Difficulties for Dance Librarianship

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From the Ruth Page Collection, Newberry Library

One difficulty I have encountered as I go through the correspondence of the Ruth Page Collection and that I have also noticed on a much larger scale, is how much harder one must work to get the work of dancers seen and admired.  Ruth Page argues, perhaps provocatively or with some bias, that dance in the United States was at a greater disadvantage than other art forms because of a lack of dance education and awareness.  Evidence from the Ruth Page Collection shows that although Ruth believed there was an audience and an appetite for dance in Chicago, she found it a difficult environment in which to make a profit and develop enthusiasm for dance.

“You know, in a way, a profession like dancing, which you have to fight for so hard, is more interesting than acting and all of the better understood ‘arts.’  It’s a crime there are no real critics of the dance.  It isn’t fair for the music critics to do it.”  From Correspondence Series, Ruth Page to Marian Lafayette Page, March 30, 1927 – Ruth Page Collection, Newberry Library

“The Denishawns had full houses at every performance.  I think they made lots of money.  I hope so.  Bolm could have done the same thing.  [I] am convinced there is a large public here for dancing.” From Correspondence Series, Ruth Page to Tom Fisher, April 7, 1927 – Ruth Page Collection, Newberry Library

I hypothesize that the field of dance history is smaller than music history or theater history (in terms of college majors and minors, scholarly journals, and other educational resources I hope to research further).  This imbalance is clearly a problem, when the fields have been linked for so long and dance has as great a history as the others.  To address this imbalance society must push for advocacy of dance education and dance awareness.  Without greater advocacy, the interest and demand for performing arts archival collections will not be as high as the information they hold warrant.  These collections can only serve to support culture if culture supports them in return.

“I am convinced more attention must be given to creating a thinking side of our profession to supplement and shape the torrent of undirected physical talent the ballet schools are pouring out…Historically we can be forgotten in a wink but no one seems to be making the effort and if I have to be the greedy beast that beats the tub for education and duns nice ladies into giving us books and papers than I guess I must!”  From Correspondence Series, George Verdak [from Butler University] to Ruth Page, June 6, 1969 – Ruth Page Collection, Newberry Library

“Paul observes wryly, ‘I’m glad the NYC critics are on my side, in as much as the pen is mightier than the pirouette!” From Correspondence Series, Gene Sutherland to Ruth Page, March 28, 1969 – Ruth Page Collection, Newberry Library

Dance must be written about, taught, seen and experienced for its influence to be felt on a grander scale.  Dance may be experienced most forcefully through live performance, but we fellows of the Dance Heritage Coalition can do our part to make dance of the past come alive today.

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From the Ruth Page Collection, Newberry Library

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2 thoughts on “Difficulties for Dance Librarianship

  1. This is a wonderful post, Hadley. I have been pondering many of the same questions you’ve asked here about why there are fewer scholarly materials and academic-level discussions about dance, or why the apparent lack of interest in dance history compared to other arts. And yet the dance articles and lectures I’ve been exposed to have been highly intellectual and thought-provoking, which says to me that the field has grown and become more solidly established since the time of the quote examples you’ve shared from 1927. But is the existence of dance history and scholarship generally known? And why not? I wonder!

  2. Pingback: Scholarship at the Pillow | Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival Archive Project 2013

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