugh Prather.

Bettis began ballet lessons when she was ten with Rowena Smith in Houston. She also studied with Tina Flade, a former student of the Mary Wigman School. During high school she participated in dramatic and musical productions.

After attending the University of Texas for one year, Bettis moved to New York. Arriving in September 1937, she began studying with Hanya Holm and performed in Holm's landmark work “Trend” that same year, and remained in her company until 1940. During this time, Bettis also studied with Nanette Charisse and Aubrey Hitchins.

Bettis then took one year of work alone to prepare for her debut as a solo artist, an event which took place at Carnegie Hall in November 1941.

Great recognition came to Bettis as a performer and choreographer for her solo “The Desperate Heart” in March 1943. Performed with a poem written for the dance by John Malcolm Brinnin and commissioned music by Bernardo Ségall, the work had a tremendous impact upon the New York audiences and critics.

Bettis is cited as the first modern dance choreographer to set a work on a major ballet company. On March 11, 1947, her “Virginia Sampler” was premiered by the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. She later went on to choreograph works for other ballet companies, including the well-known “A Streetcar Named Desire” based upon Tennessee Williams' play for the Slavenska-Franklin Ballet in 1952.

During these years, Bettis continued her performing, which expanded to include television, film, and Broadway. One of her best-known roles in a Broadway show was Tiger Lily in “Inside U.S.A.” in 1948.

Bettis was often drawn to poetry, plays, and literature as the source for her dances. “As I Lay Dying,” based upon the William Faulkner story was one of her most highly-acclaimed works. Her establishment of and work with the Dancers Studio Foundation (founded upon a premise similar to that of Actors Studio) from 1964 onward was an outgrowth of her interest in dance within a theatrical context. Dancers Studio produced collaborative artistic productions between choreographers, writers, and musicians. It also held classes and workshops for dancers.

Bettis married Bernardo Ségall, a Brazilian pianist and composer, on September 29, 1943. They were divorced in 1955. She later married Arthur Schmidt, who died in 1969. Bettis died in New York on September 26, 1982. Earlier that year she saw a major revival of her work “A Streetcar Named Desire” by The Dance Theatre of Harlem.

