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Ted Shawn

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Ted Shawn, Photo courtesy of Jacob's Pillow


A pioneering figure of modern dance, champion of the male dancer, and founder of Jacob's Pillow, Ted Shawn (1891-1972) was born in Kansas City, Missouri. He took his first ballet lessons after a serious illness left his legs temporarily paralyzed, subsequently abandoned the ministry, and made his professional debut in 1913 as a ballroom dancer. The following year he joined Ruth St. Denis, became her partner, and married her. Together they founded the Denishawn school in Los Angeles and nurtured the company from which Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, and so many other celebrated modern dancers later emerged. When Denishawn broke up (along with his marriage to St. Denis), Shawn formed an all-male dance troupe based at his Massachusetts retreat Jacob's Pillow. His goal was to gain acceptance for the male dancer by emphasizing masculine movement and displays of strength; a number of dances were on Native-American themes. The Men Dancers toured successfully throughout the 1930s. The country's oldest summer festival, Jacob's Pillow remains a tribute to Shawn's love of dance in all its forms.

Pictured right: Shawn in Four Dances Based on American Folk Music, 1931. Shawn challenged American stereotypes of male dancers as effeminate, bringing virile, modern, and expressive male dancing to broad and diverse audiences throughout the country.(photograph by Rudolf (Dresden), courtesy of Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival Archives, Becket, Massachusetts.)

Shawn and His Dancers, 1931.  Poster designed by Major Felten.

Pictured left: Shawn and His Dancers, 1931. Poster designed by Major Felten for Ted Shawn. The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Dance Division.


Essay by Paul A. Scolieri -- Selected resources

Related Treasures: Leaders in Dance Education --  Modern Dance Pioneers



Kinetic Molpai, choreographed by Ted Shawn with music by Jess Meeker, performed by Ted Shawn and His Men Dancers at Jacob’s Pillow, 1935. Shawn transformed a farm in the Berkshires, Jacob’s Pillow, into a flourishing hub for dance performances, education, and training.