UNCG logo

Finding Aid for the Ruth St. Denis Lecture, 1964

For reference questions, please contact university_manuscripts@uncg.edu.


Ruth St. Denis (1879-1968) was a dancer, choreographer and teacher, and one of the founders of the Denishawn School of Dance. This collection consists of an audio tape and transcript of a lecture given by Ruth St. Denis at California State University at Los Angeles, May 22, 1964. Topics discussed include her philosophy of dance and famous dancers with whom she had worked.

Administrative Information

Collection Number

MSS 117


1 box.

Access Restrictions

Collection is open for research.

Copyright Notice

Copyright is retained by the creators of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.

Preferred Citation

Ruth St. Denis Lecture (MSS 117), University Archives and Manuscripts, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Acquisitions Information

Gift of Jean Pyatt, Summer 1994.

Biographical Note

Ruth St. Denis (1879-1968) was a dancer, choreographer and teacher, and one of the founders of the Denishawn School of Dance.

St. Denis was born in New Jersey and spent her childhood on a farm in Somerville with her parents, Ruth Emma Hull Dennis, a physician, and Thomas L. Dennis, a machinist and inventor. Ruth learned exercises from the Delsarte system of expression from her mother. She also took dance classes in New Jersey and briefly studied ballet with Madame Bonfanti in New York City, She began her professional career with minor roles in musical plays, appearing as a “skirt-dancer,” acrobat, high-kicker, model and actress.

In 1904, touring with David Belasco’s Madame Dubarry, Ruth was inspired by a cigarette poster depicting the Egyptian goddess Isis and by her readings in Eastern philosophy and mysticism to turn her career toward the exploration of dance as a serious art form. She premiered her first important solo dance, “Radha,” in 1906 on the variety bill of a Sunday night smokers concert. “Radha” baffled the vaudeville critics, blending theatrical gestures and physical allure with spirituality; some found it too slow and serious for vaudeville, but it set the tone for her later dances, most of which dealt in some measure with transformation.

In 1914, St. Denis met Ted Shawn and hired him as her partner; before the year was out, they were married. Together they founded the Denishawn schools and company, which thrived until 1932, when St. Denis and Shawn decided to pursue separate careers. The era of Denishawn greatly influenced the art of dance in America and produced such dancers as Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, and Charles Weidman.

During World War II, 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 also established 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, St. Denis devoted most of her time to the Ruth St. Denis Foundation, which aimed to establish a church in which dance and related arts were dedicated to religious service; she also performed frequently at Jacob’s Pillow both as a solo artist and with Ted Shawn. Ruth St. Denis died of a stroke on July 21, 1968. In addition to many articles, she published An Unfinished Life, her autobiography (1939) and Lotus Light, a book of poems (1932).

Description of Collection

This collection consists of an audio tape of a lecture given by Ruth St. Denis at California State University at Los Angeles, May 22, 1964, and a typed transcript of the tape (transcribed by University Archives staff). Ruth St. Denis was 85 years old at the time this lecture was given. Topics discussed in the lecture include her slogan, “Wisdom comes dancing;” Isadora Duncan; Martha Graham; Margareta Wallmann; the Mary Wigman School of Dance; her Oriental studies and how they affected her style of dance; her center on Cahuenga Boulevard; education; spiritualism; Mary Baker Eddy; modern dance in America; and women’s rights.

Related Materials

See more UNCG manuscript collections related to physical education and dance.

See the Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn Collection at the the University of California, Riverside.