From the guide to the Valerie Bettis papers, circa 1942-1982, (The New York Public Library. Jerome Robbins Dance Division.)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Dietz, Howard, 1896-1983. Letter, 1948 Jan 6, [New York City], to Helen Tamiris, New York City. New York Public Libraries for the Performing Arts, Dance Collection
creatorOf Smit, Leo, 1921-1999. [Ballets. Selections] / Leo Smit. New York Public Libraries for the Performing Arts, Dance Collection
referencedIn Dance Notation Bureau Collection, 1930- The Ohio State University. Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee Theatre Research Institute.
creatorOf Cage, John. And the earth shall bear again : for a dance which was made by Valerie Bettis / John Cage, New York City November 1942. Ohio State University Libraries
referencedIn Dancers Studio (New York, N.Y.). [Programs, announcements] New York Public Libraries for the Performing Arts, Dance Collection
referencedIn Tamiris, Helen, 1905-1966. Musical comedies. Bless you all [Programs] New York Public Libraries for the Performing Arts, Dance Collection
creatorOf Berg, Dick. Studio one-- "The drop of a hat" / written especially for Studio one by Dick Berg. Bowling Green State University, BGSU Libraries
creatorOf Bettis, Valerie, 1920-1982. Scrapbooks. New York Public Libraries for the Performing Arts, Dance Collection
creatorOf Bettis, Valerie, 1920-1982,. Interview with Valerie Bettis. New York Public Libraries for the Performing Arts, Dance Collection
creatorOf Bettis, Valerie, 1920-1982. Miscellaneous manuscripts. New York Public Libraries for the Performing Arts, Dance Collection
referencedIn George Balanchine archive, 1924-1989 (inclusive), 1961-1983 (bulk). Harvard Theatre Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard College Library, Harvard University.
creatorOf Bettis, Valerie, 1920-1982. Correspondence and contracts. New York Public Libraries for the Performing Arts, Dance Collection
creatorOf Bettis, Valerie, 1920-1982. Papers, New York Public Libraries for the Performing Arts, Dance Collection
creatorOf Newman, Theodore. Dance for children / Theodore Newman. New York Public Libraries for the Performing Arts, Dance Collection
referencedIn Bolasni, Saul, 1923-. An oral history interview with Saul Bolasni / conducted by David Farneth and Peggy Meyer Sherry for the Kurt Weill Foundation for Music, Weill-Lenya Research Center, New York City, 1991 April 18 : recording and transcript. Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison
creatorOf Bettis, Valerie, 1920-1982. Letter to Ruth St. Denis, undated. 1 item. New York Public Libraries for the Performing Arts, Dance Collection
referencedIn Laughlin, Jane. Valerie Bettis. New York Public Libraries for the Performing Arts, Dance Collection
creatorOf Segáll, Bernardo. [Ballets. Selections] / Bernardo Segall. New York Public Libraries for the Performing Arts, Dance Collection
referencedIn Tamiris, Helen, 1905-1966. Tiger lily: notes, draft outlines, scripts. [1948] 1 folder. (ca. 28 p.). New York Public Libraries for the Performing Arts, Dance Collection
creatorOf Newman, Theodore. Songs and processions : a ballet, to Valerie Bettis / Theodore Newman. New York Public Libraries for the Performing Arts, Dance Collection
creatorOf Davis, Mildred B. "Studio one" presents The room upstairs / by Mildred Davis. Bowling Green State University, BGSU Libraries
creatorOf Bettis, Valerie, 1920-1982. Correspondence and contracts, 1947-1954. New York Public Libraries for the Performing Arts, Dance Collection
creatorOf Valerie Bettis collection, ca. 1941-1967 The New York Public Library. Music Division.
referencedIn Valerie Bettis Dance Theatre. [Programs, announcements] New York Public Libraries for the Performing Arts, Dance Collection
referencedIn Walter Terry papers, 1913-1982 The New York Public Library. Jerome Robbins Dance Division.
creatorOf Cage, John, 1912-1992. And the earth shall bear again / John Cage. New York Public Libraries for the Performing Arts, Dance Collection
creatorOf Valerie Bettis papers, circa 1942-1982 The New York Public Library. Jerome Robbins Dance Division.
referencedIn American Ballet Theatre records, 1936-ca. 1967 The New York Public Library. Jerome Robbins Dance Division.
referencedIn Juilliard School. Biographical files, [ca. 1920]-1987. Campbell University, Wiggins Memorial Library
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Alexandra Danilova person
correspondedWith American Ballet Theatre corporateBody
associatedWith American Music Collection corporateBody
correspondedWith Balanchine, George. person
associatedWith Bolasni, Saul, 1923- person
associatedWith Cage, John. person
associatedWith Cage, John, 1912-1992. person
associatedWith Dance Notation Bureau corporateBody
associatedWith Dancers Studio Foundation, inc. corporateBody
associatedWith Dancers Studio (New York, N.Y.) corporateBody
associatedWith Dancers Studio (New York, N.Y.) corporateBody
associatedWith Dietz, Howard, 1896-1983. person
associatedWith Hanya Holm and Dance Company. corporateBody
associatedWith Holm, Hanya, 1893-1992. person
associatedWith John Martin person
associatedWith Juilliard School. corporateBody
associatedWith Laakso, Wendy, person
associatedWith Laughlin, Jane. person
associatedWith Newman, Theodore. person
associatedWith Segáll, Bernardo. person
associatedWith Segáll, Bernardo person
associatedWith Smit, Leo, 1921-1999. person
associatedWith Tamiris, Helen, 1905-1966. person
correspondedWith Terry, Walter person
associatedWith Valerie Bettis Dance Theatre. corporateBody
associatedWith Valerie Bettis Dance Theatre. corporateBody
associatedWith William Faulkner person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Subject
Dance--Censorship
Manuscripts--Collections
Communism and art
Politics in art
Ballet
Occupation
Function

Person

Birth 1919-12-20

Death 1982-09-26

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